The Executive Woman

In the 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama declared that “America is a nation of people who dare to dream.” In a business era characterized by start-ups, go-getters and fearless leaders who will not take “no” for an answer, this has never been more true, particularly for women executives.

When you parse the numbers, the outlook is mixed. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that in 2009, nearly 60 percent of all women worked, and more than two-thirds of them had college degrees. In contrast, 72 percent of men worked, but only one-third of them had college degrees.

Women tend to be clustered in the finance, insurance, education and health services industries, but are still quite rare in manufacturing, transportation, construction and logging. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half of the top 20 fastest growing occupations are in the healthcare field – an area where women excel and are already well represented. The other expanding careers are as veterinarians, veterinary technicians, athletic trainers, financial examiners and various information technology specialists. Most of those jobs require some sort of advanced education, and since women currently earn around 60 percent of all associate, bachelor and master degrees, they are poised to fill the demand in these growing industries.

When it comes to earnings, however, women continue to lag. They earned 80 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2009. Even at the highest levels of corporations, women still face a 10 percent earnings penalty against similarly qualified men.

And they are little more than a fly on the wall at the board level. Only 13 percent of US directors are female, a number that has hardly budged over the past several years. Women also hold only 14 percent of corporate executive jobs in the Fortune 500.

Making matters worse, most organizations have been structured for men, by men so the values under which women flourish are often lacking. Even women that are beating the odds and making it to the top are often being asked to conform to work environments that may be uncomfortable to them – much like being told to write with your left hand even if you are right-handed.

So here’s the bottom line: Until we overcome these barriers, the dreams of women to hold executive positions in the C-Suite will remain just that: dreams.

Read more about the executive woman’s barriers to growth here.