Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

July 25, 2016 Inside the Notebook

Women in business: Wherefore the gender question?

During a recent interview with Deanna Sherman, president and CEO of Dead River Co., the inevitable question of gender in the executive suite came up.

Inevitable, I say, because gender disparities in position, title and pay remain in many workplaces, so the gender question likely will remain until we reach parity.

Sherman earned respect working her way up the company's ranks, including in the field with oil and propane truck drivers. That's the way it should be, regardless of gender.

As a female journalist, asking what it's like to be an accomplished woman in business is unsettling.

As I write this column, Mainebiz is selecting its Women to Watch, awards given to outstanding businesswomen. We started the Women to Watch awards when our staff noticed that most of our cover photos were of men.

There are plenty of publications that give such nods to women, young businesspeople and other categories, so this type of award is not unusual. But has its time run out?

One question we've historically asked winners as we profile them is, “What was your 'Haven't we gone beyond this' moment?'” More and more, women are answering, “Talking about your gender.” I must admit, it feels like an oxymoron awarding a prize to women who don't want to be singled out for their gender.

Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton recently told me she hadn't realized she was the first female mayor of that city until someone else told her.

British news headlines now excitedly boast about new female Prime Minister Theresa May, the second in British history. While journalists are curious about who she is, does commenting on her being spotted in leopard-print shoes or tartan suits affect how she'll run the country? Strong women figures aren't unusual in Britain: take Elizabeth II, who's been queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand since 1952.

On our side of the Atlantic Ocean, The New York Times on July 11 ran the headline, “Dr. Paid Less: An Old Title Still Fits Female Physicians.” The Times quoted a JAMA Internal Medicine analysis that found female doctors at some of the most prominent public U.S. medical schools earn about $20,000 less than male colleagues. Other studies, the newspaper noted, found a persistent pay gap between male and female doctors.

Another study by Manchester Business School in the U.K. and Purdue University found that female CEOs tended to be associated with taking less risk. The research found that firms run by female CEOs were less leveraged and had less volatile earnings. It also found that companies run by women were more likely to survive than firms run by male CEOs.

Camden National Bank and Camden National Corp. told me that five out of eight members of its executive leadership team are women, and 50% of officers at Camden National Bank are women. Marketing specialist Kim Ratner said women represented 46.7% of the total U.S. labor force in 2014, while at her bank they now represent 74.2% of the workforce. And women compose some 40% of Camden National Corp.'s board compared to the national average of around 20%.

Sherman of Dead River also became a board member when she took on the CEO role at the company, one of many women now in board rooms.

I'm still ambivalent about prizes singling out women. But I think they can be valuable in educating businesspeople of any gender and in giving young women role models in a business world where there's still room to equalize pay and opportunity.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF