It is wonderful to see the issue of wage disparity between men and women surface again and again (see CTL’s The Gender Gap and Inside the Numbers in the March issue), but it’s the analysis and reflection as to why this continues to occur, and most importantly what can be done about it, that should be the hottest topic of conversation.
There have been some factors that have been clearly identified such as: a woman’s biological call to motherhood; women assuming roles of primary care givers of their young families thus preventing their ability to put in extra hours or participate in after hours networking activities; and even women avoiding promotions that would take them too far from home and/or put too much stress on already competing demands for their time and energy. These factors are very real but in my experience, both as a woman professional and an observer, there are other factors at play.
I have observed women in positions of leadership work harder than their male counterparts, bring more to the table as far as being resourceful and a problem solver, recognize and seize opportunities and make sacrifices in their personal lives just as their male colleagues do. And yet, in spite of their prowess, I clearly see these great women isolate themselves and begin to lose ground — their willingness to make harsh, sometimes cut-throat, decisions being one example. Most women by their more nurturing nature tend to avoid risk more so than men and also tend to avoid making unpopular decisions. There is a great desire to be liked, to belong and be accepted. I am not saying all women, and nor do all women earn less than men, but it does represent a very large portion of my experience.
When it comes to self promotion and/or self advocacy, women again fall short. Some female leaders do a fantastic job at managing and taking care of other people and their teams – in many cases better than their male counterparts from what I have observed. However, they do not do as good a job with taking care of themselves . Again, their very nature seems to work against them, placing others first in business just as in their personal lives.
Not all women earn less than their male counterparts. I know plenty of ladies earning top dollar, who have very aggressively and astutely guided their career or enterprise. It is up to those women to assume a social responsibility role by taking younger, less established women under their wing and mentoring and championing them in order to “ help inspire the next generation” and show by example that it can be done.
Some of the obstacles to success which continually get mentioned are very real and, while I do not mean to belittle them, they can also become mental obstacles. Yet these obstacles are not insurmountable when drive and focus are engaged. What women must remember daily – I know I do – is that it can be done. How do I know that? Because there are hundreds if not thousands of women who have already done it. And they are a living, breathing testament that sometimes barriers exist only in our minds.
Maximizing the use of technology to work remotely or after hours, introducing mentorship programs, and identifying and developing talent through succession planning, are great ways to encourage and support women to move into higher positions. It is a powerful way to teach and allow them to accept more responsibility and be exposed to projects and opportunities that will showcase their talents and skills. It also provides incentives for women in non- traditional roles where the gender gap is the greatest. I recently had a conversation with a fire fighter who told me they simply cannot get enough women to apply. They need better representation of women in the force but they unfortunately do not get many women interested.
The encouragement of women in trades, non traditional roles (truck driving springs to mind) and entrepreneurial pursuits should begin very early during school years. As a society we must erase pre-conceived gender stereotypes, such as who gets to be the primary care giver and facilitate grants and loans to women entrepreneurs. Do that and we begin to narrow the gap once and for all.
With the upcoming retirement of baby boomers, opportunities will be plentiful for women to move up the corporate ladder, become entrepreneurs, activists, assume traditional and non traditional roles, and become business and community leaders, recognized for their accomplishments regardless of gender and seen for their worth as equal, competent and successful individuals.
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