Why so few women make it to the top of the corporate ladder

Veteran journalist Joanne Lipman says the culprit is “unconscious bias.”
The veteran journalist and feminist, Joanne Lipman says unconscious biases are keeping women from reaching the top of their professions. (Gannet)
Listen8:42

The veteran journalist and feminist, Joanne Lipman says one of the major reasons for the under-representation of women in the workforce is "unconscious bias" — a prejudice that is so deep inside us that we're not even aware of it.

Lipman is the author of That's What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need To Tell Them) about Working Together. She is also the former Editor in Chief of USA Today, and the first woman to hold the post of Deputy Managing Editor at the Wall Street Journal.

Last week, she spoke at the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the Rotman School at the University of Toronto.

According to Lipman, "[Unconscious] biases are incredibly damaging because even a tiny bias has an outsized effect … And you see this in real life. McKinsey, the consultants, recently did a survey in Canada and found that at every level, women are less likely to be promoted than men."

These biases do not start in the workplace. They don't even start at school. They start at home.

"One of the most fascinating pieces of research I came across is that mothers of infants routinely overestimate the crawling ability of their sons," Lipman says. "But they underestimate the crawling ability of their daughters."

Lipman believes this skewed way of looking at children's abilities, gets "baked into" them and follows into adulthood.

Even the loftiest professions are not immune, she says.

"Northwestern University actually studied the Supreme Court of the United States and found that the female Supreme Court Justices are interrupted three times more frequently than male Supreme Court Justices."

"So it doesn't matter how high you rise. These female Justices are, just like any other woman, getting talked over by the men around them."

Click 'listen' above to hear a longer excerpt from her talk.