By KELSI LOOS
WASHINGTON - Stephanie Cohen, CEO of Golden & Cohen, a Gaithersburg-based insurance brokerage firm, for 23 years; and Ann Mitchell, CEO of Montgomery Hospice in Rockville for 14 years, are the facts behind the statistics: More women in Maryland worked as managers relative to other states in 2010.
According to census data released Thursday, the portion of female managers and officials was 44.9 percent in Maryland, 4.3 points higher than the nation as a whole. The state ranked behind only Alaska in the proportion of women workers in that category.
The fact that female managers are well-represented in Maryland does not mean that it has always been easy for Cohen and Mitchell to lead as women.
Cohen said when she opened her firm, the insurance field was dominated by men. She said she felt she had to act differently as a women. She had to be careful how she behaved during disputes to avoid being considered "inappropriate or hysterical."
"You have to prove yourself more as a women, and yet you have to be more calm," she said.
Mitchell had less difficulty as CEO of a hospice because many other leaders in her field are also women, she said.
Maryland's progressive nature, large public sector and access to education are most likely responsible for the high portion of women in managerial positions, said Cecilia Rio, associate professor of women's studies at Towson University.
Rio said there has been a nationwide trend toward more women in management since the passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity law in the 1960s, but Maryland has often been at the forefront of equal pay causes, which could explain the higher ratio of female managers.
Mitchell also said that a progressive culture has encouraged women leaders in business.
"There is more gender equality in this state than I've seen elsewhere," she said, adding that the types of businesses common in Maryland often have female managers.
She has noticed that female CEOs are more prevalent in the hospice field and in nonprofits in general, which are well represented in Maryland.
Rita Marinho, professor of women and gender studies at Towson University, explained that the nonprofit fields have a history of attracting female employees stretching back to the founding of YWCA. The nonprofit sector is often more alert to the needs of women workers, who may miss work due to pregnancy or to care for family, she said.
Economic pressures also help to move women to lead business, said Cohen, because the high cost of living in Maryland would push women to enter the workforce and seek high-paying leadership positions.
"Women have to work in order to live in an area that is thriving, and it tends to be more expensive," she said.
Maintaining a family with both parents in the workforce or as a single mother can make heading a company even more challenging. Cohen has a teenage son and daughter and said that balancing work and home responsibilities can be tough at times.
"It is hard to juggle everything. You have to have your children understand that the reason you're working so hard is for them," she said. "They have to understand why their mom isn't picking them up at school like the other moms."
Mitchell takes care of her mother and admits that it has also been challenging to look after both her family and her business. Both Cohen and Mitchell said their husbands help with family responsibilities.
The census statistic may seem like a sign of heightened equality between the sexes, but Rio said that on the whole, the "vast majority of women are hurting now." She cautioned against making too much of the fact that women are becoming better represented in management.
The lowest-paying jobs with the fewest benefits are also more frequently being done by women, she said.
"There is a polarizing going on in the labor market," Rio said, adding, "Things are getting better for some women. For jobs that are associated with credentials and degrees it is a very good time for women but for other women, it is not such a good time."
Rio said that minority women, in particular, are underrepresented in the upper ranks of business.
Even when they do reach the top levels of their field, women still do not fare as well as men economically. Female managers earn an average of just 73 percent of what male managers earn, the New York Times reported.
Still, the fact that women in Maryland are becoming economic leaders was good news to Mitchell.
"We need to make sure that women are promoted for their capability and aptitude and not be left behind."