US report sheds light on inequality

A highly influential study of Harvard Business School graduates has revealed some fascinating insights into the persistence of the gender gap among business leaders.

By using the graduates from the prestigious business school, the researchers hoped to eliminate any sampling errors that may be hidden by different research subjects’ academic experience. This group was regarded as high-potential leaders.

The report divided the groups into three age groups – Millenials, Gen X and Baby Boomers. Among the Gen Xs and Baby Boomers, it was unsurprising to find that they saw success as “family happiness, relationships, and balancing life and work, along with community service and helping others”. 

Among the HBS graduates who worked full-time, men were significantly more likely than women to have direct reports, profit and loss responsibility and senior management positions. 

The reason for this gender gap is often given as women “opting-out” to have children or become the primary caregiver. However, the report debunked this reasoning. 

“We considered whether graduates had gone part-time or taken a career break to care for children, and how often. None of these factors explained the gender gap in senior management," the report said.

Controversially, the researchers contended that many women “opt-out” as their work was unfulfilling and much of this was due to the conversion to part-time or flexi arrangements during which, work challenges were reduced. The research showed no link between time away from a career and gender imbalance.

“In fact, both men and women in top management teams were typically more likely than those lower down in the hierarchy to have made career decisions to accommodate family responsibilities," the research said.

The researchers suggested that companies could do more than simply offering flexi-time and family-friendly policies. ”Women want more meaningful work, more challenging assignments, and more opportunities for career growth.” 

And in a rather confronting, controversial position, they advocated that young women should “make their partner a real partner.” A truly egalitarian relationship may mean that it is less likely that each partner falls back to a traditional default position, which it appears may contribute to the persistence of the gender gap, it said. 

To read the full analysis, click here.