Women in the Workplace

Three Women Sitting in Front of a Wooden Table

A lot has changed in the past few decades in the workplace. One major shift has been moving women out of the typing pools and into boardrooms and offices. This has shown to be a positive move as women hold more bachelor’s degrees (57%) and companies with women in leadership roles have shown increased profitability. Women are shrewd investors and often better equipped to play the long-game in investing. But knowing all this and having the data to prove it, why aren’t there more women in leadership roles? When only 4.8% of Fortune 500 companies have women CEO’s and female-dominated boardrooms, the question must be asked, why aren’t there more women in leadership roles?

Unconscious Bias

One of the challenges women face in the workplace may, in fact, be getting their foot in the door. There are still a lot of barriers to women entering careers that are perceived to be ‘men’s work’. On top of that, women tend to apply to jobs when they feel 100% qualified, whereas for men it is closer to 60%. Men will often be chosen over women based on identical resumes. Once hired, men get promoted faster and receive more raises, regardless of job performance. Unconscious bias in the workplace is often, as the name says, unconscious. These deeply subconscious opinions about everything from race, to class, to gender, to appearance find ways to seep into the hiring process and office environments. We are always projecting information, from our clothing, our skin color, our car, our accent, and receiving information from everyone around us, simultaneously. This bias shows up in the wording for a job position, in the hiring manager going through resumes, and on through who gets hired, promoted, or shown the door. If women are not seen as leaders, in part because of an unconscious bias tied to body language and physical presence, for example, they may be left behind. The good news is that there are ways to work around unconscious bias, and progressive workplaces are incorporating more training and diversity into their staffing practices. By removing any racial or gender-specific details and reading resumes blind, for example, a large amount of initial bias is removed. When interviewing, having multiple staff in the room instead of just one hiring manager will help to remove an individual’s personal bias. Unconscious bias is also something that needs to be implemented from the top down; practicing diversity and inclusivity must be led by example. Being more inclusive is not only good for employees, but it’s also just good business. Companies with more women executives had a 34% higher return to shareholders, and companies with more women directors have a 26% higher return on investment.

Double-Bind Paradox

Another challenge to women in the workplace is experiencing what is called the Double-Bind Paradox. What this means is that a woman is perceived as less likable as she works up the ranks in her company whereas as a man moves up within the company his likeability goes unchanged or grows with his power. Women who are seen as aggressive or driven are penalized, where men are praised for those qualities. This puts women in a unique situation where being too soft penalizes them for lacking backbone or leadership qualities and therefore goes unpromoted while being too hard or aggressive is penalized for being unlikeable. This likeability paradox shows up again and again in the workplace. For example, men ask for raises significantly more than women regardless of whether or not their work merits them. Women who avoid negotiating salary or promotions risk not getting them, but women who argue for them are again considered unlikeable and demanding and may not get them for that reason. In one study 57% of men negotiated for a raise and only 7% of the women did. This may be part of the reason that women are still paid less than men across the board. Ways to correct for the Double-Bind Paradox need to come from management. Having transparent pay structures so that two people working the same job aren’t potentially paid wildly different salaries is one solution. Another is to make sure that women are not being talked over or dismissed in discussions and that their feedback has equal weight. It is important that women do not give up asking for raises, promotions, or space to speak in meetings, but due to the Double-Bind Paradox, they need the external support of management.

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome disproportionally affects minority groups. Imposter Syndrome is defined as the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills. This insidious thought process plants a seed of unworthiness regardless of ability. Suffering from Imposter Syndrome presents itself in various ways, some of which are feeling like a fraud, a sense you’re always wrong, devaluing your work and underestimating your expertise. Unfortunately, the higher one climbs in their career, the more often Imposter Syndrome may rear its ugly head. There are ways to manage it though, oftentimes with some thought exercises. Try first to figure out what exactly is causing the feeling: is it a new title? A new position? A meeting you have to lead? A speech you have to give? Next, share the feeling out loud with a confident, therapist, or someone who works in your field. Remind yourself of your accomplishments, go over your achievements and reflect on the hard work and time you put in. Respect that the people who put you in your new position are competent and you did not deceive them. They chose you based on your accomplishments and because they felt you were a good fit. Imposter Syndrome is often a sign of success because you wouldn’t feel this way unless you had climbed up from somewhere. As the above issues mentioned, support from within the workplace and management can also help alleviate the feeling of Imposter Syndrome. Transparency in hiring and promotion practices will help address this feeling, along with creating a positive work environment where employees feel valued and heard.

A Good Investment

These are just a few of the obstacles that can limit women in the workplace and stop them from reaching leadership roles. Being mindful in how you hire, who you hire, and what kind of work environment you create can make an enormous difference. Like a high tide raising all boats, making your workplace more inclusive is also a smart business decision which tends to pay off in the long run.


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