It's time for an attitude adjustment

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Women have a hard time in the corporate world--the latest numbers available from the U.S. Census in 2004 show that women only earn about 76.5 percent of what men do for the same work. In real terms, that means the median full-time wage for women is $31,223, while for men it is $40,798. That's a big difference, and that difference has only improved seven percent since 1990.
There are many theories about why this is the case. Women lose ground in the corporate world when they take maternity leaves, some say, or when they take years off to raise families. That's possible. Women just aren't as aggressive, some say. I find that particularly hard to believe. Women choose low-paying professions, like nursing and teaching, some say, because they are intrinsically more nurturing. That may be true, but, if so, it's a stinging indictment of our country's values as a society.
I rather believe this wage gap is simply a reflection of the continuing bias and discrimination that is prevalent here in the security industry as much as it is anywhere in corporate America. The editors of this newspaper, for instance, frequently receive inappropriate comments about their appearance, or are told, "Can't wait to see that pretty smile of yours," when they close a phone conversation. Recently, a top executive signed off a phone call with, "Hugs and kisses. Mwah."
The generous among us might simply see such comments and actions as people being friendly, but are these appropriate remarks to make to your peers, to people you respect? Clearly not, and the message is therefore clear to these women that they should feel inferior.
Further, look around your companies. Is your VP of sales a man and your PR representative a woman? Why is that? Do those positions pay similarly?
Finally, let's take a hard look at our annual conventions, ISC West and ASIS most notably. What message does it send to young, aspiring corporate-minded women when they see members of their gender used as booth bait? Recently, a peer of mine at another publication used considerable space in his ASIS wrap-up column to take note of Destiny Davis, "who adorned a company's booth."
"Ever the journalist," he continued, "I interviewed Destiny and asked how she liked the ASIS conference. With a bit of coaxing, Destiny purred, 'It makes me feel very secure.'"
"Adorned"? This woman is an ornament, some kind of decoration? The woman "purred"? Surely, Davis is being paid for her time and makes her professional decisions for herself, but does it give anybody pause that a significant portion of the "news" about ASIS for one journalist was that one company had a Playmate in the booth? He even published a signed headshot! Hiring someone to handle customer inquiries is one thing, using a woman's sex appeal to draw attention to your products ought to be an insult to the intelligence of your intended customers.
It is time for the security industry to follow its own principles. As we seek to protect our sons and daughters from harm, let's make sure we create an environment where both our sons and our daughters feel safe to succeed in the business world as equals.