Being a working woman means juggling responsibilities with the other roles you are expected to fulfil — as a mother, daughter-in-law, wife, not to mention sister and daughter. But in the office, you have to keep all these aside and perform to the best of your abilities. Is that even possible? Can you park personal worries in some drawer and not stress about it at work? What do you even get professionally for doing this? You would think the top job, once in a while. Or equal pay all of the time.
But for every high-flyer like Marissa Mayer, Mary Barra (CEO of General Motors) or Sheryl Sandberg, who openly credited her male mentor Lawrence Summers for advocating for her and other women throughout his career at the World Bank and the Treasury, there are many other women who have fallen by the wayside and just given up. The reason is two words: Gender bias.
What works for women at work
Here’s where Joan Williams steps in. She is a professor, lawyer and mother and she’s done some research on what works (and what doesn’t) for women at work. Her videos on LeanIn’s website are a must watch. She makes it clear that gender bias is not just a woman’s problem; it is everyone’s problem.
Williams quoted her research and said, “At the rate of change, it would take over 250 years to have the same numbers of male and female CEOs in the Fortune 500 companies. The same is true of most other fields. Women levelled off in the mid-1990s and haven’t risen a lot since then.”
Williams and her daughter Rachel Dempsey looked at hundreds of studies about gender bias, and came across four striking patterns. She also verified these biases with 127 successful women, who confirmed that such biases existed. So what are these biases?
Women have to prove themselves over and over again. Almost two-thirds of women have faced this, where they need to provide more evidence of their competence than men. Women get to be judged on their performance whereas men get judged on their potential. Women's mistakes tend to be noticed more and remembered longer.
Also, women's success is attributed to luck while men's success is attributed to skill. Men also get the benefit of doubt more than women did. Women got polarised a lot too. Higher performing women got very high evaluations but women who were just a bit lower, got very low ones too. The most vicious bias is stealing a woman's idea and presenting it as his, and people notice it only then, even though the woman brought it up first.
Walking a tightrope
They had to walk a tightrope between being seen as too feminine, so they were not taken seriously. Or they were too masculine and therefore not likeable! Williams has categorised this into two gender-specific pitfalls. The feminine pitfalls, which make you likeable but not respected are:Submissive body language. Go for the power posing girls!
2. Don't undercut yourself when talking. State what you think with quiet confidence. 3. Women are given a large load of office housework. Set up a rotation to take the notes, or fill the coffee pot or order the birthday cake, and make sure this happens. Don't always do it.
4. Undervalued work. If you are always getting the under-appreciated, thankless work, then use a strategic 'no'. Go and get some high-value work for yourself.
A few practical tips
The masculine pitfalls come into play when women are respected but not liked. Here's how you counter that perception.
Practice gender judo. Williams knows a female CEO who is maternal with her team 95 percent of the time, so she can be strict 5 percent of the time too, and push them to achieve their goals and agenda. Williams call this gender judo. Having a 'posse' like team spirit will help here too.Show anger carefully because this is where the bias is really glaring.
The ‘maternal wall’ came up. This is the assumption that once women became moms, their competence and commitment was questionable. This was a bias that affected women without children and those who didn’t want children. They were held to higher punctuality and management standards. They were also likely to earn an average of $11,000 less than others, if they were hired in the first place. The tug of war that happens when all of the above patterns play out and creates conflict among women, especially when there is room for only one woman at the top, or even if this is just a perception. To counter this, here's what women should do: Don't judge other women. Be direct to resolve conflicts. Respect one another's experiences. Advocate for other women. Work together.
Needless to say that this kind of power politics being played out on a daily basis doesn’t make for a fruitful and happy work experience for women. So how do we women crack this?
Go for that promotion. Do what men do all the time, which is, if you need 9 skills for a promotion, they go for it, even with 6 skills on their resume. Women wait till they get those 9 or even 10 skills! So don't hold back.
Keep real-time records every day. Both of objective metrics you have met and the compliments you have received for them.
Form a posse. This is a group of people with whom you mutually celebrate successes. They also spread the word about you and you do the same for them.
This is very important. Call out stolen ideas. Give credit where it is really due.
So, why not try some of these expert tips, and it will help clear obstacles in your career path.
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Manali Rohinesh is a freelance writer who explores financial and non-financial subjects that pique her interest.