Women in the Workplace: Turning Issues into Opportunities

Turn on any news outlet these days and you’re sure to find discussions going on about the gender pay gap that still exists in the United States.

Take a variety of intro level sociology, political science, or business classes and you’re sure to hear the term “glass ceiling” come up as well.

These are two common points of discussion that come up when talking about the issues women face in the workforce, but several other factors have been brought up lately that haven’t received as much media attention in the past couple of decades.

Women in the Workplace PanelThese factors among others will be discussed at a “Women in the Workplace” panel hosted today at 5 p.m. in 114 Classroom Building by the Women’s Programming Advisory Council and Minority Women’s Association of OSU.

Let’s get down to some stereotypes that are underlying causes as to why women and minorities are held back in the workplace (so minority women are dealt a doubly bad deck of cards when it comes to career advancement).

  1. Women are expected to have kids and quit their jobs.In the past decade, more women are waiting to get married AND to have kids, with many choosing not to have kids at all. Of course, with that choice comes the inevitable, “When do you plan on having kids?” or “Don’t you want kids?” questions. It’s a double-edged sword for women who driven with their careers because many people still believe the highest priority should be popping out babies before our “biological clock” runs out of batteries.
  2. Women are expected to be their child’s primary caregiver.All I’m going to say on this one is men can be equally as awesome, if not better, than women at caring for a child. Many men actually enjoy being the caregiver but are often looked at strangely for not wanting to be the “breadwinner” of the family. Apparently when women are providing the primary income of a family it threatens the masculinity of a man who truly enjoys being with and caring for his children. This stereotype, however, is also starting to change.
  3. Women are judged more harshly when voicing their opinions.“Bossy”, “aggressive”, “bitch”…these are all words describing women who voice their opinions in a workplace environment. Men, when voicing their opinions, are described as “leaders”, “assertive” and “direct.” Unfair much? Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling Lean In seeks to change the way we perceive assertive women in the workplace through education and a little bit of help with the “Ban Bossy” campaign. If you would be proud of your mother, daughter, girlfriend, friend, sister, etc. for accomplishing a major achievement at work, how would you feel if you knew she was being called a “bitch” for it?
  4. Women are expected to have good “soft skills.”Because of the misconception that women are meant to be caregivers, they are also often attributed to being good at compromise (not negotiating), communication (not strategy), and mediation (not problem solving). Similar to the word choices used to describe assertive women, we are often guilty of describing the same set of skills in a “feminine” manner when a woman possesses them and in a more career-friendly “masculine” manner when men possess them.
  5. Women are still seen as secondary to their husbands.We’ve come a long way in perceiving men and women as equal human beings, yet internally there is still exists much conflict for women who are equal (or better) than their husbands with their careers. A study found that women who make equal to or more income than their husbands tend to overcompensate with housework “in order to appease the blow to their husband’s ego.” Women shouldn’t feel guilty about their hard-earned success, and men shouldn’t make them feel that way either. In the words of Tom Haverford, take that extra money, hire someone (who maybe needs the extra income to begin with) to take care of some of those household/caregiver duties and “Treat yo’ self” every once in a while.
  6. Women are perceived as naturally weaker than their male coworkers.This goes back to the “soft skills” stereotype from earlier, however, women who are career-driven tend to have a higher work ethic and commit more time to working hard to earn their success. This leads to a lot of men being displaced from jobs they historically were “entitled” to have available to them. As more women prove that they’ve got the chops to do as good or better of a job than their male counterparts, this argument is becoming less valid, but still exists as men feel edged out of the traditionally male-dominated workforce.
  7. Women are judged more on their looks than men.I’ll say this…damn high heels. But seriously, women are expected to look a certain way, have an endless number of outfits, wear their hair a certain style, wear makeup, and present themselves outwardly in ways men don’t have to worry about. The media tend to worry about this more for high-profile women, and focus little on their actual qualifications and accomplishments. Yet, there’s also a fine line women must tiptoe in order to be attractive but not “too sexy” at the workplace. With this, I’ll leave on the note of ultimately, be in charge of defining yourself. With more than 7 billion people in the world right now, who’s got time to worry about what everyone else thinks about you?
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