I have been fortunate enough to get to this point in my career without thinking very much about gender disparities that exist in the workplace. I suppose it has been a combination of being young and naive starting out, and being a part of diverse workplaces where women were well represented at all levels of management. At one of my prior roles, all 3 levels of management above me were women, right up to the CEO. So I suppose that I have had it easy, and that this sort of ignorant enjoyment of equality is the reason that some women, particularly younger women, denounce feminism.
But I read and hear all the time that gender inequality still exists. This is seen when it comes to the differences in pay between the sexes, the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) publishing that in May 2013, the average Australian woman earned $266.20 per week less than the average Australian man. The WGEA go on to attribute this gap to the following factors:
- women and men working in different industries. Historically, work done in female-dominated industries has been undervalued compared to male-dominated industries
- women and men working in different types of jobs within industries
- a lack of senior part-time or flexible roles
- differences in ‘human capital’ such as education, work experience, seniority
- discrimination or bias, whether conscious or unconscious.
As I said, I have not experienced any of the above firsthand. However, over countless coffee catch ups with female colleagues and Friday night drinks with friends from my practical legal training course, I have picked up on an interesting trend.
There are many women who prefer to work with, and particularly report to, men.
I will be honest and admit that in my current organisation, I also felt this way. These are things that I have heard said about other female colleagues; ‘She takes things personally‘, ‘She doesn’t like to be embarrassed so don’t cross her‘, and ‘She’s the jealous type‘. When I clash with a female colleague, sometimes there is a genuine reason such as a perception that they are being disorganised or disinterested to the task at hand. Other times, I have thought something along the lines of ‘Oh I’d rather be dealing with a man, at least they are straightforward and will tell it to you like it is‘. When I clash with a man, I am more likely to believe it is for a work related reason and that it is just business.
So let’s reflect on this. Both genders can receive criticism for performance related traits such as incompetence or tardiness. But why is it, that a woman is also more likely to be described negatively based on her emotional state? Jealousy, fickleness, feeling threatened by a younger woman. I have never heard a man being described any of these things in the workplace. A woman is more likely to be labelled ‘bossy’ for the same behaviour that would brand a man a ‘micro-manager’. I have definitely never heard of a man sleeping his way up the corporate ladder. Are we, as women, actually behaving in the way that we are painted, or are we both the victims and the perpetrators of gender bias?
In Sheryl Sandberg’s novel, ‘Lean In’, she dedicates an entire chapter to how women are perceived in the workplace. She talks about the Heidi/Howard study where an experiment was conducted using a real business case study of a successful female entrepreneur. Half the students were given the business case study to read in its true form, whilst the other half were given the case study with one minor change, the name Heidi was changed to Howard. When the students were polled, it emerged that they considered Howard the appealing colleague, whilst they perceived Heidi to be ‘selfish’ and ‘not the type of person you would want to hire or work for’.
So I have to ask myself, am I prejudicing other women in my workplace as soon as it appears that we will not get along? Are they prejudiced against me? And therefore, in turn, when we do interact, are we treating one another in the manner in which we are stereotyped? Are we being difficult and distrusting of one another? I suppose it’s the classic chicken and egg dilemma. Are women actually more likely to be difficult to work with and for, and would this be the case if there was no gender bias?
I’m making an effort to sanity check my appraisals of others by asking myself, ‘How would I react if a man behaved that way in that situation?’ or ‘Have you actually seen her behave that way, or is this just a reputation borne out of misguided perception?’. When I perceive that I’m being prejudiced against by, for example, an older or younger woman, maybe it’s actually just my own (and society’s) gender bias talking. So I guess I’ll finish with the obvious, let’s just get on with the job and give each other the benefit of the doubt.
That Career Girl