In the spirit of International Women’s Day and Women’s Month, I probed women within my social networks asking about the challenges they have or are facing in their careers. Nothing on this list is surprising but highlighting them is important.
When I first began my career I was labeled as not being serious, I was funny and entertaining or not ready to take higher level work, not by all but by some. Those who took the time to get to know me knew that in fact I worked full-time and went to college and university full time during the evenings and weekends. I was always serious about my education and career, I just never felt the need to prove it.
Mid career, my attitude has changed completely where very few can question my dedication to any work that I am involved with, and that I continue to raise the bar higher for myself and others around me. But the labels have changed. “She is too much”, “too confident”, “shes an alpha-female”. I am unintentionally intimidating to some, I see it, I recognize and I feel it in the way people react in writing or in person. It is a tricky issue to overcome because it has little to do with how I treat or interact with people, but rather a feeling triggered by others insecurities. But being aware allows me to be conscious within each moment and to take proactive steps in ensuring I am understood and that I do my part in making others comfortable around me.
It is important that we continue to discuss the challenges in the hopes of creating an environment where we can gain a stronger understanding of perception versus reality, so that we can bring awareness to leaders within the work and business environment allowing them to be proactive in creating policy and change to make these issues a part of history, and lastly so that we can do our part in creating an equal playing field for the next generation, including our own children.
The struggles are real:
Money – How or why gender pay gaps continue to exist in the 21st century is puzzling to say the least. If we pause and think about previous generations and the “traditional” roles of men and women we can understand where the gap stems from. Previously, men were considered to be the sole providers, the primary workers. But it is now 2019 and many women are solely responsible for the finances of their households. The notion that the value or merit of a woman is less than a man, or that we “don’t have to work” should be non-existent. Aside from the reality that many women are single and raising families is the economic truth that the cost of living is high and it is not as common today to have a “stay at home spouse” making the need for both partners to contribute an equal one. Ideology also comes into play, respectable women don’t discuss money. It is taboo. Not true, negotiating your compensation is no different than negotiating the purchase of a home, car or any other investment of your resources; including your time.
Many have said that access to capital for investing in their businesses is an issue, finding that it is generally more challenging to obtain funding by male investors. This can be due to many reasons; lacking confidence in their ideas, presenting conservative financial projections whereas there is a tendency by males to be more aggressive.
What can you do to get access to funding? We are seeing an incredible rise in women-women funding. Do you research and apply to specific women peer to peer networks for venture capital funding. Look up resources offered by the government which is also growing to support women in business. This may be the make or break of your business until you have achieved consistent financial results to approach a financial institution.
Regardless of the issue – we must practice the art of asking for what we deserve and building on being confident in believing in our true value. The more you remind yourself that you are worth it, the less you will be inclined to sell yourself short. As women we struggle with saying “no”, it makes us seem unkind or difficult. No, we just refuse to settle for less than we deserve.
Emotion – Feelings, behavioral states, character traits, we all have them. We confuse “hysterical” or “crazy” with passion and authority. Women are often judged and labeled in a negative context whereas male counterparts are rewarded for being committed and authoritative. The root cause? History, pre-conditioning of the way we are expected to behave and not conforming to societal standards versus as individuals. To this I ask, what is the downfall of being emotional and feeling? Emotional Intelligence is a hot topic in business right now, the benefits which have been clearly identified. We need to connect with people. I have yet to meet someone is able to connect who wasn’t able to tap into their emotions. How do you empower your team to succeed, with money only or being being empathetic and supportive? By listening to their needs and understanding your role as their advocate and role model? Women, particularly mothers, know this all too well.
Family – I thought I was the only one that ever hid my “motherhood” status out of fear that being a mother would render me as not being able to commit to my work. Or that my ability to handle the work-life balance would be a struggle. Hard pause, mothers are experts at multi-tasking and completion of tasks. But the perception that comes along with being a mother is inescapable; she’ll need time off when the kids are sick, PA days, school breaks, the summers etc. Another common concern, having to explain the gaps in the resume. It is surreal how many women are asked to explain about the year taken off to raise children, even for those of us that have a healthy amount of experience following those quiet years. Yet, the gaps are flagged and represent a risk. What if she has another child and we have to replace her? Even more alarming to me was the amount of women that were asked if they planned on having children during interviews, which is not permitted. This issue is a trickier one to get around, for the obvious physical reason. We bare the children. Access to paternity leave for both parents helps, potential work from home opportunities could be facilitate maternity leaves and transitions. Acceptance of the struggles and sacrifices that mothers often make is key, many of us do not want to sacrifice our careers but it is often what is needed.
Inappropriate Conduct & Sexual Harassment- 2018 was a monumental year for highlighting what many women have faced in silence out of fear of being shamed or labeled further. Fear and inexperience can silence us and we unintentionally set a precedent we aren’t comfortable with. We depend on leaders and policy makers to take care of us. This isn’t always the reality. I encourage everyone who feels mistreated or victimized to speak their truth and take the steps to put yourself in a healthy environment. Recognize that your mental, emotional, and physical well being is as paramount to your success as any job you hold. More on this to follow this week stay tuned.
Additional recurring themes that arose included lack of confidence, animosity among female counterparts, ageism (too young and too old), the boys club, handling of stereotypes and the barriers they present to opportunity and resources.
The goal that we all want, regardless of gender, is to have opportunity to succeed that is based on the merit of our work and free from prejudice, discrimination and bias. Our hope in sharing the concerns and struggles is we judge less and are willing to work more with women to allow them the space to build the success they desire. The only way we can achieve this is by creating an open and risk-free platform to do so, a place where we are free to speak up without fear of reprimand or risk to job security.
We are making strides towards progress. But we have a ways to go before we achieve equality. This will take the sharing of experience, difficult conversations, and severing of relationships. But it is only by going through the struggles and hardships that we can achieve desired growth.
Upwards we go!