Career Advancement & Financial Stability
October 25, 2021
The struggles of trying to advance your career and financial stability in the workforce.
Sometimes it feels as if sexism has existed since the dawn of civilization, having been woven into our societal culture. One could even argue that the values and beliefs that were instilled in us when we were children could negatively impact and shape a woman’s future, affecting her career in the process. In Jim Tankersley’s article, How Sexism Follows Women from the Cradle to the Workplace, it is noted that economists say that “women appear to internalize social norms when they are young on issues like when to have children, what tasks are appropriate for women in the workforce, etc. Those traits could, in turn, affect a woman’s willingness to bargain for higher wages.” For a long time now, we have been slowly putting into play (directly and indirectly) rules and regulations to combat these sexist behaviors that are embedded in our society. When industries are dominated by men, it makes it more difficult for women to get better pay, as well as advance their careers in the ways that men are able to.
I have a good friend who works in the restaurant industry. There are many times that I see her looking worn down and defeated after a particularly hard day at work. I have asked her why she does not just quit her job if it is so mentally and emotionally draining. She tells me there is no point. She adds, even if I leave this job, I will likely end up with another job that will probably be just as bad or worse. She was subjected to routine gender-based harassment by her managers, coworkers, and even some of the customers. In the end, the Restaurant Industry is just one of many that has a long history of sexual discrimination in the workplace that women must endure.
According to a Pew Research Center Survey, about four in ten working women said they had experienced gender discrimination at work. For most, working in a sexist environment is not the ideal place to work; it's just something that happens a lot more than it should. Over time, the perception society has on men and women in a workforce environment has been altered based on the belief that they have complimentary characteristics. Specifically, men were assumed to be more individualistic and dominant, whereas women were seen as caring and more collaborative. These stereotypes began to be applied more frequently through the social role theory where certain social traits and behaviors were used to categorize individuals as either male or female. After some time, these assumptions and stereotypical classifications began to lay the foundation for what is now known as sexism.
Many people believe they have a clear understanding of what sexism is and the severity of its impact. It’s the belief that someone can’t do something or act a certain way on the basis of their sex. It is this normalization of these behaviors and attitudes that have the ability to affect a woman’s financial stability and future career advancements. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center Survey, one in four employed women said they had earned less than a man who was doing the same job; just 5% of men said they had earned less than a woman doing the same job. There are two main types of sexism that women encounter in the workplace. Hostile sexism is a much more direct and misogynistic approach involving a lot of manipulative behavior, jokes, and outright meanness, while benevolent sexism is a normalized behavior that has been woven into our societal standards. It is the idea that women should be the caretakers and men should be the breadwinners. It is a behavior that can sometimes crawl in from our subconscious and appear in our conscious mind without even realizing it.
Even before the pandemic, women have been behind the eight ball when trying to advance in a career that is male dominated. Even though women represent about half of our labor force, women are overrepresented in lower paying jobs and underrepresented in the higher-ranking ones. Mercer’s Let’s get real about equality: When Women Thrive 2020 global report of over 1000 organizations found a significant lack of female leadership within these roles. Globally they found 23% of executives, 29% of senior management, 37% of managers, 42% of professionals, and 47% senior staff were women. To this day, it remains a struggle for females to obtain leadership positions within our society when they have proven time and again their capability and competency to get the job done. Ellemers emphasizes this in her article, saying that “gender-mixed management teams display more creativity and innovation and can engage in more effective problem solving.” If women were incorporated more in leadership positions society would be one step closer to achieving equality in the workforce at all levels of the corporate ladder, but that cannot happen as long as the above statistics remain unchanged. In the corporate world change has to start from the top down, and as long as there is a lack of diversity at the top that change will be slower and more limited. Having more women in higher ranking positions would establish higher standards for the democratic nature and diversity of organizations. It would also expand to larger markets, increasing those organizations’ revenues.
The pandemic left millions of Americans suffering from an unprecedented amount of job losses across the globe. In fact, “From February 2020 to February 2021, a net of 2.4 million women and 1.8 million men left the labor force” (Kochhar and Bennett, 2021). Specifically, women accounted for a majority of the decrease in the labor force at the height of the pandemic. Since then, a majority of men and women have set their sights on working remotely. However, working remotely is not as beneficial as we may have anticipated. Although it allows you to have a better work-life balance with the added benefit of some extended freedom, women have been in a fight to achieve gender equality in the workplace while also in pursuit of a career from the safety of a computer screen. Unfortunately, studies have shown that the gender inequality that is still present within our society is likely to increase for females who continue to work remotely. Hickok emphasizes this further, implying that “working from home also comes with a price tag that’s especially steep for women, who already lag behind men in key career metrics like salary and leadership representation—a discrepancy that’s likely to grow if men outnumber women in the office.” (2021).
Many women find that they need to be physically present at work in order to be recognized for their contributions, as the association of their face and voice have an impact on their effectiveness. In Hickok’s article it is mentioned by assistant professor Seulki “Rachel” Jang that “men who return to the office are likely to show higher job performance and recognition, more favourable HR decisions like promotions and raises, more social interactions, more influence and power than women who are working from home.” Working remotely has the potential of stalling future prospects for any career advancements. This discrepancy is similar to an occurrence known as the ‘fatherhood boost and motherhood penalty’. This phenomena originally began when men became fathers, their salaries increased, and their employer would view them as more dependable due to their working overtime. Women, on the other hand, got a decrease in their salaries and were viewed as the less dependable of the two because they needed to stay at home more often, forfeiting work time to have family time. One might not think being physically present in their work environment would be so important, but nowadays, especially for women, it is important to be acknowledged for their contributions. It is also necessary to gain a social presence in their work environment that will establish your reputation in the industry, helping them advance in their career and gain financial stability.
There is no one-size-fits all, perfect solution to the discrimination and sexist behaviors that women have been subjected to over the years and it’s not like it’s just going to disappear either. As I’ve said, working remotely would provide women with a more flexible schedule with the advantage of some extended freedom. However, without physically being present and recognized for their contribution’s women run the risk of losing traction while in pursuit of any career advancements. For decades now, women have been fighting to achieve gender equality in the workplace as they strive to advance their careers in the process. It is important to note that the integration of women in leadership positions and other high-ranking roles will set up a state of equilibrium amongst both men and women in the workforce where we’d all be on an even level playing field.
Kochhar, Rakesh & Bennett, Jesse. (2021, April 14th) “U.S. labor market inches back from the COVID-19 shock, but recovery is far from complete” https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/04/14/u-s-labor-market-inches-back-from-the-covid-19-shock-but-recovery-is-far-from-complete/
Barroso, Amanda and Brown Anna. “Gender pay gap in U.S. held steady in 2020” https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/05/25/gender-pay-gap-facts/
Tankersley, Jim. (2018, August 19th) “How Sexism Follows Women from the Cradle to the Workplace.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/19/business/sexism-women-birthplace-workplace.html
Ellemers, Noami. (2014) “Women at Work: How Organizational Features Impact Career Development.” https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2372732214549327
Hickok, Hannah. (2021, May 6th)“Are Men-dominated offices the future of the workplace?”. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210503-are-men-dominated-offices-the-future-of-the-workplace
Tabassum, Naznin & Nayak Shankar Bhabani. “Gender Stereotypes and their Impact on Women’s Career Progressions from a Managerial Perspective.” https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2277975220975513