This is getting old. Headlines continue to blare out the large pay discrepancy between women and men for equal jobs. Women are making some progress as they make more noise—Michelle Williams in film comes to mind. It remains to be seen whether the US Women’s Soccer Team will come out of mediation with a positive outcome, but they have clearly been making their voices heard. This has to be good for all women. 

Just as striking is the rarity of female CEO’s—across industries. It is not surprising that female CEO’s are paid less than their male colleagues. “Equal Pay” of course, is clearly related to who is running the show—in any company.

I worry about the increasing income disparity between the highest and lowest workers in our economy, and clearly am not thrilled with the over-the-top pay packages that CEO’s are getting these days. But, think about it. If that is our cultural norm, then why is it that women are not participating at the same level?

Unconscious bias. Really? Haven’t we made some strides here? Not enough evidently. Again, it’s an old story. It takes an enlightened mentor in a power position, usually male, to champion an up-and-coming female, develop a track for her, both professionally and socially, in order for her to be on the list of prospective candidates considered when a senior executive role becomes available. It goes without saying that the female needs to have impeccable professional skills, a track record of achievement and a personal life that raises no eyebrows to be considered beyond that.

The woman who deigns to go after the corner office needs to nurture a support team honed from each of her stops along the way. College, professional school, first job, extracurricular activity, sports etc. Nothing goes unnoticed at that level. Developing this support is very much akin to the strategic effort that a CEO needs to succeed once there. The road to get there requires a road map, with milestones to achieve, relationships to nurture, and performance on assignments that shines and gets noticed.

 It also takes courage, staying power and incredible drive. Increasingly, the path has opened to entrepreneurial women who start their own companies and become their own company’s CEO!

I once suggested to a high-performing woman who worked for me that she was CEO material and that she should consider going for it.  She was flattered that I thought so. As we discussed it she asked questions about what I thought it would take to get there. The more we talked, the more I could see her eyes glaze over. She had one child, and was considering a larger family. 

“I don’t think I can do what’s necessary to get there. I want to give any extra attention I can muster to my family, not my career.”  

As she was honest about her priorities, I chanced another angle for her consideration.  “Women have many chapters to their lives, and you may not want to go after the CEO role at this point, but those children grow up, and you have a long career in front of you. Don’t put it out of your mind completely.”  

We went on to discuss how she could develop her career around her family priorities for now. She recognized and agreed that she could be tactical about the assignments she took as well as branch out socially by taking on some community and professional roles as a volunteer to enhance her reputation in the wider community. This could be helpful as she may be able to tap into those relationships later.

She was grateful for the advice, and I had to chuckle at her knowing retort at the end of our conversation. “But, I’m not going to learn to golf—what a waste of time chasing a little white ball around.”  

I decided not to change the mood by sharing an anecdote about my own journey to become a CEO.  One of my associates took me aside when I was nearing 50. “It doesn’t pay to try to learn to play golf at your age—it’s too late; the learning curve is too long.” The message deciphered was that I was evidently seen as competition in the field and he didn’t want me in play….unconscious bias or deliberate roadblock?