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My Turn: For women in business, a granite ceiling persists

New Hampshire women are among the best educated in the nation, as measured by the percentage of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher. So why is it that of the top 100 private companies in New Hampshire (as measured by total sales), only eight firms listed women as the top executive? And among the top 25 New Hampshire-based firms, only one was headed by a woman?

The percentage of men and women with bachelor’s degrees or higher in New Hampshire ranks above the national rate, so we are fortunate to have well-educated men and women, but what explains the difference between men and women in business and nonprofit leadership?

Gender matters.

The New Hampshire Women’s Initiative just released its July 2013 edition of the Gender Matters series, “Educational Attainment and Business/Nonprofit Leadership” (view it at nhwi.org), providing data that reflects a statistically significant difference between men and women in this area. Whether you view “gender matters” as a title of this publication, or as a statement in which the word “matters” is a verb rather than a noun, the report is worth pondering.

Eight years ago, the New Hampshire Women’s Policy Institute, a precursor to NHWI, completed a study on the economic working status of working women in New Hampshire.

That report concluded that education alone is not the answer to income inequality. Well-educated, full-time working women in New Hampshire earned significantly less than their male counterparts. Moreover, earnings disparity grew the higher the level of education. New Hampshire women with doctoral degrees working full time earned roughly two-thirds of the money earned by their male counterparts.

Data reflected a lifetime marriage penalty for women. An interesting footnote is that men did better once they were married, the reverse of what happened to women – when both were working full time.

New Hampshire’s low percentage of women in leadership and decision-making positions suggests a granite ceiling for women. Such low representation of women in corporate governance has significant implications for future economic and leadership opportunities for women in the state.

In 2012, New Hampshire boasted of a 100 percent female delegation in Washington, a female governor and a female speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Clearly, in the public sector, women are recognized as able and effective leaders. So why, of the state’s 23 nonprofit hospitals, are only three led by women CEOs, and only five of the 11 public higher education institutions led by women?

The business and nonprofit sectors are locking out an important cohort of able leaders. Their institutions and the state stand to lose if this pattern continues. Gender matters!

(State Rep. Marjorie Smith is a Democrat from Durham.)

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