How women can change the work world

November 16, 2010, 4:16 PM UTC

A pioneering advocate of women’s advancement in the workplace believes now is the perfect moment to reach for full equality.

No question about it, women have come a long way from the days when Susan Bulkeley Butler first joined consulting firm Arthur Andersen (now Accenture). Back then, in 1965, “There were no female consultants. It was unheard of for a woman to fill any role except support staff,” Butler recalls. “So, before they could hire me, my new bosses had to check with clients and make sure they could accept a ‘man in a skirt.'” However reluctantly, the clients agreed, and 14 years later, Butler became Andersen’s first female partner.

Today, Butler is CEO of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Institute for the Development of Women Leaders, a nonprofit based in Tucson, Ariz. that offers coaching and mentoring to women who want to crack the glass ceiling at work. Butler is also the author of a new book, Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World (Purdue University Press, $24.95). It’s full of ideas for closing the gaps in earnings and opportunity that persist between men and women, even today, when the idea of regarding successful women as “men in skirts” seems as quaint as, say, rotary phones or 45 r.p.m. records.

I recently spoke with Butler about where professional women stand today, and what the next steps might be. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

It startled me to learn from your book that it was a woman named Catherine Littlefield Greene who invented the cotton gin — not Eli Whitney, as everyone “knows.” Are women more effective today at getting credit for their ideas?

Much better! I just saw some new research saying that single women in urban areas of the U.S. now earn as much as, or more than, their male peers. I’d like to think that means we’re finally learning how to negotiate. But many women still make the same mistakes that have always held us back. For one thing, most women don’t plan ahead the way men do. If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want, and a plan for where you want to be in five years, to whom have you outsourced that? Women need to take the initiative and make things happen in their careers, rather just letting things happen.

Read the full story here.