As Published in Vancity Buzz on March 6th, 2015.
Women who entered the workforce after the baby boomers have a lot to be thankful for.
It’s easy to take for granted that many women before us worked hard to break down gender barriers. We are blissfully unaware that several well-established Canadian companies did not have female managers until the 1970s or later. For those of us who identify as Gen X, Gen Y or Millenials in Canada, it doesn’t occur to us that we would be told that we couldn’t do a certain job because we are a woman.
However, despite these gains in gender equality, women are still facing several unique challenges in the corporate world:
1. Being the work wife
Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, and Adam Grant wrote a fascinating article as part of their New York Time series on Women at Work. In Madame CEO, Get Me a Coffee they argue that women are expected to do domestic based tasks at work, regardless of their rank in the company.
In fairness, many women tend to revert to a “helper” role too quickly, which can translate into taking on these domestic tasks before it would occur to most men to step in and help. Yet there is an expectation for women to be more “nurturing and communal” than men. Sandberg and Grant point out that, “a man who doesn’t help is ‘busy’; a women is ‘selfish’.”
Sandberg admonishes women to be conscious of behaviours that reinforce the role of being the work wife, as this is time and energy that could be redirected to achieving more influence within the corporation. If women are naturally wired to be more relational, then we need to channel this energy into more self-care, which allows us to “gain more influence and sustain more energy.” This results in greater overall impact, instead of being bogged down by menial tasks.
2. Being judged on personality
Over the past year, I have heard several prominent female authors reference gender bias in corporate performance reviews. I started investigating the research about this phenomenon and it was alarming what I found.
For example, in her article The One Word Men Never See in Their Performance Reviews Kathleen Davis references a report for Fortune.com, where 248 performance reviews were collected from a range of start-up to large tech companies. In this report by linguist Kieran Snyder, the word “abrasive” was used to describe 13 women, but that word was never used once in a man’s review. Furthermore, 71 women had negative feedback in their review (as opposed to constructive feedback), as opposed to only two men.
When it came to constructive feedback—the type you would expect to see in a performance review—81 men had only constructive feedback, versus 23 women. At the end of her article, Davis asks us to consider, “Why abrasive is an adjective reserved for women?”
Ask any woman who has worked in the corporate world for a few years, and most will refer to an instance in which they were told they were too meek, too aggressive, too harsh, too enthusiastic, etc. Yet men do not seem to get this same personal, negative feedback.
3. Shouldering the burden of childcare responsibilities
I remember one of my close friends telling me a few years ago that her dream for her daughter is that she can choose whatever career path she wants, without having to take into consideration childcare restrictions.
Yes, there are some innovative companies with fantastic options for childcare, but for the average Canadian family there are still major obstacles that women tend to be shouldering the burden for. The financial industry in Canada is a significant employer of women, yet in B.C. there are relatively few work arrangements that allow for the tele-commuting, flex-shifts and job-sharing that many working mothers desire.
Penelope Trunk, in her blog post A Fresh View of Feminism for 2015, talks about being a child soldier of the war for equality at work during that her mother was fighting during the 1970s. She points out that her childhood was a casualty of that war (being raised by questionable babysitters), but she is proud that she contributed to the choice that women now have: it is okay to choose NOT to chase after money and power. It is okay to want to spend part of your time or all of your time at home with your kids.
There are a lot of mothers out there who want to have a flexible work arrangement in order to be more available for their kids. But a quick look at the current job postings in the Vancouver area shows very few options that would allow that type of flexibility.
A call to action
Arianna Huffington, author of Thrive and Editor-in-Chief at Huffington Post, told the audience at Emerging Women Live 2014 that we are in the midst of the third feminist revolution. She indicated that the first wave was fighting for the right to vote, the second was fighting for the right to do any job that men could do, and now the third is that we want to change the world, but on our own terms. Part of this movement requires us to re-evaluate where our energy is being invested.
While juggling all of the expectations from the roles we play at work and at home, most women struggle with taking care of their own needs. How can we expect to ignite change in the workplace (whether from inside or outside the corporate world) if we don’t have the energy to take care of our own basic needs?
This weekend we celebrate International Women’s Day. Before we choose which obstacles we want to tackle for the sake of the next generation, let’s take a moment to assess what deserves our energy. It’s a very personal question, but the answer will help steer us in the right direction as we push past the everyday obstacles in the corporate world.