Women Are Responsible For Inequalities in the Workplace

by Nora Dunn on 3 September 2008 20 comments
Photo: Nora Dunn

It’s not news that women tend to hit glass ceilings in the workplace far sooner than men do. It’s also not news that women tend to earn less money than their male counterparts in exactly the same positions.

Is it possible though, women are actually partially responsible for these inequalities? Recent studies say yes.

 

U.S. behavioral scientist and author Shannon L. Goodson has studied and compared tens of thousands of men and women from 34 different countries to figure out what is going on. She discovered that women are less likely to project themselves professionally (regardless of country or culture).

Upon first blush, this shouldn’t be so bad; aren’t we taught that modesty is more attractive than blatant egotism? Isn’t it unladylike to be too forward?

 

But when we live in a world where (as Goodson confirmed) self-promotion is key to getting bigger salaries and better positions, it seems that feminine modesty is simply detrimental.

 

Here are some ways you can start to actively promote yourself without being looked upon as the “office bitch”:

  • Draw attention to your contributions, especially if they go above and beyond the original task assigned.
  • If you are proud of something you believe you do well, make sure the right people know about it. If they know that you enjoy a particular task or have a knack with it, you may find your job shifting to encompass more of it, utilizing your talents better and giving you more job satisfaction.
  • Participate in social and professional networking events, and be sure to mingle. 
  • If a task takes you less than the allotted time, be sure to bring it to your boss’s attention.
  • Make suggestions for how your skills might be better utilized if you feel you aren’t working up to your capabilities. Warning: don’t let your boss pile more work on…indicate that these suggestions are for future improvement of the company, and that these responsibilities warrant a new position or restructuring of your current position.
  • Ask for a raise if you feel you deserve it! The worst anybody can say is “no”.

 

Goodson’s studies reveal another possibly scarier fact: female managers are not as supportive and encouraging of other women as you may think. Those women who have made a leap to management and are on the fast track may actually sabotage the careers of other women under them. So if you are an employee working underneath one of these managers, be sure not to look to them for that maternal encouragement you may expect – in fact, watching your back may be sadly necessary. I have personal experience in this area; by expecting the woman across the desk from me to be kind and nurturing, I have botched interviews, become agitated in meetings, and even been bitten by office politics in unlikely ways.

 

In many cases you can overcome workplace inequalities without having to change your behavior. Instead, a simple shift in attitude will do:

  • Don’t expend energy worrying about outcomes…focus on the job, and show off the results in the end.
  • Eliminate stage fright from your vocabulary. Join Toastmasters if you need to become more comfortable presenting in front of groups - it's fun and incredibly helpful.  (And it's more of that social networking I was  talking about - you just may meet  your next manager there).
  • Don’t worry about being “intrusive” in opening up lines of communication with others (especially managers higher than you).
  • Don’t be intimidated. Women are more likely than men to be intimidated by wealthy people, and those in powerful positions. Remember – they are just people too.

 

In this day and age, hard work alone is not enough to succeed and flourish in the workplace. Don’t be a martyr – get out there and self-promote! Only you can be your biggest cheerleader – nobody else will do it for you.

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Guest's picture

We are part of the problem if we don't change our own expectations of our own earning potential and ability to get into the game, play the game, and win in the business world! Dr. Lois Frankel's excellent book Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office outlines the typical traps that even very intelligent, high-powered executive women fall into because they are not even aware of how to play the corporate game. I summarized many of her key points in my series called "Success in the Corporate World" (which is not just for women, BTW, but also men who are "too" nice) at http://shanelyang.com/2008/02/13/success-in-the-corporate-world-self-test/

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

The point about the women bosses sabotaging other women is kind of sad because it is true in a lot of places.  Male managers I have met have been more encouraging and supportive in general.  Men are also more likely to just treat me like a guy and a teammember rather than competition.  I don't know why women end up being more scheming and manipulative.

Guest's picture

I've had 2 highly respected females as my boss, and I can further support they both allowed me (a male) far more room to grow than my female colleagues. I was actually skeptical going into a "female dominated" subgroup within these companies, but within a month, I basically got anything I wanted.

To some extent, I actually miss that working environment b/c the same competitive tendencies can be found in predominantly male working environments. Although, it's generally nothing a few beers and buffalo wings can't solve at happy hour.

Interesting research indeed.

Guest's picture

I think many women who have reached higher levels believe that they will not be able to work with other women on the same level- that another woman in a comparable or equal position will be their replacement. This is especially true for women who have reached the ceiling; they feel they will not be able ot move up any further, therefore the newer woman is a threat to their job.

Sadly enough, sometimes they're right.

Guest's picture
Jordan

Think like a man. Work like a dog. Act like a lady.

There is still a lot of repression in the workplace. If women can get past the nay-sayers they will also be passing up those people in the promotions.

Women need to start ignoring the status quo.

When people tell you them they can't do something they should ignore it.

@ Xin Lu: Men work well in survival mode. Most women don't.

Women have to fight for their rights, their men, their children and their jobs.

Men don't have to fight as much. If a man and a woman were competing for the same job position the woman could fight for her life even if she is over qualified and the man could put in half that effort qualified or not.

Put two women in that mix and the more assertive one will win. Qualified or not.

Nora has got the assertive part correct. Tooting your own horn should be second nature.

Julie Rains's picture

I vote for not blaming the victim, though I understand that she can and should empower herself. If a woman adopts what society deems as masculine characteristics (being tough for example) then she is condemned; if a man adopts feminine charactertistics (being nurturing), then he is celebrated. Our culture and attitudes about gender, race, age, etc. can and should be altered as well.

 

And though I am out of the corporate loop nowadays, I do hear quite a bit about diversity training and hope that it teaches employees, managers, leaders, etc. how to value different approaches to solving problems. 

Guest's picture
kav122

I just finished a book called "Mean Girls All Grown Up" (I can't remember the author and I mailed it to my mom). It is the best book that I have read on women and communication! I am planning on letting all of the women in my life borrow it, because it really describes how we women can be so destructive to other women and how to NOT let that office gossip/politics get you down. :)

Guest's picture
kav122

it is "Mean Girls Grown Up" by Cheryl Dellasega.

Here is an article on it:

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=1195438

Guest's picture
Guest

Oh so true. I recently left one of the world biggest corporates because I just couldnt handle the game playing - by the women. When I first joined said corporate, male dominated department, bit "boys club" but surviable. Moved departments - OMG! The women pretend to be your best friend, attempt to ask you your deepest darkest, or if considerably older, "mother" and patronise you (even if you have no maternal need). Within 3 days, with me naively innocent to the schemes at hand, I had been completely sabatoged - in a new team, before I had a chance to establish myself.
For the next 3 years I spend 50% of my working time having to "protect my arse".

In short, it was extremely insecure behaviour. Women the same age see you as competition, women who are older seem to resent the fact that they did it the hard way so why should todays women have it easier.

Obviously I found a few good women - suprisingly mostly amongst Gen Y rathern than X or boomers (for the rec, I'm an X).

When I returned to work after a bub, well, I had it unofficially slammed down my throat that despite the fact I was completing roles above my level, and they were hiring, promotion wasnt coming to me. I got so sick of having to play childish "cover your arse" games that took over 60% of my time - so much for client time!
In the end I decided it was completly beneath me, and walked away.

This, from a corporate that is one of the oldest and largest in the world. So much for "diversity" and "bullying" policies.

Guest's picture
Guest

...if all the women in the world took steps to dress more modestly, we could put an end to sexual assault!

Right?

*crickets*

Guest's picture
Guest

What a sexist b*tch you are. Men should learn how to control themselves and not what women wear, don't you think? Not all men sexually assault women so how is it a woman's fault?

Guest's picture
Guest

OK... so the blame the fat post wasn't enough, you decided to finish things off with this?

Take a look at this study:
The Double-Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership: Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t

*Now* I'm considering unsubbing to this rss feed. What a load of drivel.

Guest's picture
Guest

Yes, I agree with this article....except I am at a loss of how to overcome the sabotage and lack of support from my female supervisor.

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree with comment #11- what a load of drivel.

"I have personal experience in this area; by expecting the woman across the desk from me to be kind and nurturing, I have botched interviews..."

I'm sorry, but we're supposed to be "kind and nurturing" on top of being competent businesswomen? Respectful yes, but nurturing? It's a sexist assumption that women need to be mothers/nurturers in the office. I don't see businessmen being asked to nurture anyone.

My current manager is a woman VP, and she's a sharp, savvy, impressive person. She supports ALL her team because that way she's successful too. I've had just as many male managers "sabotage" their people as women.

Yeesh.

Guest's picture
kav122

possibly tell me that you have never experienced women putting other women down at work, gossiping and/or generally bullying other women.

It is possible to lift others up without putting yourself down.
This article does not say that we need to be sacrificial lambs and let other women use us as a stepping stone.

The point is proven in the article that you shared:
"Respondents’ comments revealed that when women behave in ways that are traditionally valued for men leaders (e.g., assertively), they are viewed as more competent, but also not as effective interpersonally as women who adopt a more stereotypically feminine style."

I'm sure that respondents were BOTH male AND female. We must wonder, why, if a man tells us something *assertively* we think that he is confident and if a woman does then she is a b****? Women often take business personally! This leads to ill-feelings and gossip. Have you ever wondered why guys don't seem to talk about the people that they work with as much as women?

This is a destructive cycle, and we all need to play the game or get out. Don't take things so personally! And before you gossip about another woman, ask yourself why that is necessary. If you have a woman supervisor that is encouraging to the entire team, then that is great! But before you say that it is sexist to say "men sabotage women just as much as women"...just note the next time you hear someone gossiping about another woman in at your workplace. Or making a snide put-down.

I'd be willing to wager it is a woman.

I certainly don't like it. And I definitely don't think it is right. I just want to understand it.

Guest's picture
Allie

Thank you for having the courage to write this. I tire endlessly of hearing the "party line" regarding how women are not given equal this and that. At the end of the day, it is up to US to pursue what we not; not up to anyone else to give it to us, simply because we lack a penis. It's nice to see studies are finally being done to debunk this popular myth.

Guest's picture
chason

As far as I can tell Goodson's study is not peer-reviewed (that is, not looked at by other scientists in her field to determine whether it is BS or not). I'd like to see the questionnaires and methods, but would have to buy her book to do that. I'll just have to take Goodson's word for it.

Can those women who have been discriminated against by their female bosses please give examples?

Guest's picture
Caroline

Women are responsible for inequalities in the workplace? What an appalling assertion. While your point may be that there are ways for women to improve their chances at getting ahead in the workplace, blaming women for their own disadvantage within a patriarchal system tarnishes any advice you give those same women.

Guest's picture
Beth

There's a lot more to the issue than just this study. I recommend reading Susan Pinkerton's "The Sexual Paradox". What I found interesting was the high number of women (versus men) who opt out of high power careers to raise children or to be a caregiver to an aging parent. Her arguments are really quite compelling.

I also think its dangerous to assume that the experiences of all women are alike. Women face additional discrimination based on religion, race and marital status. As a single woman without children, I am treated differently by management and by other women who have a family (as if that makes them somehow superior).

As women, it seems that so much of our worth in society is tied to having children -- an attitude I think is perpetuated by women. It's like I've failed the initiation rights for some all-important club. (My male friends and colleagues don't treat me with condescending pity the way like the women do).

Guest's picture
Guest

"Goodson’s studies reveal another possibly scarier fact: female managers are not as supportive and encouraging of other women as you may think. "

So true. My first career change was knocked out from underneath me by an older woman jealous and threatened by the younger women with degrees getting hired. She touted herself liberal Democrat but her boss a conservative gave me more responsibilities and chances to prove myself. No matter how much I proved and listed my accomplishments she used her longevity and influence to get me fired once she got to be section manager.

I have always worked to speak out about my contributions and going over the top in effort and it has always been treated and 'that's expected, so what". I have consistently outperformed other workers either male or non-minority and regularly given the paternalistic pat on the head and disbelieve I could REALLY do the job well or be qualified.

The acting unprofessionally could be NOT acting like the 'good ole boys around the water hole and or over time any human develops a sense of disenchantment, aggravation and resentment as unfair/unequal workplace policies, rules and promotion hiring activity continues under the euphemism "We aren't discriminatory. We don't believe in quotas for minorities & women. We're just making sure the BEST qualified are hired and promoted and the automatic standard is unfortunately white males are ALWAYS better qualified." So overtime you get a taint of 'chip on shoulder'