“You can have everything you want. You just have to quit waiting for someone to tell you that you deserve it.” – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Forty years ago, when I was in grade school, I remember learning about the women’s rights movement. I remember thinking about these recent historical events as struggles that were now resolved, since, surely, everyone would have learned by now to view women and men as equals. As I write this, however, there are proposed laws in Congress to demand equal pay for women since there is still a sizeable chasm in pay between men and women. These are the times when I wonder if anything has really changed at all in my lifetime – or if it ever will.
I believe that the most effective and lasting way to combat inequality is to identify our own personal prejudices. Each time we bring one of our unconscious biases to light, our treatment of one another will continue to improve. Most of us do not wake up in the morning wanting to harm, exclude or attack ourselves or others and yet those subtle unconscious beliefs can manifest themselves into tangible results that do harm, exclude and attack. Notice that I hold our society as a whole responsible, since both women and men hold these stereotypes that perpetuate the status quo.
As we aim to achieve equal pay for equal work for women, here are five additional stereotypes about gender we can all rethink. (If you missed the first part of this blog, click HERE.)
- Women Should Not Charge For Their Services – Part One
Too many women are hesitant to charge for the valuable work that they do. I’ve seen fee-for-service professionals, such as lawyers, accountants, life coaches, therapists and the like, work at reduced rates, or even for free, for clients who have every ability to pay. I’ve also seen women who create and market their own products fail to price the product at a market rate. The result is that what could turn out to be a viable business remains no more than a hobby that breaks even, financially. This can be an unconscious manifestation of a woman’s own belief that her work is not as valuable as a man’s. It could also be an unconscious apology for “daring” to threaten the traditional mindset by being a professional or a business owner in the first place.
- Women Should Not Charge For Their Services – Part Two
I am surprised how many times clients – many of them female – assume that women should not or will not charge as much as their male counterparts. My female colleagues and I have all had the experience of a client leaning forward, as if sharing a secret, while asking, “Now, you’re not really going to charge me for this, are you?”. I wonder if this same client has posed that question to any gray-haired male professionals. It is as if these clients view the expectation of material compensation as selfish and entitled if coming from a women but as necessary and expected if coming from a man. Hopefully it goes without saying that equal work demands equal pay – regardless of the body parts the provider may have.
- All Women Are Caretakers
Most organizations with whom I have been affiliated have a Women’s Committee dedicated to the advancement of women within that organization or industry. However, I have found that many of these committees actually focus on issues relevant to working parents, such as flex-time, part time, family leave, maternity and paternity benefits. As someone who is in my 27th year of working full-time without a break, I am frustrated by this. While these are all important issues, they should be open to all who are facing them, regardless of gender. Targeting the Women’s Committee to address issues of leave perpetuates the stereotypes that: 1) all women are parents with young children at home; 2) a woman with young children at home must be the primary caretaker of those children; and 3) only female parents have concerns about work/life balance.
If female employees are automatically assumed to be needing time off during their careers, it follows that they will not be viewed as committed or open to career advancement as their male counterparts. To fix the stereotypes that are embodied in an organization’s structure, a Work/Life Balance Committee or a Parents Committee should be formed to support those employees with these specific needs. Leave the Women’s Committee to focus on the networking, business development and advancement of women in the workplace.
- Men Are Inherently Better At Science and Math Than Women Are
I took my first computer class when I was in seventh grade. Personal computers were a new phenomenon and I was fascinated. By the time I was in my twenties I knew a couple of programming languages, was proficient in most software programs and dabbled in hardware repair. I worked for a small company with little budget for computer support so apart from my regular job, I also became the go-to person for all computer problems.
I was surprised when a new employee, after mentioning his interest in computers, was suddenly identified as the new computer expert. Despite my track record, my abilities were summarily dismissed in favor of someone who merely talked about his. I remember noticing how men were presumed to have an inherent talent for computer science and math. I was disappointed to see women on the sidelines and predicting that in the future the industry would be dominated by men.
Unfortunately, twenty-five years later, my early predictions have been confirmed. It is men who still dominate the computer industry, having pioneered everything from video gaming, software companies, dot com startups, smartphones and social media companies. Unfortunately, except for a small percentage, women remain largely absent from the newest industry created during my lifetime – and the high compensation that came along with it.
Until we bring our unconscious stereotypes about men and women into our own consciousness, we will continue to discriminate on the basis of gender. The status quo will continue, including the issue of equal pay. No matter what laws are passed or not, the best way to demand equality in the workplace is by tuning in to and being honest about our own attitudes. Once we identify a belief that does not serve the concept of equality, we have the power to change it.