I Truly Believe in Women in Business, and Now I Tell you Why

Why should exist a female association, such as Women In Business, at a leading business schools like Bocconi? And why are there equivalent societies in almost all top European universities? Some people still question the equity of a female only society, other ask how women would react to a Men In Business association. My reflection is, are these the right questions to ask?

The global gender gap index showed that while, globally ,the gaps among women and men in health outcomes and in education have been almost closed ( by 96% and 94 %), the gap in economic participation and political empowerment is still open and wide: only 60% of the economic outcomes gap and only 21% of the political outcomes gap have been closed (World Economic Forum). These statistics primarily stem from disparities at top level positions both in politics and in companies. For example, with regard to leadership positions, it has been calculated that in the Fortune 500 companies, only 14.6% of executive officer positions were held by women in 2013.

Even though education doesn’t represent a barrier to women anymore, as always more women everywhere graduate from University , this didn’t translate in equal working opportunities. In fact men still occupy the highest ranking jobs and earn on average more than women, even if jobs are identical: women in OECD countries are paid on average 16% less than males for the same position (OECD, 2012).

This last concept, known  as  wage discrimination between men and women is the consequence of persistent stereotypes and discrimination toward women. Often, in fact, women have to pay the costs of two types of discrimination: the first  is known as “taste for discrimination” i.e. employers discriminate against women because there are prejudices on women’s competence and abilities that translates in women earning less than the value of their marginal product and in lower equilibrium employment of women with regard to men;  the second form of discrimination , that is known as “statistical discrimination”, happens  when people don’ t have full information about an individual’s relevant work characteristics and therefore use group average as a substitute.

Statistical discrimination is necessary for firms, because it reduces their costs:  firms usually tend to invest less in women’s training because they expect women to quit earlier , which is a behavior that has been confirmed by data, and to put less effort in the job ,mainly because they dedicate more time to domestic work and family. These expectations, that are founded on past evidence, rationally result in a lower salary and lower promotions for women.

The effect of this wage discrimination and of lower promotions is to increase the cost/opportunity for women to work outside of the house, thus representing an incentive for women to quit or to decrease commitment to the company. Therefore, the  firm’s a priori expectation on women, as a group, tends to become self-fulfilled and it remains in the company culture.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of the bestseller Lean In recently stated in an interview:  “Women are not making it to any profession of the world. But when I say ‘The blunt truth is that men run the world’, people say, ‘Really?’. That, to me, is the problem”.

Knowing all these facts, is there really a point in questioning an association that promotes female participation in the workforce? Is it to blame an association that tries to spread knowledge and data to empower women to be just as present in the market as men are? Female associations have the purpose to empower a still less represented and more discriminated portion of the society.

No one can make it on her own, and recent researches demonstrates the importance of mentorship and of an empowering network to ones’ success. Given that we hope that one day there will be no “ female leaders” but only leaders and that there will be no reasons to have a female association, that day has unfortunately not jet come. Men shouldn’t feel excluded for not having men in business associations in universities…maybe we will see them when 80% of top positions will be occupied by females, or when wage discrimination will damage men. But I wouldn’t take the trade if I were them.

Alessandra Biglia and Rossella Mauri

Women in Business_Bocconi Female Students Association