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Survey Finds Some Obstacles Facing Women in Workplace

Cheryl Goodman

Pay inequity and unconscious biases are two of the areas cited in a recent survey as being among the factors holding back career advancement for female life science and technology executives and aspiring managers.

The survey was conducted by Athena San Diego, a local nonprofit professional development association for women in science and technology.

Cheryl Goodman, a former Qualcomm Inc. executive and serial entrepreneur, became Athena’s executive director in 2016.

She decided to revive the survey, which had been returning similar results in the years in which it had been conducted, with an outreach campaign.

The organization sent the survey to its members, reached out on social media and sent out a news release. It also asked the 46 companies with which it partners — a list that includes major local employers such as Qualcomm and Illumina Inc. ­ — to post the survey on their intranets.

About 220 people took the survey, which gathered information about respondents’ demographics, professional achievements and aspirations, and work/life balance.

Just shy of 95 percent of the respondents identified as women.

A majority of those who responded said they were born in 1980 or earlier, had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher and had worked for 12 or more years.

70% in Leadership Positions

Seventy-nine percent said they work more than 40 hours per week; more than 70 percent identified themselves as an executive, director, manager, founder or partner at their place of work.

A total of 71 percent of respondents said they were interested in career advancement; 35 percent said they reached their professional aspirations; 29 percent said they were aiming for the C-suite; and 20 percent said their goal was to become a director.

Respondents said the career advice they receive comes primarily from family and friends (43.8 percent), an external mentor (24.6 percent) or an internal company mentor (23.7 percent).

The top factors respondents identified as holding them back from further career advancement were “myself (fear)” (23.2 percent), unconscious bias in the workplace (22.8 percent) and lack of a mentor or sponsor (21.9 percent).

Compensation

About one-third of respondents who answered a question about whether they were compensated equally to their similarly qualified male counterparts said yes; 32.1 percent said they did not know; 21 percent said they were not; 1.3 percent said they were paid more.

Of the organizations at which the respondents work, 36.2 percent have taken steps toward pay equity while 12.5 percent have not; 39.3 percent of respondents said they didn’t know whether the organizations at which they work have done so.

Athena worked with Mary Blair-Loy, an associate professor at UC San Diego’s Department of Sociology and founding director of its Center for Research on Gender in the Professions, to come up with the questions and to analyze the responses.

Blair-Loy has worked with the organization in the past in conducting similar surveys.

The organization revealed the results of the survey at a panel discussion June 29 at the UC San Deigo Rady School of Management.

Using the Data

The data will be used in Athena’s work with its corporate partners and to inform planning for its programming, Goodman said. The organization produces as many as 30 events annually, including its flagship Signature Series program.

“Given that San Diego is defined by technology, life science, defense and STEM education, we believe it’s critically important to understand the core issues of this important demographic,” she said. “The survey allows us to do this in a manner that ensures relevance. We must mirror the needs of our members in order to lead in lockstep and create ROI positive workplaces.”

The organization also intends to author a white paper based on the survey results, to be published in the fall.

Athena, which was formed in 1999, most recently conducted a study about the state of women in business in 2011.

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