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“Gender Roles in Childhood.”, with Sheila Ronning and Candice Georgiadis

Gender Roles in Childhood. To look at the gender wage gap from a societal perspective with the hope of fixing the issue, we must go back to the beginning — childhood. This is where many of our perceived notions of what it is to be male and female originate as well as where much of […]

Gender Roles in Childhood. To look at the gender wage gap from a societal perspective with the hope of fixing the issue, we must go back to the beginning — childhood. This is where many of our perceived notions of what it is to be male and female originate as well as where much of the foundation for our career path tends to be laid. During these formative years, it is crucial for parents to support their daughters and provide them with the knowledge that they are suited to work in any field, especially science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) — the industries that tend to employ the least amount of women.


As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sheila Ronning. Sheila is the CEO and founder of Women in the Boardroom (WIB), a professional organization providing executive women with the tools, knowledge and connections for board service. Considered a pioneer in the industry and by her peers, Ronning broke the mold in 2002 with the launch of Women in the Boardroom by being one of the first ever to form such an organization. Since its founding, Sheila has grown Women in the Boardroom into an organization with international outreach across multiple industries and countless private and public boardrooms, including Fortune 100 companies while creating over 1600 connections for its members. As a recognized subject matter expert Sheila makes frequent public speaking appearances and was the keynote speaker at the 2019 IOTS World Congress in Barcelona. She is a frequent speaker at Harvard University, as well as other esteemed institutions. Recognizing her expertise on gender diversity, numerous worldwide corporations have recruited her as well, including KPMG, Kirkland Ellis, Aon, NewsCorp, L’Oreal, and Thomas Reuters. Ronning has also been invited to speak at the United Nations and the SEC, where she has provided insight and guidance through her seminars. Sheila’s views have been featured in numerous news outlets including Forbes, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and on Fox business news, among others. She is also a regular contributor to Newsmax.


Thank you so much for joining us, Sheila! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?

While going to college I worked at Best Buy in customer service and was promoted to operations manager. I became known as the one to bring in when a store was not meeting their labor budget or passing their loss prevention evaluations. My boss would constantly tell me “only one more clean up and you can have your own store” and instead he would consistently promote the men who I hired and trained to run those stores. I eventually left and started my own business that helped small business owners with their PR, marketing and sales. In order to keep my pipeline full of potential customers I created a networking event for small business owners that became the largest B2B networking event in the Twin Cities and I would hold it five times per year. At one point my mentor asked me to create a new event that helped women get on corporate boards and that is how WIB was formed.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

I started WIB in 2002 so there have been many interesting things happen during this time, however, this one stands out in my mind. A few years ago I started seeing women who had been serving on corporate boards join our membership program to help them find their next board role, When this started happening, it really hit me that we are really good at what we do and we are making a difference.

Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In 2010/11 we were doing pretty well both financially and with our offerings. During this time we were holding conferences in 15 cities across the U.S. My mistake wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings. I thought we “made it” through the financial crisis etc. but did not realize it is sometimes the aftershock that can change everything. I ended up shutting down the conference and revamped the company into a membership organization to work one-on-one with woman to help them navigate the path to the boardroom. I learned many lessons during that time but mainly that you always need to have a plan and you should have an expanded line of offerings.

Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?

Three main factors causing the disparity in pay between men and women include inescapable stereotypes and social norms about gender and work, a lack of workplace support for family caregiving, and discrimination when it comes to women of color in the workplace. In fact the gender pay gap has been such a problem that Congress introduced numerous acts over the years to address the issue. However, due to a large number of companies being privately held and not required to comply with Congress’ directives, these statutes were unable to make a large enough impact to successfully bridge the gender pay gap.

Stereotypes and Social Norms About Gender and Work. There is no denying that stereotypes and social norms about gender and work contribute to the gender pay gap in the U.S. A recent study conducted by the job search engine Glassdoor found that the industries where pay gaps between men and women are widest are media, retail, construction, repair and maintenance, and oil, gas, and energy and utilities. The study also found that the occupations with the largest pay gap include pilots, chefs and C-level executives.

One explanation for this could be the social construction of gender roles and gender stereotypes. Based on these stereotypes men are perceived to have job characteristics that are more achievement-orientation, with an inclination to take charge, with autonomy and rationality, whereas women are viewed as possessing more nurturing passive traits and dispositions with the belief that women should not be overly outspoken or dominant. (“Status, communality, and agency: Implications for stereotypes of gender and other groups”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.) The bottom line is: society is still not comfortable with seeing women in powerful positions and this has never been more evident than now with the backlash to those women running for presidency.

This stereotype then leads to another next issue i.e., the fact that men are more likely to speak up and ask for as well as negotiate higher pay. According to a study by Carnegie Mellon, when negotiating pay, 83% of men negotiated for a higher wage compared to the 58 percent of women who asked for more. Researchers say that women who do request either a raise or a higher starting salary are more likely than men to be penalized for those actions.

Lack of Workplace Support for Family Caregiving. The second cause for the gap in pay can be attributed to the lack of support for family caregiving in the workplace, specifically when it comes to maternity leave. As women start to have children in their early 30s, the gap grows. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s report on the “The Parental Gender Earnings Gap in the United States” working mothers earn 75 percent of what their males counterparts make. These workplace disadvantages in pay, perceived competence, and benefits relative to childless women in the workplace encountered by working mothers have been termed by sociologists the motherhood penalty. A study by Harvard University found the perception of working mothers to be less committed to their jobs than non-mothers, while fathers were considered to be more committed than non-fathers. The same study also found that mothers are held to higher standards of punctuality than childless women or men, regardless of their parental status. And visibly pregnant women are seen as less competent than non-pregnant women or men in the same position.

Another issue that adds to this ongoing problem is the lack of adequate and affordable childcare and family leave policies that would help support these working mothers or those trying to re-enter the workforce.

Discrimination. Another reason for the lack of parity in pay between the genders is due to the discrimination when it comes to women of color in the workplace. Currently, full-time working women are still only making approximately 80 cents on the dollar to men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Furthermore, this is not even factoring in women of color who tend to make less, with black women making 63 cents, Native American women make 57 cents, and Latina women make 54 cents on the dollar according to the National Women’s Law Center. According to the compensation software and data company Payscale’s 2019 report this can be explained in part due to the fact that women of color tend to move upwards in their career at a much slower pace than White women. While only three percent of all White women make it to the executive level of an organization (compared to six percent of White men), only two percent of Asian, Black and Hispanic women make it to the C-suite. Overall, women of color are facing larger hurdles when it comes to advancing in the workplace compared to White women.

Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?

To help close the gender pay gap, Women in the Boardroom is assisting women in their corporate advancement while establishing diversity in the boardrooms of today’s companies. Women in the Boardroom prepares qualified women for board electability and service and helps connect women to board openings. One way to achieve real change and equal pay among the genders is when companies make a true commitment to electing women of all color and backgrounds onto their boards, especially their compensation boards/committees. This allows for diversity at the highest levels in the company, allowing women to have representation at the top and an executive governance voice that reflects the values and needs of other women in the company. Once these female board members take action and start or contribute to the essential conversations of fair compensation in the workplace, the pay barriers will continue to erode.

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Gender Roles in Childhood. To look at the gender wage gap from a societal perspective with the hope of fixing the issue, we must go back to the beginning — childhood. This is where many of our perceived notions of what it is to be male and female originate as well as where much of the foundation for our career path tends to be laid. During these formative years, it is crucial for parents to support their daughters and provide them with the knowledge that they are suited to work in any field, especially science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) — the industries that tend to employ the least amount of women. Furthermore, a report by the National Institute of Health showed that, in addition to parental support, it is imperative to have support for these positive female occupational roles in school.
  2. Occupational Segregation. The stereotypes about certain occupations being more conducive to males while other jobs, such as childcare worker or teacher (i.e., pink collar jobs); more favorable for women is an area for change. These stereotypes lead to the belief that female occupations are not are prestigious as male occupations. This belief then leads to “pink-collar jobs” paying less and being devalued. It is this biased thinking that causes women in female-dominated jobs to receive a lower average wage than comparable male-dominated jobs, and earning less as individuals relative to men doing the same jobs. I would see this all the time while at Best Buy. Women were “Operations Managers” and the men were “Sales Managers” and since sales is what brought in the revenue we were just there to serve them and definitely made less.
  3. Work Environment. Another area responsible for the gender pay gap that needs to be addressed is the lack of support for family and childcare. Historically, women tend to be the primary caregivers of family members, which factors into the jobs they choose, such as jobs that require fewer hours or don’t require relocation. These positions tend to have lower compensation than those that require longer hours or the flexibility to relocate or travel. Additionally, hostile work environments, such as those we’ve seen in the technology industry, have caused many women to avoid certain sectors. Improving work environments and culture to be more inclusive can bring about the change needed to help close the gap. Additionally, if companies could invest in better family leave and childcare for their female employees, gender diversity would improve.
  4. Gender & Power. As a society we have preconceived notions of how women are supposed to act and traits they are to exhibit. However, when these “norms” are broken we tend to punish our women. Examples of this can be seen in the workplace when women exhibit power or tend to speak-up they are often labeled as abrasive. Though I might be veering off a bit, something that sticks out to me personally is after multiple times of me ignoring the sexual advances from my boss I decided to contact HR (after consulting with my previous male boss) to let them know about the unwanted attention and the response from the female HR person was to ask me what I did to make it seem okay for him to do this.
  5. Exhibiting Female Confidence. Women often tend to not be confident in our self worth and are often afraid to exhibit signs of success. Conversely, men are more likely to be the ones to speak up, ask for the raise and be confident in calling themselves experts. A good story on the difference between men and women came several years ago when I saw an accomplished woman being interviewed. Her husband was sitting beside her and when the interviewer spoke to her about breastfeeding (as she had just recently had a baby) “You’ve got to be a breastfeeding expert by now.” The woman shook her head no and said, “I’m no expert. I had issues with each one of my children.” The husband leaned over his wife and said, “What do you need to know? I watched.” Men aren’t afraid to call themselves experts. It’s just something women picked up along the way. It’s not true, and it’s okay to call ourselves experts. It is also this mindset that will help in our advancement in the workplace and aid in acquiring pay parity.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement that I would like to inspire that would bring the most amounts of good to the most amounts of people would be one that redefines gender roles, while empowering the young girls of our country with the knowledge that they can be strong women in any role they choose. I would also want the movement to raise awareness and educate society, uniting us all. Therefore, based on the aforementioned criteria, I would create Women in Leadership Day.

Though, not movement like #metoo per se, it would however be a day that is recognized nationally, dedicated to achieving the goals of redefining society’s preconceived notions of how women are supposed to act and traits they are to exhibit. The awareness would start at a young age by having a mandated coarse in schools on women in executive positions in various industries and female leadership.

This movement could also have the hashtag #WomeninLeadership and would receive its own designated color such as green, in the same manner pink is for breast cancer. This day would be about educating all people about women in leadership positions and positions of power. The goal would be to change public perception and gender-role expectations of women not only in corporate America but globally. It would consist of educating young students in schools as well as the general public. This is important due to women being perceived as nice, warm and nurturing, as they’re expected to be, as not having the qualities required to move into leadership positions. Yet when the exhibit more ambitious qualities they are often seen to be angry.

Although, Women in Leadership Day does exist in varying forms and recognized by different educational institutions, organizations and companies, it does not exist as a nationally recognized holiday. By having Women in Leadership day nationally recognized it allows for a higher level of awareness and education by society.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have a few. One is “to show up, stand up and speak up” and the other is “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” these both seem to be relevant in my life weekly but early on in my life it became very apparent of my passion around the topic of helping women advance and that we tend to be the ones who are mainly holding ourselves back.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Former First Lady Michelle Obama is the person I would choose to have a private breakfast or lunch with. I just remember being torn when former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were fighting it out in Iowa years ago to see who was going to be on the Democratic ticket and then I heard Michelle speak and from that moment on I was team Barack and Michelle. Michelle is smart, articulate and isn’t afraid of going up against anyone, nor does she care what anyone thinks of her, not to mention her fantastic fashion sense. In addition to her confidence and strength, I also have tremendous respect for the former First Lady due to her initiatives while in the White House. One of her initiatives that stuck a chord with me was her international adolescent girls education. An advocate for female empowerment, First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let Girls Learn, a U.S. government initiative aimed at helping adolescent girls attain a quality education that empowers them to reach their full potential. This initiative is a big step towards empowering our girls and creating confident women. It is for this and so many other reasons I just whole-heartedly admire her.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

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