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Economy & Innovation Rundown: Discrimination Suit At A-B And Other Questions About Women In Business

(Flickr/Philip Leara)

It’s Tuesday, that magical day of the week when our thoughts turn to questions of economics, business, innovation, technology … and related topics that tickle our fancy but we haven’t been able to report on ourselves. It’s the day we say, “Don’t think we haven’t been paying attention, dear reader,” and we share some the things we’ve been reading on topics of interest. 

For the past two weeks, actually, we have been following the gender discrimination case brought against Anheuser-Busch by Francine Katz.  Katz worked at A-B from 1994 to 2009. She was promoted to vice president of corporate communication in 2002. She was also a part of the company’s strategy committee.

Now, Katx was paid handsomely by most people’s standards, about $300,000 a year. However, Katz contends that her predecessor, John Jacobs, had a base salary of $605,000 in 2001, his last full year as chief communications officer.  Katz contends that not only was she not paid equally compared to Jacobs, but that she was excluded from golf outings, hunting trips and other social gatherings that the male executives regularly did together.

Our friends at the St. Louis Post Dispatch have been doing a banner job chronicling the trial – including the day that August Busch III took the witness stand to deny gender bias. He said Katz did a great job, but didn’t have the experience and connection that her predecessor had. And, what’s more, her job did not have the same duties that Jacobs did.  The story also chronicled the odd moment when “Three Sticks” passed Katz sitting at the prosecutors table and said, “Bye, Francine.” While Katz sat stock still and did not respond.

So, is it just A-B?

Now, some of our fascination with this case is that it’s Anheuser-Busch and we rarely catch a glimpse into the upper echelons of one of this country’s largest corporations. But it also ties into a larger question that we’ve been grappling with: Why are there so few women in executive positions? Why are there so few women in all of those high-tech start ups? Why are there so few women in leadership positions?

It’s not a new question, I know. But it’s a question that was asked 20 years ago, when the first post-feminist generation of women were graduating college. At the time, I think a lot of people thought that all those post-feminist women would go out there and shake up corporate culture and change the way the world works.

It hasn’t been a total disaster. There are plenty of women running their own businesses, serving on corporate boards and working in the executive offices of major companies. But the numbers don’t reflect the general population.

According to Catalyst, only 14.6 percent of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies are held by women. And on those companies’ corporate boards, nearly 17 percent are held by women.  Even if you look at industries, where there are now more women than men studying the subject in school, men still end up holding the leadership jobs.  In law school, women make up 47 percent of the students. They get out into the work force and they account for 45 percent of the associations. But, when you get to the partner level, only 19.5 percent are sitting in those offices.

For fans of The Good Wife, that is your proof that Diane Lockhart is a statistical aberration.

When it comes to explaining why there aren’t more women involved in tech industry start ups, an article in Fortune Magazine suggests that the problem is in our expectations for tech start-ups.

Their theory is that it’s a combination of the expectations of the tech startup and the supposed culture that goes along with it.  The myth is that Silicon Valley values those companies that are shooting for the moon – that raise tons of venture capital and are looking to make it huge and get bought out, bringing huge profits for all involve.

The concomitant culture is supposedly cut-throat where every person is for him/herself. It’s a world where the more successful you are, the more bombastic and more likely you are to be looking to cut down everyone else.

Both of those stereotype serve to dissuade women from entering that world.

The good news is that firms that are considered successful actually don’t fulfill that stereotype. The article writes:

This tough-guys-always-finish-first myth is not supported either by facts or research on entrepreneurial best practices. Implying that these are best practices -- claims parroted by the media and other influential people -- serves only to discourage most aspiring female entrepreneurs, along with many aspiring males. Because they do not want to create or work in a "hard things" culture they feel incapable of succeeding.

In the meantime, women make up nearly 40 percent of our nation’s entrepreneurs. But they don’t tend to be the kind of hard-scrabble, out to build a fortune in tech kind of entrepreneurs personified in the Silicon Valley Stereotype.

Closer to home, we have proof-positive that there are women in high-tech and women in executive positions.

Last week, T-REX announcedit has a new executive director. And it’s a woman (that’s my emphasis, not theirs).  

Patricia Hagen will take the reigns of the organization that provides funding, space and professional services for St. Louis’ emerging IT entrepreneurs.  According to the St. Louis Business Journal, Hagen’s position is newly created for the 3-year-old T-REX.

Hagen’s primary responsibilities will be helping to raise money to continue T-REX’s $12.5 million renovation of the Lammert Building in downtown St. Louis.

Shula is the executive editor at St. Louis Public Radio.