Special Treatment?

Special Treatment?

I grew up on a 20-acre hobby farm complete with a half-acre garden, horses, chickens, a dog, and a half-dozen farm cats. When I wasn’t busy there, I would often help (or just hang out) at our neighbor’s farm a quarter mile down the road.

Clarence and Ann were good, hard-working people. Ann ran the home, took care of the bills, baked and cooked (including canning, rendering lard, and grinding fresh meat) and did many other chores, from butchering chickens to helping milk the cows every morning and night. Clarence took care of raising and harvesting the crops, managing the cows and pigs, keeping the buildings in good shape, and making sure the equipment ran well.

Farther down the road about a mile were George and Henrietta: older folks, quiet, and stuck in the 1940s in how they dressed and lived. She had never learned to drive and was afraid of machines, which explained the sight we’d all see when it was time for them to bale hay. George would be driving the tractor, pulling the baler and wagon. And Henrietta—in her dress and bonnet—would be on the wagon, stacking bales as soon as they rolled out of the baler.

Farm families were a business in and of themselves, and men and women were great business partners. Sure there were arguments, but what was best for their business drove the final course of action. They worked together and led equally. And it was not often by choice, but rather because it was the best way to move forward.

In my own family, I had an extremely hard-working mom who could accomplish anything that she set her mind to. And later, I gained a stepmother who was great at home, and professionally: She went from being a stay-at-home mother of two to becoming one of only a few women officers at Cargill at the time of her tenure.

To me, gender equality at work seemed natural. And that’s carried over and through my professional life. I work in an industry (communications and publishing) where women and men are perhaps more equal at top leadership levels than in most other industries. Women have made up an equal if not higher percentage of the work force in just about every job I’ve had since high school (except for landscaping). And the hiring and promotion decisions I’ve made, and seen by others, have always been based on an individual’s professional abilities, period.

So it’s with that in mind that I originally thought that it made sense to continue with our magazine’s informal policy of staying away from “women in business” stories or events. The thinking was that creating a class of “women in business” would separate them rather than help to further blend genders in business. We didn’t want to infer there is a problem when, given our perspective, there isn’t, and shouldn’t be.

Then I noticed how little things had changed in the last 10 years when it comes to the number of women in CEO positions or on corporate boards of directors in Minnesota, and nationally. And upon looking into statistics and studies, and talking with a few corporate leaders about this subject, we found there is indeed a need to talk about it.

Women have represented more than 40 percent of the U.S. labor force for nearly 40 years and make up more than 51 percent of all management, professional, and related positions. Studies continue to show that financial results improve the closer an executive team or board comes to being equally weighted between women and men.

Yet women lead only 3.5 percent of all Fortune 1000 companies. Closer to home, they hold just 6 percent of the CEO positions and 14 percent of the board seats at Minnesota’s 100 largest publicly traded companies. (See this month’s insert, which starts after page 44, for more statistics.)

The reasons why are not as cut and dried as they may seem. While in the past they were attributed to generationally shaped sexism or apathy, today they involve a myriad of complex issues, ranging from how corporate culture in America needs to become more work/life balanced, to preconceived notions that women have about how they may be judged, regardless of what the rules allow or encourage them to do.

Our story beginning on page 42 explores what area leaders are doing about this important issue. We’re also presenting a business luncheon and panel discussion on this subject on March 30, where we’ll roll up our sleeves and talk even further about the challenges—and solutions—for businesses that want more women in their executive suits and board seats. Please join us if you can. Event information is available online at http://bit.ly/At4JS7.  

Survey Says

Many of you will receive yet another Twin Cities Business Quarterly Economic Indicator Survey within the next few days. Thank you for your participation. Your input has helped us to accurately forecast trends in Minnesota since the survey was started last summer.

For example, at the end of September last year, 29 percent of you said that you planned to hire additional full-time employees during the fourth quarter. Five months later, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development reported that full-time hiring in Minnesota increased by approximately 27 percent during the fourth quarter.

Results from our next survey, regarding what business leaders are planning for the second quarter of 2012, will be included in next month’s addition.

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