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Why Aren't More Women C.E.O.s at Fortune 500 Companies?

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Thomas Farrell
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Envision Film - Susan Chira, Keynote Address Afternoon Keynote Address: Susan Chira, Foreign Editor, The New York Times.
Envision Film - Susan Chira, Keynote Address Afternoon Keynote Address: Susan Chira, Foreign Editor, The New York Times.
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) July 24, 2017: In the Sunday Review section of the New York Times, Susan Chira, the feminist editor on gender issues, has a lengthy article on "Why Women Aren't C.E.O.s" (dated July 23, 2017). I don't know if she wrote the title of her article. But the title makes it sound like the article like the article is more definitive than it actually is. My remedy would have been to title the article "Why Aren't More Women C.E.O.s?"

Reporting that only 6 percent of chief executives of Fortune 500 companies are women, Susan Chira asks, "Why don't more women get that No. 1 job [at Fortune 500 companies]?"

To address this question, Susan Chira interviewed "nearly two dozen chief executives, would-be chief executives, headhunters, business school deans and human resource professionals." She does not tell us how many of the people she interviewed were men, but it is safe to assume that they were not all women.

Susan Chira says "Our interviews were long and sometimes wrenching. . . . These women were high achievers, accustomed to knocking down barriers, not running up against them. There's seldom one reason someone else wins out, making the dissection of any outcome all the more painful and perplexing."

Susan Chira also notes some women drop out of full-time work within a decade. "The reasons range from family conflicts to placing less inherent value on position or money."

Susan Chira sums up what the people she interviewed had so say:

"What they say: Women are often seen as dependable, less often as visionary. Women tend to be less comfortable with self-promotion [than men are?] -- and more likely to be criticized when they do grab the spotlight [than men are when they grab the spotlight?]. Men remain threatened by assertive women [but don't men also remain threatened by assertive men?]. Most women are not socialized to be unapologetically competitive [but are most men socialized to be unapologetically competitive?]. Some women get discouraged and drop out along the way [but don't some men also get discouraged and drop out of the competition to be the C.E.O.?]. And many [women] are disproportionately penalized for stumbles [along the way, presumably in contrast to their male peers, who may not be penalized as disproportionately because of their bonding through "male camaraderie"]."

As my comments in brackets indicate, I have certain reservations about what the people Susan Chira said. But before I proceed to discuss her article further, I should first explain where I am coming from.

My favorite scholar in the American Jesuit polymath Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955). He has written extensively about male behavior, most notably in his book Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (Cornell University Press, 1981), the published version of Ong's 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University.

Ong's 1981 book strikes me as his attempt to explain typical male contesting behavior to feminists such as Susan Chira. But I seriously doubt that Susan Chira or any of the people she interviewed for her article ever read Ong's 1981 book.

Now, from September 1935 until his death in August 2003, Ong belonged to the all-male religious order in the Roman Catholic Church known informally as the Jesuit order (known formally as the Society of Jesus, or the Company of Jesus). As far as I know, Ong did not publish anything about possibly expanding the Jesuit order to include a branch for women Jesuits. The Benedictine order, the Franciscan order, and the Dominican order have branches of women Benedictines, Franciscans, and Dominicans, respectively, but the Jesuits do not have a branch for women Jesuits. Moreover, as far as I know, Ong did not publish anything about possibly expanding ordained priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church to include ordained women priests. Moreover, women might criticize Ong for certain characterizations of women in his 1981 book. But I am recommending Ong's 1981 book for his account of male behavior, not necessarily for his characterizations of women.

Now, what Ong refers to as male agonistic (contesting) behavior involves rivalry and competitiveness. Certain people tend to set up a contrast between competitiveness and cooperativeness. No doubt competitiveness can be over-done. But so can cooperativeness, even though over-doing cooperativeness is not often criticized -- or at least not as often as over-doing competitiveness is.

In the book The Duality of Human Existence: An Essay on Psychology and Religion (Rand-McNally, 1966), David Bakan in psychology at the University of Chicago works with the terms agency and communion to describe the duality of human existence.

Vicki S. Helgeson in psychology at Carnegie-Mellon University uses Bakan's terms in her own research projects, which she sums up in her 700-page textbook The Psychology of Gender, 5th ed. (Pearson/ Prentice Hall, 2016).

By definition, the optimal development of both agency and communion involves psychological androgyny. However, as both Bakan and Helgeson insist, a person can over-develop either agency or communion, perhaps to the serious under-development of the other tendency.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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