It's Not Rocket Science to Advance Women in the Workplace

After reading the event write up in the newspaper, I'm of two minds about the Wall Street Journal-hosted "Women in the Workplace" panel held in New York City on Wednesday night. On one hand I was encouraged that the Wall Street Journal did not pull punches in questioning some of the most prominent corporate executives in corporate America. I was encouraged by the frank assessments offered by leaders from Facebook, Pepsi, Bank of America and Salesforce on gender bias, work and family responsibilities, motherhood and underrepresentation in the tech industry. On the other hand, the discussion was sobering as the reality is that even in 2015 women have achieved so little mobility on the road to senior leadership.

In a corresponding Wall Street Journal op-ed Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, shared an analogy: "At the current pace of progress, we are more than 100 years away from gender equality in the C-suite. If NASA launched a person into space today, she could soar past Mars, travel all the way to Pluto and return to Earth 10 times before women occupy half of C-suite offices. Yes, we're that far away."

Talk about rocket science. It does not take an advanced degree to figure out how to advance women in the workplace; yet we are light years ahead in space exploration than we are in gender equity in corporate America.

LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co released a report, Women in the Workplace 2015, on September 30 that takes a comprehensive look at the state of women in corporate America. The report found that although 74 percent of companies report that gender diversity is a top CEO priority, less than half of employees believe that to be true.

The report goes on: "to make headway, companies need to invest time and money in gender diversity. Executives can set the tone by participating in women's events and publicly sponsoring high-potential women. In addition, companies should find ways to take action, from investing heavily in initiatives that support women and inclusion more broadly to reviewing employee compensation and closing pay gaps."

I couldn't agree more with what Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of Salesforce, said about equal pay at the WSJ event: "you have to look at pay - that's where it starts...the CEO needs to go through and make sure that each and every woman is evaluated against each and every man and that they are equal."

I'm proud to say that my home state of California is leading the way on this issue. California is poised to have the strongest equal pay law in the country. Senate Bill 358, which passed out of the state legislature with bi-partisan support, would strengthen the ability for women to legally challenge pay inequity. The bill would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who inquire about pay differences at work. It would also set rules surrounding employees' ability to recover wages based on gender discrimination. Governor Jerry Brown has indicated that he will sign the bill which will be a huge victory for women in California.

Real change starts at the top - with leaders from influential companies coming together - and policymakers like those in California - questioning the status quo, pushing boundaries and implementing policies that truly make a difference and improve opportunities for women. I'm hopeful that we can move more women into corporate boardrooms before a women travels all the way to Pluto and back. Now that would be remarkable albeit not rocket science.

Dr. Bernice Ledbetter is Practitioner Faculty of Organizational Theory and Management at Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management. Her research and teaching interests focus on leadership and values, especially gender differences, as well as on moral developmental and non-western approaches to leadership. Dr. Ledbetter recently started the Pepperdine Center for Women in Leadership to empower and advance women in the workplace.