With the immense progress women have made in the last five decades in the workforce, our society is starting to accept the fact that women are no longer limited to the role of a wife or mother. Now women have a say in what they want to do with their lives. If we choose, we can pursue a career along with taking care of our families. Being able to add to our self-worth is a right that women have had to fight very hard for. However, even with all these advancements, women still face major inequities in the work place.
There are two big challenges women face at work: bias assumptions about women and unequal pay.
Bias Assumptions About Women
As a woman working in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering and math) I know that I face more challenges. These fields are more male dominated making it tougher for women to be understood or even respected. Like an untrustworthy mechanic trying to take advantage of a woman driver who doesn’t know a spark plug from a piston, there is the perception that a woman can’t tell the difference between a Mill and a Lathe, a casting from a forging, a wing-spar from a landing gear. Our competency is constantly being questioned and our work is verified more often. We simply have to work harder to prove that we know what we’re doing.
The stereotype of women being weak and emotionally-frail prevents women from receiving more challenging work and significantly contributing to the workload. I feel like there is an unsaid assumption that you can’t push a female employee as hard as a male employee because women can’t handle pressure or stress as well as men. Some people worry about stressing a woman out, because she might snap or have an awkward emotional breakdown at work. However, the truth is that all people react in some form or fashion to an abnormal amount of stress. Some people hide their emotions and fight through the struggle. Others wear their emotions on their sleeves and broadcast their feelings to the world. My own way of fighting this false perception at work is learning to keep my emotions in check and simply rolling up my sleeves and getting to work. I’m not always successful, but I am improving.
Certain attributes are believed to only belong to the male gender. Women are often expected to behave in a “feminine manner” when working with others. If a man is aggressive or overbearing, they are sometimes viewed as “driven” or as a “go-getters”. If a woman shows these same attributes, she is sometimes referred to in a variety of unsavory terms.
There’s also the issue of exclusion. In many companies, business decisions are made and business relationships are forged outside of the regular workplace – on golf courses and over a drink at a bar. Male supervisors often assume that their female employees would not be interested in participating in these activities, or simply do not have the time due to family obligations. This, however, puts women at a disadvantage when vying for leadership of a key project or a promotion.
The fact that women make 70 cents to a dollar as compared to our male counterparts is disheartening. In addition, the pay gap only increases as we move up the corporate ladder and obtain higher-level positions. While women have overtaken men in educational attainment, they still fall short in earnings. Research shows that women don’t ask for more money – a survey of MBA grads reported that 57% of men said they tried to negotiate their salary, while only 7% of women negotiated. We work so hard yet often we fail to realize how valuable we are.
Working mothers seem to have the bleakest prospects. Research shows that women who prioritize their families over work were compensated less than men who prioritized their families over work. Perhaps the idea of being a mother implies that a woman is no longer serious about her work.
Being a woman in the workforce has its own set of challenges but when you combine being a women and a working mother you may feel like you hit a huge, brick wall.
On a personal note…
I am the mother of two unique and amazing children. I made the choice to be a working mother and not a “stay-at-home” mother. Countless women have struggled with that very decision for decades. There are hundreds of reasons why women choose the path they do, and each one is perfectly valid. I also know that sometimes that choice is out of one’s control, due to financial or value based reasons.
In my circumstance, I chose to return to work after my first round of maternity leave. I made that decision based on a good understanding of myself, knowing my strengths and weaknesses. I don’t view myself as a bad mom because I chose to go back to work. Rather, I just realized that I preferred to make a lasting contribution in the workplace and show my sons that a woman can both work and be a great mother.
Being a mother is one of the most wonderful and enriching experiences that can ever happen to a woman. Knowing this only made the decision of going back to work even more of an emotional struggle. Even after the decision has been made, I think the biggest challenge many women deal with is the guilt that comes along with the choice. Did I make the right decision? What will my family think? What if I miss an important moment? Do we get a nanny or daycare? Will my job support me should my child be out sick?
Dealing with these feelings of guilt and worry, finding good child care and keeping up with the demands of work can be a lot to handle. With all that women have to balance on a daily basis, shouldn’t we at least be compensated fairly?
Are you a working mother? How do you handle the challenges of being a woman in the workforce?
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