Women and the World of Business

by Eunice Graupner

Angel Kwolek-Folland, INCORPORATING WOMEN: A HISTORY OF WOMEN AND BUSINESS IN THE UNITED STATES. New York: Twayne Publishers/Macmillan Library Reference, 1998. 275p. bibl. index. $34.00, ISBN 0-8057-4519-X.

WOMEN OF COLOR IN CORPORATE MANAGEMENT: OPPORTUNITIES AND BARRIERS. New York: Catalyst (http://www.catalystwomen.org/publications.html), 1999. 88p. bibl. index. $20.00 (exec. summary only), $90.00 (full report); ISBN 0-8958-4206-8.

Margaret Linehan, SENIOR FEMALE INTERNATIONAL MANAGERS: WHY SO FEW? Brookfield, VT: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2000. 216p. $69.95, ISBN 0-7546-1200-7.

Carol Gallagher with Susan Golant, GOING TO THE TOP: A ROAD MAP FOR SUCCESS FROM AMERICA'S LEADING WOMEN EXECUTIVES. New York: Viking Penguin, 2000. 308p. $24.95, ISBN 0-670-89151-7.

Women have made significant strides in the world of business in the last forty years. These achievements are frequently described as "firsts," and it is commonly thought that only during this recent period of history have large numbers of women been involved in business. Prior to the 1960s, didn't most women stay home and take care of the children? Incorporating Women: A History of Women and Business in the United States, by Angel Kwolek-Folland, describes in great detail the long history of women in business. Indeed, the author argues that "women have always been in business in America."

In each chapter, the author focuses first on the legal and economic status of women at a particular time, and then describes how this status encouraged or constricted women's economic activities. In colonial times, women were legal dependents of their husbands, but the concept of feme sole allowed single women, and women who had their husband's consent, to make legally binding contracts. Since widowhood was not uncommon, many women became entrepreneurs in the areas of shopkeeping, medicine, and boardinghouse or tavern management, as well as in trades such as printing. In the nineteenth century, women gained more legal rights in the areas of inheritance, property, and divorce, but lost many of the protections they had previously been given. At the same time that new rights were enacted, the "ideal" of middle-class women as wives, mothers, and homemakers was raised to a new level.

But as the United States became more industrialized and incorporated in the twentieth century, women entered the newly created factories and offices in large numbers. And just as women's legal rights and educational opportunities expanded, new definitions of "women's work" developed. Professions became "gendered" as male doctors worked to displace midwives as health professionals and the lower-paying fields of nursing, teaching, social work, and librarianship were deemed appropriate for women.

Kwolek-Folland sees the changes of the last forty years as more of a revival than a revolution. As evidence, she points to the "historical estimate" that half of all urban retailers were women in the colonial period and to the fact that the percentage of women in the professions declined from 19.6% in 1900 to 16.3% in 1994. The penultimate chapter brings into focus the continuing challenges working women face today: the pay gap, the need for affirmative action, the continuation of gender dominance in certain fields, the difficulties of combining work with family responsibilities, discrimination in hiring and promotion, and sexual harassment.

Kwolek-Folland concludes by arguing for the importance of studying the history of women in business because that history "questions the very premises on which 'business as usual' is based." Incorporating Women is a well-researched book with extensive footnotes, an index and a bibliographic essay. It belongs in all academic business libraries as well as in public libraries that have significant business or women's history collections.

Women of Color in Corporate Management: Opportunities and Barriers is Catalyst's third and final report on its study of African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic women in U.S. corporations. Unlike most research on women in business, which has focused primarily on white women, this study looked at 1735 minority women in professional and managerial positions in 30 companies to determine the factors that affect their retention, development, and advancement and to understand their experiences with corporate culture and corporate diversity initiatives.

Women of color describe themselves as fighting not against a glass ceiling but a concrete one. They are underrepresented in management positions and are promoted more slowly than their white female counterparts. Respondents pointed to a lack of mentors, informal networking opportunities, and role models as major barriers to their advancement. The Catalyst study is particularly important because it reports the findings for each of the three ethnic groups separately as well as for women of color as a whole. Significant differences were discovered among the three groups in the areas of pay, education, supervisory responsibilities, relationships with other employees, corporate culture, and the impact of affirmative action.

The report recommends that corporate diversity initiatives should not approach women of color as a monolithic group, but should instead address these differences. It also recommends that companies benchmark the progress of each ethnic group in relation to other employee groups so as to improve retention and create an equitable corporate culture. Senior management must also communicate its commitment to diversity and tie financial incentives to the achievement of these goals.

This book provides corporations with specific strategies for attracting and retaining women of color and concludes with the "best practices" of six U.S. companies. Women of Color in Corporate Management is an important study that deserves the attention of business executives and belongs in every corporate and academic business library.

For a European perspective on women in business, Senior Female International Managers: Why So Few? by Margaret Linehan provides valuable comprehensive data. Based on research Linehan conducted for her Ph.D. thesis, the book reports on fifty women who are senior managers in Fortune 500 companies in England, Belgium, France, and Germany and who have experience as expatriate managers in foreign countries. These women describe the factors that create the "glass borders" preventing women from moving internationally within their companies. Since most international companies view working abroad as an important stepping stone to upper management, glass borders can be a major impediment to women managers.

Linehan's research identifies barriers for European women that will come as no surprise to their American counterparts: the need to balance work and family, isolation and loneliness, the feeling of being a woman in a man's world, having to constantly prove oneself, having to work harder and better than men, the lack of mentors, and sexual harassment. The author argues that as long as the model for career development is male-oriented and doesn't allow time out for child-raising, women will be at a disadvantage. Problems of the "trailing spouse" and commuter marriages are also discussed.

The author concludes with specific recommendations for international corporations that would benefit both women managers and their companies. This is a fascinating book because it combines previous research findings with generous quotes from the women in the study. It includes extensive footnotes and is indexed. I highly recommend it for academic business libraries and for corporate libraries of international firms.

Going to the Top: A Road Map for Success from America's Leading Women Executives, by Carol Gallagher with Susan K. Golant, is a self-help book for women who want to successfully move up the corporate ladder. Despite its somewhat overblown title, the volume has a great deal of useful information. The author has worked as a financial analyst on Wall Street, founded the Executive Women's Alliance in 1996, and conducts "Windows in the Glass Ceiling" workshops for women in mid-management. Clearly, her experiences have given her great insight into the lives of women managers.

The book includes "six lessons for success" that cover such topics as the importance of focusing on the "big picture," creating alliances, helping others (as opposed to being ruthless), taking risks, being yourself in a man's world, and finding a variety of mentors. The additional chapters on combining work, family, and personal time are to me the most interesting. Plenty of books talk about the importance of prioritizing and finding balance, but the comments and stories in this book of executive women who have struggled with these issues are particularly telling.

I am not qualified to comment on the chapter "Career Strategies of High-Level Minority Women," except to say that it gave me insight into some of the challenges women of color face. One woman describes her experience of not fitting in because her CEO relates to the white women as his "kid sisters." "And it doesn't even occur to him that he's not saying that to me--it's not possible for him to see me as his kid sister."

The author concludes with fifteen strategies for advancement and instructions for creating your own road map. I think this would be an excellent book for women who are still in business school as well as those who are looking to advance within their companies. It belongs in public and academic business libraries.

[Eunice Graupner is the Coordinator for Reference and Library Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Business Library.]

[Editor's note: American businesswomen who anticipate traversing the "glass borders" of international business might glean some practical tips from Do's and Taboos Around the World for Women in Business (John Wiley & Sons, 1997), by Roger E. Axtell, Tami Briggs, Margaret Corcoran, and Mary Beth Lamb. Axtell (a University of Wisconsin Regent and the author of five other "do's and taboos" guides to foreign travel and trade) and his co-authors offer guidance on everything from understanding gender dynamics and protocols for women in different cultures to packing efficiently and staying healthy.]

 

 


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Mounted July 19, 2001.