At The Top Of The Corporate Ladder

Essay, Research Paper

At the top of the Canadian Corporate Ladder

Riaz Jogiyat

With the turn of the century approaching at lightening speed, the “Old Boys” corporate club remains intact since it first began more than a hundred years ago, during the great expansion of the industrial revolution. It is a club reflective of a society in which men control the center of political and economic power. What has prevented women, in a nation where they represent 51 % of the population and 45 % of the labour force from reaching management and especially, from reaching the executive suite? The answer lies within the “Old Boys” network itself. Its founding members, the male elite capitalists that controlled the means of production during the period of industrialism. Its teachings, though subtle, absorbed into the main stream of modern Canadian corporate society. As the elitists would say, women are, after all, too fragile for a world that requires a “man’s aggressiveness”. The labour market can be related to the teachings of Plato, although they were written almost two thousand years ago. Plato distinguished between “episteme”, which is well-founded knowledge, and “doxa”, which is opinion. The upper atmosphere of the modern labour market in a philosophical sense remains influenced by “doxa”. In a generation where women were raised to play with dolls and be housewives, it is not surprising to find the stereotype of inferiority among women. It is exactly this “doxa” of inferiority that defines present day gender inequality. As ideologies like these are historically passed from one generation to the next, climbing the corporate ladder becomes nearly impossible for women. To reach the pinnacle of corporate success, it takes drive, intelligence and a sense of humor. It also needs, unfortunately, an X and Y chromosome in your gender make-up.

Women now constitute almost half of the labour force, and years after legislation promoting employment equality, there still remains areas within the labour market in which women are extremely ill represented. In the 1990’s, like 1900, women are still concentrated in occupations the “Boys Club” pre-determined best suited for them. Some 71% of women in 1991 were employed in just five traditional occupational groups: clerical (29%), service (17%), sales (10%), nursing (9%), and teaching (6%). There is a rising trend of women progressing in fields outside their traditional roles, but the coveted “high executive” positions amazingly have remained dormant since the dawn of industrialism. Canada now has women running 10 of the top 500 publicly traded companies. This translates into a disappointing 2% of the total field. Ideologies of the past, as it seems, have lingered around the top of the corporate ladder providing that glass-ceiling women can look through but cannot break. To understand this upper echelon of the labour market one must first examine the ideals of the “Boys Club” more closely and its attitudes towards women and their place within the corporate sphere.

The rise of Capitalism in the early eighteenth century gave women a boost in terms of their standing as the inferior gender in society. Women moved away from their typical rural farmlands into major urban centers throughout Canada. Practically all these women were young and single and their future in the labour market was solely based on the employment opportunities capitalism offered them. Capitalism’s key features were the capitalists themselves. Private male individuals, who owned the means of production, and through self-interest, wished to promote an efficient economic market. Though the idea and thoughts of capitalism were around before the 19th century, its ascension into modern society and subsequent success in the global market did not happen until the rise of industrialism. In essence, industrialism laid the groundwork for major social and economic changes in society. Industrialism shifted the traditional agriculturally based economy to one based on the mechanized production of manufactured goods in large-scale enterprises.

Industrialism was the birthplace of the elite corporate “Boys Club”, whose founding members were the male dominated capitalists themselves. “The Club” influenced and controlled both the political and economic sphere of the country. Since the capitalists themselves were raised in a society where women were inferior to men, it’s not surprising that the mentality of a male dominated workforce determined the role women were going to play within the workplace.

By this time, the idea of gender inferiority was well rooted in an ideology that society had placed upon women. It has been by no means instinctual; in fact, during prehistoric times women and men participated almost equally in hunting and gathering activities to obtain food. Inferiority appeared with the rise of the agricultural based society with its founding ideologies taught though religious channels. The very notion of a woman’s inferiority was well documented during the writing of the Bible.

The belief that women were naturally weaker and inferior to men was sanctioned by god-centered religions. In the Bible, God placed Eve under Adam’s authority, and Saint Paul urged Christian wives to be obedient to their husbands. In Hinduism the reward of a virtuous woman is rebirth as a man.

The rise of agricultural communities forced women’s work to revolve more around the home. Within the household, the primary division of labour was based on sex. The women’s role in reproduction and nurturing went hand and hand and remained the basis for sexual division of labour. As men realized their role in conception, women were frequently bearing or raising children through the potentially most productive years of their lives. The roles women played in reproduction fueled the idea of women’s inferiority in comparison to male dominated labour. This patriarchal society, and its functions for mothers, provided an inferior social and economic role for females. With the opinion of inferiority dominating the minds of the capitalist, it provided the framework for “The Club”.

In the early twentieth century the industrial revolution started to come to a close and the patriarchal system started to lose ground. It was at this time that women began their vertical and horizontal expansion into the labour force during the 60’s. A rise in adult life expectancy, and the availability of the birth control pill, gave women greater freedom from child-care responsibilities. This added with an increasing inflation rate making a second income necessary, and a rising divorce rate, propelled more women into the labour market. The influx of women into the labour market fueled the feminist moment, the “Club’s” major adversary. As a result of this emerging ideology, the “Old Boys Network” began to make concessions due to political pressures, by offering employment opportunities to women. The glass ceiling appeared to be disappearing. Nevertheless, as the male dominated club was concerned, the men still retained total control over the means of production and therefore it was within their right to determine who would fall from or climb the corporate ladder. Thus, the glass ceiling just lifted up a few notches.

The ideologies of inferiority the club holds against women have changed with a politically correct time. The “Club” itself has begun to look at the ideology from different angles without sacrificing the opinions derived during industrialism. Through political and legal means, women’s groups have established regulations that hold employers responsible for implementing equal opportunity within their organizations. By compromising the ideals of a profession primarily controlled by men, these powerful political and legal changes have open many doors to women for lower-level managerial positions. Women account for 34% of managers and administrators. However, these changes have never really resulted in women entering the most senior level positions. The fact that women are physically inferior to men has never been an issue that determines who gets to climb the corporate ladder. In fact, even schools of higher education, the one- time male dominated institutions have been open to women since the 60s. 52% of full-time undergraduate university students are women. Women have achieved a high level of education in comparison to their male counterparts. So if women are as smart as men are, biology is not a factor, and the ideologies of the “boys club” have been some what suppressed by both political and legal measures.

What other limiting force has prevented women from reaching the pinnacle of corporate success? One reason is in regards to maternity leave. A woman removing herself from the corporate ladder for six months or more, most likely will come back seeing her position on the ladder compromised by another, or simply removed completely. 68% of women believe that taking a maternity leave can be an impediment to corporate promotions.

Becoming an executive also requires the proper credentials and language. Women are relatively new to the industry, and haven’t yet established as many connections or breakthroughs within the executive realm. Becoming a Chief Executive Officer requires a powerful grasp of language. However, both credentials and language are irrelevant issues but undoubtedly they exist. Frustration alone from having to battle up the corporate ladder has resulted in many women quitting the “rat race” and starting their own endeavors. Women entrepreneurs are starting businesses at three to four times the rate of men. However, the major reason as to why women haven’t attained corporate supremacy lies within the traditional household framework.

The gendered division of labour, and particularly women’s responsibility for domestic labour, have been identified as central to women’s oppression in the capitalist societies as a whole.

While men do not accept their share of the domestic work, women are left to bear the brunt of household responsibilities alone. With all the influence women were beginning to create in the labour market, this “double duty”, unquestionably has exhausted women from reaching the top of the corporate ladder. With the dramatic increase in work load and hours associated with management, fused with unpaid labour in the home, there is no possibility of achieving any kind of equality between women and men , unless men redistribute their hours from their labour work load to their domestic work load.

Changing patterns of paid employment are creating a crisis in the way labour is currently distributed and accomplished in the family household. It suggest that the ideologies of “family” are very strong and play a central part in the way most people organize their interpersonal relationships and their domestic lives.

The results reflect, in part, the deterioration of societal supports in which the “Boys Club”, in part, created.

What can the world expect in the next coming years of the new millenium? That is indeed difficult to answer. Optimists are convinced that the social imbalance will one day right itself. They believe that the current crop of aging male executives of the “Boys Club” will retire or die and then, so the thinking goes, more women will make it to the top.

Certainly, women have earned their place in the business world over the past few years. If anything, the woman’s movement has proved that inequality is not only unjust and illegal, it has no place in society.

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms spells out society’s disapproval against the idea of inferiority of any human being. It is a legally binding document that attempts to dissolve the ideologies of “Boys Club” network. However, newer more correct ones just replace those old ideas. Nonetheless, old ideals are difficult to purge. The consequence of unexamined opinions unfortunately makes the climb on the corporate ladder very difficult for women. Women who have reach the pinnacle of success should be showered with praise, not only for their determination, but also for having the courage to challenge the unwritten rules of the male corporate club. However, it is still too early to dismiss the idea of inequality in the workplace. Although many advances have been made, there are still some battles yet to be won. And until then, the “Old Boy’s Club” continues to hold its iron grip over the control of the office.


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