Here in the US, we're constantly reminded of the systematic inferiority of women in the workplace– we earn 77 cents on the man’s dollar (and women of color make less than that - African American women make 64 cents and Hispanic women make 54 cents on the white man's dollar). Women out-earn men only in the “personal care” sector of the workforce. Even though the pay gap is currently the smallest it’s ever been in the US of A, it’s kind of baffling that this imbalance continues when more women are graduating with associate, bachelor’s, and graduate degrees than men.
It can be disheartening to look at the labor landscape here at home, and one can only hope that fellow ladies across the pond are having a better time, but that’s not the case. The BBC reported that, despite the fact that women make up half the population in Britain and make up 60% of university grads, women are heavily underrepresented in upper-level jobs across disciplines.
Some say that working women are their own worst enemies; that is, they’re stopping themselves from climbing up the ranks. “There is nothing to stop you being whoever or whatever you want to be,” declares businesswomen and President of BT Global Services UK Emer Timmons. “The only thing stopping you is you.” Timmons believes that if women just had “more confidence in their abilities,” they could grab the top-level boardroom jobs.
I suppose that’s a fair enough claim– having confidence in yourself and your abilities can’t do anything but good. But statements like that assume that there’s already a 100% equal playing field, which is just not the case. Granted, I don’t live in Britain, but I think I can accurately state that there are larger forces at play– forces relating to how the genders are taught how to present themselves from a young age.
Leadership psychologist Averil Leimon confirms this, explaining how the genders are conditioned from childhood. “Each gender is conditioned from an early age to behave in different ways– girls to keep quiet and boys to shout out.” While the girls in school work hard and perform well (often academically outperforming the boys), they're taught to work in silence and expect to be noticed for a job well-done; this contrasts with how boys are reared to be assertive and be vocal about what they can do well. Raising girls to be so quiet about their skills can often lead to a lack in confidence, and can make them believe that they are not competent when they are. “If a man has got 40% of what it takes to do a job, he knows he's ready– a woman will wait until she's pretty perfect and then think, ‘Am I ready for this?’” Leimon says. “Just that action sets women back.”
Another common “justification” for the lack of women in high-up jobs is the argument that women are more concerned with family than men, so they opt out of top jobs. While yes, some women make family a priority over their careers (a perfectly valid and feminist decision, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise), to assume that all women desire motherhood is just wrong. That women can be put at a disadvantage for top-level positions just because of the possibility of motherhood (and eventual maternity leave– which is a whole new can o’ worms) alone is also just wrong. The possibilities for women who do “want it all” are also limited– founder of Netmums, Siobhan Freegard, believes that a true balance of work and family life is impossible for working women. She says that the nature of work forces women to find daycare or a nanny, essentially “outsourcing” family life.
What do you think about women’s roles in the workforce? (Also, just a “here be sexism” warning: the comments in the original BBC article can get pretty hairy, so proceed with caution!)