How Gender Norms Affect Your Job Search

The process of securing a job is stressful and frustrating enough as it is. The competition, the rejection, trying to prove that you'll be a better employee than any other candidate — it's traits like these that have led us to refer to it as a "rat race." To make matters tougher, things working against you could easily outweigh qualities working in your favor — and totally against your will, at that. In fact, there are all sorts of job search issues based in gender norms, meaning that simply by being a certain gender, you're automatically working from a disadvantage.

Although of course gender norms can harm everyone, women an nonbinary individuals often bear the brunt of it. We've been taught, for example, that women are inherently less capable than men. We have areas that we've been culturally designated — like the home — while much of the other territory we venture into "belongs" to men. I can't stress enough that this is not an argument of men versus women, largely because a) men and women aren't the only genders out there, and b) we're all responsible for leveling the playing fields; it's an argument of ending inequality. The most concerning part of gender-based discrimination is that we often do it unknowingly and unintentionally, because our culture has conditioned us to do so.

Gender norms dictate so much of our life, including our job searches. These struggles that many people experience wouldn't even exist if we weren't always playing into the roles that society has defined for us.

1. How You Feel About Negotiating A Salary

Once I graduated from college and started applying for jobs in my field, I began to dread one thing in particular: The moment the human resources person would ask my salary requirements. Quietly, nervously, I would propose some ridiculously low range, and then quickly follow it up with, "But I am totally open to discussing salary, and I'm very flexible." Makes sense, right? I was still so young, with very little experience.

But here's the thing: Even years later, with plenty of strong experience under my belt, I still often kept short-changing myself. I was terrified to give potential employers the wrong number. It took lots of practice and a serious pep talk with myself to finally find the courage to say — and say with confidence — what I wanted to be paid, because what I wanted was what I was worth.

There's a well-documented reason we're nervous to talk about money, and it's because it leaves a lasting mark on how others perceive us — not just as employees or potential employees, but as human beings. Research has found that women who ask for raises are viewed as aggressive and demanding, and are overall found to be less likable. Mind you, women make less than men, are assigned less critical work than men, ask for raises less than men, and are promoted less than men. But... we're being too demanding?

So, we often have to compromise: Take what you're given, keep your mouth shut, and be liked by others — or ask for more and risk your reputation. And for the curious, this trend (the connection between asking for a raise and likability) hasn't been found for men. That's not to say it doesn't happen; that's to say that it doesn't happen nearly as much.

2. Your Wardrobe Choices — And How They're Percieved

Some people like to include pictures on their resumes, although many advise against it. You know why? Because you're going to be judged based on how you look. I'm not talking about dressing professionally versus dressing unprofessionally; I'm talking about dressing "conservatively" versus showing a little more skin. Make no mistake about it: It does make a difference, and not for the right reasons.

One recent study, for example, found that women who were pictured wearing low-cut shirts on their resumes were 19 times more likely to be offered an interview, compared to women dressing more conservatively. Each participant was submitted for 100 jobs in the fields of sales and accounting, wearing one low-cut top and one higher cut, for 200 applications in total. For the sales jobs, women in revealing shirts received 62 more interview offers; for accounting jobs, there were 68 more.

These statistics are not modest,. And who's to say that the same superficial judgment doesn't apply to women during the actual interview? Or women going through their normal workdays? Do employers look at pictures of men candidates and say, "Oooo, I like the way his neckline is cut. Let's call him"?

Oh, but ladies — before you whip out those low-cut shirts, be aware that being too attractive can work against you, as well, particularly in male-dominated fields. We just can't win.

3. Your Parenthood Status

Having spent time as a stay-at-home parent has proven to make it even more challenging for mothers returning to work. The time they've spent away from the job is seen as subtracting from their experience and knowledge, rather than adding to it. In fact, when one nonprofit conducted a survey with its members, it found that over half of them (53.7 percent) experienced hurdles to being hired because they spent time as stay-at-home moms.

Pregnant women don't have it easy, either. The New York Times once reported on the discrimination pregnant women face. Pregnant employees have shared stories of employers stopping them from taking too many bathroom breaks, being forced to climb ladders, and even being fired because they were viewed as a liability!

But hey, guess who rarely, if ever, has to worry about their status as a parent — or as a person who plans to become a parent in the future — affecting whether or not they get hired? Hint: It begins with a "d" and ends with "udes."

4. Your Age

While ageism can be a problem for everyone — for example, there are a huge number of older people, both men and women, who lost their jobs during the recession and had difficulty finding work again because of their age — but like so many things, ageism often affects women disproportionately. We know we're not supposed to reveal our age, and potential employers aren't supposed to ask — but our age can still be held against us in ways that men won't experience. And sure enough, the older you get, the tougher it can be to secure a job. One study demonstrated that younger women were twice as likely to receive a callback for sales jobs, compared to older women. What's more, one study showed that the resumes belonging to older women got far fewer callbacks compared to older men, and both younger men and women.

5. Your Field Of Choice

Our culture has us believe that men and women belong in certain places — and we're falling for it. 2013 data from the American Association of University Women found that just 26 percent of people in math- and computer-related fields were women; similarly, in 2011, other data from the U.S. Census Bureau found that only 9.6 percent of nurses were men. Do we really believe that this is because men and women simply have so little interest in these fields? Furthermore, women are discouraged from pursuing positions of leadership, which men typically dominate. Leaders who are men are seen as "powerful." Leaders who are women are seen as "bossy."

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