Posted by: *carrie* | March 25, 2010

Women & Work: Improvements Don’t = Success

I have read several commentaries recently on the Newsweek article Are We There Yet?

Written by a collaboration of women, it gives a brief history of Newsweek‘s own discriminatory history, and then goes on to conclude, essentially, that we haven’t made it, where “made it” can be defined as receiving 100% equality in the workforce; equal representation in all positions, in responsibilities, in expectations, in pay, all of it.

There are two things I wanted to address in relation to the article

My own experience working for a large corporation has actually provided several promotional opportunities. These promotions have been small stepping stones, but they’re there. I recently turned down the opportunity to apply for another promotion, and given that the 3 supervisors directly over me (the top of which is fairly high on the corporate ladder) discussed me specifically, I can say I would have been given a very fair shot at the job.

I have a few reasons for not being interested in it, and I think they’re all tied to the fact I’m a Gen X’r. I didn’t want to relocate to the geographical area required, because it’s not an area that will serve my personal interests and development outside of work. Those remain an equal priority as work to me. The position itself would not be that much of a departure from what I do now, and I don’t love what I’m doing. And I see just how far up that ladder is left to go, and all of the people in the way who will not be leaving anytime soon. I don’t want to wait around for decades for a possible top spot at my company. (Which, like most big companies, is mostly filled with Old White Dudes). On the flip side, though, I’m acutely aware that every time I turn down a possible opportunity, it’s reducing the likelihood of future opportunities even more. Lucky for me, I’m okay where I am. Business isn’t that interesting to me, and I don’t find it very challenging.  So women who do want to climb the corporate ladder – I salute you. I am still trying to fit a ‘real job’ in with my more artistic endeavors.

The second thing I want to discuss is the perception of equality. From the article:

We know what you’re thinking: we’re young and entitled, whiny and humorless—to use a single, dirty word, feminists! But just as the first black president hasn’t wiped out racism, a female at the top of a company doesn’t eradicate sexism. In fact, those contradictory signs of progress—high-profile successes that mask persistent inequality—are precisely the problem. Douglas describes those mixed messages as “enlightened sexism“: the idea that because of all the gains women have made, biases that once would have been deemed sexist now get brushed off.

I think this is the heart of the current battle for equality for women (and at least similarly for equality for people of color, LGBT, or any other minority group). People like to point out all of the gains and say “LOOK! It’s so much better now!” And, in many ways, this is true. I actually hold a management position. I went to college. There was never any question at any time in my life about the fact I would get an education and have a job.

But I’m not going to sit down and just accept that in my lifetime I will make anywhere between a quarter to half a million dollars less than a man doing a similar job with similar qualifications. I will not accept that women are not widely represented in business or government. Women make between 70-80% of the purchasing decisions in the U.S. Business needs to understand and represent women. Just over half our population is women. A government designed to represent the people should be reflective of that. It needs to understand and represent women.

Most women understand that we’re not done. We haven’t achieved success in regards to women at work. Those women that fought the fight before us, First Wave, Second Wave, the women in between – they did some amazing things. So let’s not let their legacy die off because someone wants to brush us off and declare the work done.

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