It’s a myth that the gender wage gap exists because women are not as competitive as men. A recent McKinsey study found that women negotiate as often as men for promotions and raises, a form of competition, but they receive more negative feedback when they do. Coren Apicella and Johanna Mollerstrom’s new research, published in the New York Times, shows that while women and men do sometimes compete differently, women can be just as competitive as men.
As a consultant and coach for more than thirty years, I have heard too many painful stories from female clients about feeling unsupported and even undermined by other women at work. When I decided to research this dynamic for my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, I found that these feelings and experiences happen for a reason: organizations actually set up women to feel competitive with one another. This happens when women see very few other women in senior leadership positions. As one of my research participants explained:
In her recent article in New York magazine, Rebecca Traister reports this important change: “in 2009, for the first time in American history, single women outnumbered married women. Today, only around 20 percent of Americans ages 18–29 are wed, compared to nearly 60 percent in 1960.” Traister points out that this change represents a radical upheaval that cuts across classes and races. It was made possible by the social movements that came earlier— abolition, suffrage, the labor fights of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the civil rights, women’s, and LGBT rights movements of the mid-twentieth century—but is not, itself, an intentionally politicized or conscious movement. It is just that as a result of these earlier movements, women have internalized the assumption that it is acceptable, and the best choice for them, not to be married: that they are whole people able to live satisfying lives on their own or in community if they don’t happen to meet someone they want to legally bind themselves to.
I have been watching the 2016 presidential campaign unfold with great interest. As a feminist, I care about whether candidates have progressive positions and a demonstrated track record of improving the lives of women and girls of all races, ages and, nationalities. Hillary Clinton seems to me to have the best record of demonstrated commitment to these issues, so I have been curious about what appears to be a generational divide among Democratic women: in the New Hampshire primary, women under thirty voted for Bernie Sanders four to one. What are the reasons for this divide? Here are my hunches and the perspectives of a few other authors.
In her book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, Anne-Marie Slaughter takes us a step further down the road to understanding why progress continues to be slow for gender equality in the workplace and what needs to change. While three years ago Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, triggered an important national conversation about the challenges women face in the workplace, it was criticized for focusing too narrowly on solutions for privileged women and too little on the different needs of working-class women. Sandberg’s book was also criticized for putting too much of the responsibility on individual women for not “leaning in” enough to progress in their careers. Slaughter takes this conversation to the next level and argues that we must take the blame off of individual women and broaden the conversation to include the issues faced by women at all income levels and in all occupations, as well as acknowledge the restrictions placed on men’s life choices by existing gender stereotypes and workplace and societal structures and policies. Slaughter suggests that we need to change our lens to talk about competition versus care or breadwinning versus caregiving, instead of talking about work-life balance. When we use this lens and this language, we begin to shift the focus from work-life balance being a middle-class women’s issue to a focus that is more inclusive and that leads to broader strategies for change. In fact, Slaughter notes that the problem is not only that there are not enough women at the top of organizations, it is also that there are too many women at the bottom—62 percent of minimum wage jobs are held by women—and some common threads cause the problem at both ends of the income ladder.
Strategic Relationships at Work: Creating Your Circle of Mentors, Sponsors, and Peers for Success in Business and Life—A Book Review
Wendy Murphy and Kathy E. Kram have written an important book about why we all need developmental support networks for both career success and personal well-being—and how to develop those networks. The book is practical and easy to read, with lots of research-based examples and tips. Reflection activities at the end of each chapter encourage the reader to apply the concepts immediately to her own career and life.
What I found most interesting were these points about mentoring that I had not considered:
When we can understand ourselves and connect across differences with other women, we release energy for creativity and innovation in the workplace. The practices below will help you gain comfort and skill for developing these relationships.
- Identify the sides on your prism that are most relevant for you at this time in your life and career, keeping gender in the center. For example, I might ask myself how being a Jewish woman, white woman, US-born woman, and woman in my sixties are all currently impacting my experience. What is important for others to know about me as I turn the prism that reflects my wholeness?
One way to move toward understanding our differences as women is to engage in joint projects between affinity groups in the organization.
Sometimes affinity groups formally exist in organizations, such as one for women managers, one for African Americans, one for Asian Americans, one for Latinos, one for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) employees, and others. However, these groups may not see the other groups as having the same interests or goals. It can be helpful if affinity groups can define joint projects, even if their scopes are small, to open the possibility of building trust and taking on larger projects later.
One way to move toward understanding our differences as women is to meet in all-woman retreats for awareness-raising workshops.
After the initial all-woman retreats to gain an awareness of systemic gender dynamics and develop a shared vision and code of conduct (see chapter 6), a next level of all-woman retreats, possibly in smaller, mixed groups, can be held to explore and share differences and identify some common goals for working together to change the organization. These conversations work best, at least initially, when guided by a professional facilitator who is experienced at communicating across differences. The facilitator may structure exchanges between various groups that include
topics such as
Are you clueless about the ways differences shape the perspectives of your coworkers? Author Tom Finn reminds us that while many differences are visible, many are not, and our ability to connect with and support each other may depend on understanding the histories we carry into the workplace, often generationally. For example, I am white and a secular Jew. While I do not practice the religion, being Jewish is an important identity in my prism. I carry with me a history of my own painful experiences of anti-Semitism from my childhood in Kansas. I also carry with me the images of the holocaust in Europe that my parents made sure I saw while I was growing up so that I would never forget what happened to Jews. This combination of events that happened before I was born and during my own childhood means that, even now, I always scan my environment to see who else might be Jewish so that I know whom I can feel safe with. Because I do not “look Jewish” or have a recognizably Jewish name, I can take a long time to reveal this side of my identity to new people until I get a sense of their attitudes and degree of cluelessness. I have gotten feedback from coworkers that I can seem standoffish when people first meet me. They cannot see this invisible difference that is part of what makes me tick.