Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gender Equality at Work

It's a recurring theme. I'm sure you've heard someone say, "She got that job because she's a woman." Or maybe you've been talking to a man who says, "It's so hard for me to get a job today, because I'm not a woman. Everyone wants to meet their 'diversity quota'."

This theme is very persistent. I've even heard that second argument from my own husband. (Don't worry, I'm working on that.) But the point is, the idea that women are "pushing" men out of work isn't true. In Backlash, Susan Faludi points out that the majority of job growth for women is in the lowest-paying jobs--essentially jobs they aren't competing against men for, because men won't take them. (Side note: this argument also applies to illegal immigrants, when people say they are "stealing" American jobs; in actuality, they're doing sweatshop labor or other work that no one else wants to do.)

Over and over again, if you consult the numbers, women are not pushing men out of work. For example, women outnumber men as law school graduates. How many of them make partner?
Women represent only 15% of law partners in the nation, and only 13% of general counsel for Fortune 500 companies.

The other problem with the idea that women are pushing men out of work is that the very way this argument is phrased is faulty. Women are not competing against men for jobs. Job applicants are competing against other job applicants. Gender shouldn't have anything to do with it. It should have to do with qualifications, not whether the candidate can pee standing up or not.

But still, the hiring on gender persists. There are the "token" women (and this can go for minorities, too). Companies put one woman on the board so they can say they're not discriminating. In Her Place at the Table, Kolb, et al write in their Introduction about career women they've coached who honestly wonder if the reason they got the job was so that they could be the "woman quota." How effectively could you do your job if you thought (or knew) that you were there to contrast against the men in the company picture?

Recently, on Employee Evolution, Ryan Healy wrote about his high school reunion where he was shocked to find that traditional pink collar jobs were the new "It" career for women. I'm not sure why he was surprised, unless he'd never considered the way women approach work: as women, not men. While we are moving farther from the fantasy of the '50s (which never really existed anyway), women are still raised to be nurturers, mothers, helpers, and not leaders. So it's not surprising that they still often go into social work, teaching, and nursing. There is very little competition with men on this front, with the possible exception of nursing. Nurses are currently in high demand, and unlike teachers, who remain underpaid because of budgeting issues, nurses salaries are on the rise. This means that the pay has finally risen to the point where men will choose nursing as a career field. Men, who are generally taught to be strong, assertive leaders, follow the money.

There isn't an easy answer to this problem, other than to continue to push for training for girls and women on how to be leaders. Often assertive women (think Carly Fiorina, think Hillary Clinton) are smeared as ice queens, mannish, or, most often, bitches. Why? It's because we still harbor the notion of the sweet, pandering woman. The secretary, the wife, the cheerleader. Assertive women in leadership roles are accomplishing things, and men are afraid of them. Men are afraid of losing the support system they have always had in the secretary, wife, and cheerleader. Without them, men would have to rely on themselves for the menial work. They would have to start taking the low-paying jobs. They would have to experience a woman's perspective.

It is often said that the best way to conquer your fear is to face it. I'd like to see men face that fear head on.

3 responses:

wolfie said...

Kate, I am 25 year old student. I found your site from the Yahoo Finance link from Ms. Trunk. I think you are both DA BOMB!!! Good for you for spewing truth. Good for you for using unemployment as a time to discover yourself and help others. May God (whatever it is) bless you and grant you the patience to find the work that is worthy of YOU. If only our parents were more like us we would have better, efficient markets and more happy, well paid people that would generate the commercial empire more money due to their own personal utility (happiness). A happy, well paid worker (whether the pay is emotionally gratifying or financially gratifying)will produce better results. Unfortunately, our parents (Human Version 1.5) do not understand our generation (Human Version 2.1). They are the corporate slaves that find themselves: foreclosed, unhappy, divorced, used and abused. Thats not us, thanks to the gift of technology our generation will be better informed, more efficient and a greater tool to the markets than they were.

God Bless you and I hope you find what you are looking for!!!

NewYorkJim said...

I'd like to comment on your post only because it's the only post on your entire blog that's tagged with "money". I'm a 43 year old guy. First, you are absolutely correct to have identified this work equity issue as a money issue. People tussle over money all the time, for more reasons than simply gender issues. Money, better or worse, gives people a sense of self-worth. I only wish self-worth stemmed more from treating each other with grace and placing each other on pedestals.

Now, to my point:
for the benefit of people who've come across your blog from Ms. Trunk's article and elsewhere. Unemployment is a period of time that you can use to address a whole host of things, not just strategizing your next career move. Yes, finding a job ought to be the #1 task, but your time is now flexible. With this flexibility I've found it's a very good idea to spend time becoming a better investor. It has helped me significantly to understand that a job is a kind of "bond" - steady income - and my general investing is a kind of "stock" which yes, goes up and down, but the general trend over the long term is up. A balanced approach is to live both "bonds" and "stocks" in your portfolio. Having one without the other isn't good. In other words, focusing on the job, but being overconfident and stubborn in one's own investments can lead to gullies along the road of life.

Unknown said...

It not easy trying to crawl your way to the top in a male dominated industry, you make a lot of enemies and you can't play nice, because they don't. You get called a bitch, a ball-buster, a whore or a "career woman" (that is now a bad word).
Sadly a lot of women shy away from this because they have a need to be "liked", they want to be friends with everyone! And you know what ... not everyone will like you if you are trying to take the promotion from them or you get the corner office.
That's why I think a lot of women end up in pink-collared industries because of the preception around them .. you are still a caring, nurturing person and we like you! Although I have heard some horror stories from friends who work in teaching or for non-for profit agencies! At least in advertising I know I'm going up agianst assholes!

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