At Women’s Voices for Change, we’ve often looked to for insight on the challenges facing women in business. Like that organization, we’re often “aspirational,” focusing on the women who break through.  This astringent commentary, from Douglas McIntyre of the financial website 24/7 Wall Street, finds a different, more sobering lesson. We thought it was important to share the column, and do so with the author’s permission.

On International Women’s Day, women need to acknowledge the formidable height of the barriers we face, even as we celebrate women who overcome them. Here’s to a more encouraging report on International Women’s Day 2013.  –Ed.

It is International Women’s Day.  One of the hallmarks of the day is that women have used it to press for more equal pay and job opportunities. Research firm Catalyst, which follows the highest end of the women’s employment spectrum, has called for a better representation of females among the seniormost executive jobs and more board memberships at big companies. It will not happen.

A recent study by the research firm found that:

According to the 2011 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Board Directors, Executive Officers and Top Earners and prior Catalyst Censuses, women have made no significant gains in the last year and are no further along the corporate ladder than they were six years ago.

Not much was said in the “census” about what will happen six years into the future, but there is no reason to expect any improvement for women. There certainly has been no improvement in the recent past. Women held 16.1% of board seats in 2011, compared to 15.7% in 2010. They held 14.1% of executive officer positions in 2011, compared to 14.4% in 2010. The number of Fortune 500 CEOs that are women can be counted on one hand.

It is human nature now, and will remain so in the future, that those who hold power try as best they can to give up nothing. Boards and senior management positions at large companies have been held by men since the modern corporation became the dominant business entity in the United States. The top jobs pay the best. And top management has by far the greatest say in corporate direction. Top management and board jobs are controlled by old, white men. It would be nice to think that the women’s movement and federal legislation against discrimination have changed that, but they have not. The trend goes beyond large corporations to national politics and academia. No one with any sense believes that old, white men will give up the high ground. And so, the uphill battle to change the fortunes of women at large companies has yielded almost no ground at all.

It is International Women’s Day. For women who want to gain jobs at the top of big companies, there is nothing to celebrate.

Douglas McIntyre

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  • Shari Lebowitz March 9, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Thank you, Douglas, for reminding us that top jobs – and politics and government, for that matter – are controlled by “old white men”. I would encourage women across the country to get involved with NY Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand as she battles women’s inequality. Whether it’s through her “Off The Sidelines” initiative or her recent “Women’s Economic Empowerment Summit”, or her tireless efforts daily in the Senate,she is urging more women to get involved in the issues they care about and that affect them. or