The 'where are the girls' question is, of course, not limited to corporations.
The gender issue crops up in just about every walk of life.
Here's another little piece I wrote for the women manager's special in Businessworld (issue dt April 4 2005).
Are women biologically different?
Why do so few women make it top level positions -- not just in corporations but in science and engineering? The president of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, recently stirred up a hornet's nest by suggesting it could be due to "innate differences in ability between girls and boys".
Perhaps there are some biological differences. But in reality, women in science drop out of the race for most of the same reasons as women in management -- lack of conducive environment and female role models; and scarcely any support to enable a woman to balance her work and family responsibilities.
Top level research requires hours in the lab equal to or longer than any corporate job. After finishing a PhD and post doc, a woman is in her early 30s may want to start a family. Male-dominated academia quickly concludes: this candidate is "not serious enough".
Five years ago, the venerated MIT admitted that it had heavily discriminated against female scientists. The scathing report noted that despite a flood of women earning PhDs, in MIT's entire history, no woman had ever headed a science department.
MIT has tried to address that issue by giving an extra year to women whose quest for tenure may get slowed down after they have had a baby. The recent appointment of 53-year-old neuroscientist Susan Hockfield as president of MIT is also being seen as a breakthrough.
Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer-winning science writer, argues that early in human history "one gender gained the power position and has been really, really reluctant to share the space".
Which is why women continue to be 'hard-to-find' in just about any intense profession. Over 50 per cent of medical graduates in India are women, but barring gynaecology, every head of department in every major hospital is a man. As are most professional chefs -- despite the fact that women, going by Summers' theory, are probably innately better at cooking!