Former Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin won over a roomful of businesswomen here last week with straight talk about white collars, glass ceilings and gorgeous babies.
Her message to them - woman to woman - was that business is changing, albeit very slowly, to accommodate those whose fervent wish is a better balance between work and family.
Her message to them as business executives - one capitalist to another - was that corporate America had better change for its own good. Companies whose rigid policies drive away women are throwing out half their talent pool, she said, and what kind of smart business is that?
Martin, who served as Labor Secretary under President George Bush, spoke - and some would say entertained - the crowd of about 80 women executives with a combination of Washington insight and woman's intuition. She was appearing as a representative of Deloitte & Touche, an international accounting firm. She has been working with the firm since last year as head of its Council on the Advancement of Women.
She also teaches at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago and is a frequent commentator on National Public Radio's "Marketplace" and other programs.
Like many large firms, Martin said, Deloitte found that it was losing too many promising women employees. Although half of the company's new hires were women, "it wasn't showing up at the other end," in the progression to management and partnerships, Martin said.
For a long time, the company held on to the belief that "Oh, these women left to spend more time with their families," Martin said. But when Deloitte asked women why they left, it got a big surprise.
All but one were working full time elsewhere. Their main reasons for defecting?
They didn't like the working environment.
They didn't see a future. "Women aren't stupid," Martin said. If everybody at the top is a guy, she said, that tells a woman something about her chances for advancement.
They needed more flexibility to balance work and family.
Such balance is more important to women than to men, Martin said, and it may always be.
"Equality doesn't mean we're alike," she said. …