In today's economy, getting a job you want and gaining appreciation in the workplace is hard for anyone. But there are some career-related challenges women deal with in particular that most men don't. Sexism pervades all aspects of our lives, and our careers are one big aspect, so it makes sense that many of the obstacles women bump into are job-related.
From the leadership double-standards Sheryl Sandberg exposed in Lean In t o the pay gap and pressure to be "nice" Jennifer Lawrence recently called out in Lenny, it's becoming clear that work is one of many places where women face an inordinate amount of sexism. It has long been established that women make 77 percent of what men do, and no, that's not just a result of men and women having different priorities. But there are a few less obvious career challenges women face every day, not just while they're at work but also while they're thinking about their careers in the long-term.
Here are a few career-related problems that affect women disproportionately. If you're a woman, you're certainly not alone in experiencing them. If you have not had to deal with these, you may not even have noticed them happening, but once you're aware of them, they're hard to unsee. So please do what you can to keep them out of your workplace and support the women in your life.
1. Exclusion From "Masculine" Professions
It's probably no coincidence that the highest-paying and most respected roles in our society are considered men's professions. For example, women constitute about one-third of doctors, eight percent of software developers, and five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. This means that women don't have role models in these industries, aren't expected to enter them, and are less likely to be hired into them due to employers' biases.
2. Focus On Appearance
Though men often must follow uncomfortable office dress codes and may be considered sloppy if they don't, what women wear to work can be tied to their character and competence, with those who don't dress conservatively enough considered slutty and accused of sleeping their way to the top. In addition, people often focus on female public figures' appearances rather than their accomplishments, which cosmonaut Yelena Serova faced when an interviewer asked how she'll do her hair in space.
3. Sexual Harassment
Men can experience harassment at work, but sexual harassment toward women is engrained in the culture of many workplaces. According to a survey by the Association of Women for Action and Research, over half of women have been harassed at work at some point. Environments where objectification is the norm make women feel undervalued and distract them from their jobs, especially when supervisors and the law are not sympathetic.
4. Disproportionate Responsibility For Childcare
There's a lot of debate these days over whether women can "have it all" — that is, balance work and family. We should be able to, but that's not happening in the United States right now. Instead, due to lack of paid maternity leave, unaffordable childcare expenses, and traditions that dictate a woman should be the primary caretaker of a family, it is harder for women than men to maintain their previous work schedules after they have kids. Data from Kathleen Gerson's The Unfinished Revolution demonstrate that even young men who say they want an equal division of labor in their marriages also say they would prefer their wife become the primary caretaker and homemaker if that's not possible, which it often isn't.
5. Stigma Against "Bossiness"
As Sheryl Sandberg's "Ban Bossy" campaign has taught us, girls are called bossy for being leaders from a young age. Then, as women, they're told they're too aggressive or adversarial for disagreeing with a coworker or asking for what they want. This attitude can lead women to keep quiet in the workplace and accept the offers given to them rather than negotiating. According to a study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, people are less likely to want to work with women who negotiate than with men who negotiate or women who don't. Part of women's fear of asking for what they want may be due to internalized misogyny, but they also face a lot of external hostility.
6. Pressure To Represent All Women
Like several women I've spoken with, I feel uncomfortable admitting I left the tech industry. We feel like we're encouraging the stereotype that women aren't interested in STEM fields. But men can move about their career paths every which way without anyone saying, "I knew men weren't interested in technology!" or "So teaching really is popular among men!" Their choices are about their own preferences, while those of women, people of color, and other groups considered unfit for certain careers are held to represent their entire group.
7. Age Discrimination
Ageism disproportionately affects women. One National Bureau of Economic Research study found that women, but not men, were less likely to be interviewed for a position if they were 64 to 66 as opposed to 29 to 31. We've seen this problem lately in Hollywood, especially when Maggie Gyllenhaal was deemed to old to play the love interest of a man 18 years her senior. Unfortunately, workplace sexism is not among the things that get easier with age.
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