09/22/2010 02:38 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Diversity Programs Don't Stop Mad Men Sexism

In a weekly wrap-up by Women's E-News, the news just last week included:

  • In the past decade, 141,000 women left the financial industry, while the number of men working on Wall Street grew by 389,000 reported Daily Finance Sept. 16. The trend is particularly pronounced among young women aged 20-35, where 16.5 percent of these women left the industry.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor filed an administrative complaint against Tyson Fresh Meats, alleging that Tyson systematically rejected female job applicants at its plant in Joslin, Illinois. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs asserts that more than 750 women are owed back wages and more than 100 women should be given the option of working for the company.
  • Goldman Sachs was hit with a sexual discrimination lawsuit from three former female employees who claim the firm has a testosterone-driven culture of press-up contests on the trading floor, male-dominated golf outings and scantily clad escorts at an office Christmas party, reported the Guardian Sept. 15. The plaintiffs also allege lack of parity in pay and promotions.

Apparently, the way women are treated on "Mad Men" is not a matter of history but a part of the current misery women continually face.

Other than filing energy-draining and career-altering lawsuits, women deal with the inequities by either job hopping, career hopping or hopping off the bus altogether and starting businesses for themselves. Or in bad economic times either personally or nationally like we have today, they suffer the unfairness for fear of losing their income. The pain is almost suffocating. They don't aspire to be CEO but dream of leaving when they can.

I call this phenomenon the Patty Principle. Whereas in the Peter Principle, a person rises to a level of incompetence and can't improve, in the Patty Principle, a woman rises to her level of intolerance and can't go on.

What do we have to do to make this stop?

This year, a number of books and articles have been released showing that the most fiscally responsible companies included women in executive positions. They also point out the strengths women bring to the table. Yet looking at the news, the literature has little effect on the male power structure. At The Economist's Human Potential conference last week, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of the business equality consultancy 20-first said, "Whoever thought of calling 60 percent of your talent and 80 percent of your customers a diversity? They are your future." Women represent more than half the talent, more than two-thirds of the buyers, better corporate governance and a better bottom line.

If we are the majority, why can't we force a change?

Companies do invest in women. They hire them, they send them through leadership programs, and they spend money on posters that declare diversity a company value. Yet cultures are not what is taught in classes or proselytized on posters. A company's culture can be seen in how people are treated in meetings, how they are respected (or not) by their managers, and how fairly leaders handle promotions, pay, recognition and incentives.

Aren't you tired of this issue? Our country isn't failing because of government actions. Our corporations failed us first, and continue to fail us with outdated management and performance measurement practices.

I am a victim of the Patty Principle. I gave up two years of unvested stock valued at a half a million dollars to start my own business with no customers or certain future in hand. I had been charged with changing the negative tone and culture of a company teetering on bankruptcy. Three years later, we became the #1 IPO in the country. Although many people cheered my efforts, my boss continued to tell me how much I had to learn before I would ever be considered for a promotion. Every idea I had, I had to fight for. If it was a good one, he took the credit. After years of going home in tears (I couldn't let them see me cry at the office), I'd had enough.

I now run a global coaching and leadership development firm and my latest book is an Amazon bestseller. I would have stayed and given my heart to the organization if I had felt honored for my efforts. When will the leaders see how they break our hearts?

It seems that marches in Washington are fashionable. Should the next one be a million women march? Should we hold a national sit-in? Do we need to quit being nice and treat the offending men with the disdain we have suffered for years? Maybe we should earn the names they call us.

For the health of our companies, the economy and our daughter's futures, we need to do something. Do you have any suggestions?

Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D. is the author of Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction. She is president of Covisioning, a leadership coaching and training organization working with a variety of people and organizations around the world.