Women Too Wise to Be CEOs

Sept. 7, 2007
Is there a glass ceiling in manufacturing, especially in machine building? Few women are seen across this field, and even fewer are present at the executive level.
By Dan Hebert, PE, senior technical editor

If any industry has a glass ceiling, it is manufacturing in general and machine building in particular. There are few women at all levels of manufacturing, and executive representation is virtually nonexistent.

It begs the question of whether there really is a glass ceiling, a term that connotes a barrier imposed by men to keep women out of the executive suite. Are there other, perhaps even- more important, reasons why women aren’t running machine-builder and other manufacturing companies?

For a person to advance to a CEO position in manufacturing the first requirement generally is a technical degree foundation. That eliminates most women because they’re already woefully underrepresented in undergraduate technical degree programs.

The second requirement is a relentless focus on getting to the top at all costs. This means jettisoning less-important goals such as maintaining  personal health, developing deep and meaningful relationships outside of work, and spending lots of time with family.

Men seem to have fewer qualms than women with abandoning a balanced lifestyle in favor of a one-dimensional focus on work.

That’s too bad because a single-minded pursuit of the top job usually yields failure. Do the math. There only is one top job per company, and the odds that a person will reach that spot are daunting. CEO fame and fortune might be great, but the expected dollar value for aspiring candidates is low because executive compensation must be reduced by that low probability of attaining the position.
We can draw an analogy with sports. According to www.mlbplayers.com, the average salary of a major leaguer in 2006 was about $2.7 million.

But there’s nothing average about a major leaguer, and few professional baseball players make it to The Show. The typical professional baseball player spends a few years in the minor leagues and makes about $20,000 a year. His expected lifetime earnings from playing baseball are considerably less than $100,000.

For less than $100,000, a young man spends tens of thousands of hours in minor league preparation, often bypassing college in the process.

If he enjoyed the journey, then he’ll conclude it was worth it. If he was in the game only to reach the top, he’ll end up disappointed.
The same thing happens every day in the world of business. Many men forgo all else in pursuit of a long shot. It’s a sucker bet. No wonder the gaming tables in Las Vegas are full of men.

I guess most women are too wise to make that bet. They pursue business success, but they do so in a manner that lets them maintain their health, their personal relationships, and their family ties.

They enjoy the journey and some of them make it to the top. For some evidence of that see a reprint of the ControlGlobal.com article “The Ladies of the Club” at ControlDesign.com/glassceiling.

The end result: women are healthier and happier than men by any measurable criteria. Women live about seven years longer. Men die by their own hand at four times the rate of women.

Around middle-age, many men realize they are not going to reach the executive suite. Years of accumulated work-related stress and an unhealthy, work-driven lifestyle combine with bitter disappointment to take a toll. The result is that in the 55-to-64-year-old age range more men than women die, due mainly to heart disease, suicide, car accidents, or illness related to smoking and alcohol use.

Most of us realize that family and friends are a comforting presence in old age. What if you spent the past 40 years neglecting both in pursuit of business success?

It’s fine to strive to attain your professional goals, but enjoy the journey. If you’re that rare person who can find complete personal satisfaction, health, and happiness in activities entirely related to work, you’re well-suited to a single-minded CEO quest.

If you value other things in addition to business success, don’t make that sucker bet.

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