We often talk about how gender norms harm women, but something these conversations often miss is that sexism damages society as a whole. That includes people of all genders as well as larger structures like governments and companies. For example, there are many ways gender norms damage your job that you may not be aware of, regardless of your gender.
It may be hard for men or women who haven't experienced workplace sexism to realize, but the modern workplace is not the friendliest place for women, particularly in fields like science and tech where they're often excluded. To give you some idea of what it's like, according to the survey Elephant in the Valley, 60 percent of women in the tech industry have dealt with unwanted sexual advances from a co-worker, and 84 percent have been called too aggressive.
As I mentioned, though, gender norms don't just hurt women. They're bad for companies as a whole, including the men who work for them. Here are some ways that gender norms could be damaging your job and the jobs of your co-workers, whether or not that damage is perceptible to you:
1. Gender Norms Exclude Women From Man-Dominated Fields And Men From Woman-Dominated Fields
When they're growing up, boys might play with cars and trains and science kits and other STEM-related toys, while girls are given dolls and fake homes and dress-up clothes. Later in life, this translates to men being encouraged to pursue STEM fields while girls are steered toward more "human-oriented" professions. Nothing's wrong with any of these toys or pursuits, but the social prescription that people choose jobs based on their gender rather than their interests is a problem. According to 2013 data from the American Association of University Women, only 26 percent of people in mathematical and computing professions are women. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 9.6 percent of registered nurses in 2011 were men. Unfortunately, there's still stigma and bias against people who want to enter professions that aren't considered stereotypical of their gender.
2. Gender Norms Discourage Women From Taking Leadership Roles
The bias against women in leadership roles starts at a very young age, with kids preferring boys as leaders on their student councils, according to Harvard's report "Leaning Out." When girls try to take charge, they're penalized with labels like "bossy." Later on, women who want to advance in the workplace face the same sort of bias, being told they're "aggressive" or "shrill." When we make decisions about who to hire or promote based on anything other than who is best for the job, we not only deny women opportunities but also miss out on improving companies.
3. Gender Norms Keep Companies From Hiring The Most Talented People
Because of biases against women leaders, men in caring professions, and other people who don't fit the traits that a particular type of employee is "supposed" to possess, companies don't always make the decisions that optimize the company's success. Instead of having the best software engineers, for example, tech companies often end up with the best white, male software engineers. They miss out on a huge talent pool this way.
4. Gender Norms Costs Companies Money
Because of biases against women in leadership rules and the workplace in general, most companies' executive teams and boards are predominantly male. And it's costing them money. One study by market index provider MSCI found that companies with significant female leadership on their boards had a 36.4 percent higher return on equity between 2009 and 2015. Another study by Credit Suisse found that companies with boards consisting of at least one woman outperformed those with all-male boards by 5 percent. How does that affect your job? Well, the less money your company is making, the less it's able to pay you and the less stable your job is.
5. Gender Norms Undermine Work-Life Balance
Gender norms dictate that men should put work first and women should put family first, which can throw off work-life balance in both directions. Pressure to work nonstop and rise to the top and inadequate parental leave policies, especially for fathers, maintain households in which men are the primary breadwinners and women are the primary caretakers. And pressure to be a "good mom" can lead women to de-prioritize careers they care about. We may never be able to "have it all," but by challenging gender norms, we can at least all have a little more of everything.