I have read some of the research summaries that show that women earn less than men. I don’t know if this applies to me though. I can’t see my co workers paychecks to compare and know with certainty.
I know that less than 5% of C.E.O.s in fortune 500 companies are women. Clearly women are underrepresented in this role, since women make up half of the population and almost half of the workforce. I don’t know if this statistic applies to me though. I do not have the ambition or the qualifications to join the C-suite.
I have heard that women face discrimination in hiring, job prospects and promotions. I don’t know if this applies to me though. I don’t have any obvious examples to share from my own experience. Subtle ones, maybe.
So, if none of this applies to me, then it is not my problem right? Right?
The Glass Ceiling
Glass Ceiling: The unseen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.
The wage gap, the low number of women in executive positions and women’s experiences at work point to the existence of a “glass ceiling” in the workplace.
I do not doubt that the glass ceiling exists. I do not deny that it is a problem either but I don’t feel that I am in a place to do much about it. The best I have done is leave a couple of fingerprints or fog it up while peering through it and wondering what life might be like on the other side. I don’t want to be on the other side though. I am happy with my career and life below the ceiling.
Recently, I was invited to join a women’s networking group at work. The group is about mentoring, advocacy and of course networking. These are all good things. I would rather not participate but I can’t admit that openly because it would be frowned at and career limiting, so off to the networking sessions I go. I listen to the speakers, make a feeble attempt at networking and I drink too much coffee.
What I hear at these sessions is, “You need to be more like a man.” Yes, it is probably my own bias but honestly that is what I hear. I want to stand up and shout “Maybe the yardsticks we use and the corporate customs we treasure and reward evolved during a time when the majority of the workplace was filled with men. Maybe the culture and they way we appraise people needs to change?”
I don’t speak up though. Maybe because I am a woman and women don’t speak out enough in the workplace.
If I am not interested in smashing the glass ceiling for myself and I don’t think I have the power or influence to do so, what CAN I do about it? There must be something besides half-heartedly participating in a women’s networking group?
I think I have figured it out.
I can be an advocate for the women around me. I can raise my children to believe in gender equality. I can help the men in my life navigate sticky gender issues.
I can start chipping away at the glass ceiling at home.
This realization didn’t come to me from my networking group, or reading up on women’s issues but from an incident in my own kitchen.
The family was finishing up dinner. The news was playing on the TV in the background. One of the featured stories was about a women’s rights protest march. My husband muttered something about how women are always bellyaching and have nothing to complain about. Blah, blah blah.
Ack! Queue the sound of a needle scratching across a record.
And I said, “You did not just say that if front of our children?”
He looked at me and said, “So tell me how things are so terrible for women?”
I looking at him and said, “I’ll do better than that, I will show you.”
I marched to my home office and grabbed a copy of the Yellow Pages from my desk.
I carried it to the kitchen and opened it up to a page advertising a local law firm. It was a full-page, glossy ad and at the bottom of the page, it had the eight headshots of the lawyers working there. I asked my husband to look at it.
“Why are you looking up lawyers in the Yellow Pages?” He asked.
“That’s not important right now. Do you notice anything in this ad? It is a firm with 8 lawyers and all of them are men. Statistically, how probable is it that a law firm is not going to have one single women lawyer on staff? It is remarkable considering the fact that women are attending law school at about the same rate as men. *Do you see?”
My husband sighed, looked at the kids and said,” You know there are problems with equality in the world, including equality for women. There are places in the world where women are not allowed to go to school or have the same rights as men.”
The kids nodded, I smiled and patted my husband on the back.
Then I went to the sink and started washing the dinner dishes and loading the dishwasher. When I was done cleaning up dinner, I went upstairs to wash, dry and fold the laundry.
*Also related and interesting, see: Congrats, you have an all male panel!