Women’s Liberation at Work
A couple of weeks ago I was on my way to meeting with a client on a cool Wednesday afternoon in downtown Portland. I happened to walk by a government building of some sort that had see-through windows on the bottom floor. Inside was a verifiable cube-farm, and a messy one at that. Workers sat inside, glued to their computers at their desks, papers scattered everywhere. Beautiful.
Now some of these cubicle havens are nicer than others. Not this. This one was a tomb. It was halfway between the first floor and the “negative” first floor halfway underground. The colors were dull, lifeless, and one cube was not markedly different from another, except for a few pictures of family members and a dead plant or two. But one thing did catch my eye about this office: the gender of it’s inhabitants. They were ALL women.
Most of them were in their 30’s-50’s. This got me thinking. With the all the civil rights movements, women’s suffrage and feminism in the United States, no real progress has been made on the job front. Why was this disgusting, drab office filled with women? Where were the men?
One problem is history. Only relatively recently has it become socially acceptable for women to find gainful employment and NOT stay at home raising kids. Now that they have escaped one prison, in many cases they have simply moved into another. A cube farm. A large percentage of administrative support and secretary positions are held by women.
In fact, if you look just by gender, the typical office hierarchy looks something like this:
It isn’t fair.
Why Women Have it So Tough
Men still earn significantly more in this country. I do not feel the need to site any sources to prove that to you. In fact, the only country in the civilized world where this is not the case (by any appreciable difference) is Sweden. This is a global problem.
Stereotypes are still rampant. If you look at many of the Fortune 500 companies, the top positions are held almost entirely by men. If you are female, trying to work your way up to the top in one of these companies is like trying to smash through the bottom of a frozen lake with an ice-cream scoop. No one will listen to you, very few people will hire you over a man with equal credentials, and if you do make it higher up you’ll be labelled a “career woman.”
But, don’t despair. If you are really good-looking you can be the “executive assistant” of some slob who drives a Ferrari, has a receding hairline and also wants to cheat on his wife with the 21-year old secretary.
A Girl’s Guide to Escaping the Office
As a male, I’m not writing this article with any sort of “personal knowledge” about living with this issue. I am lucky, because people “expect” me to reach the pinnacle of where I want to go, professionally. People don’t label me a “career man” because I don’t have a family and because I run my own business. People take me seriously.
I think that this is getting better, but as a whole, women still have a long way to go.
If you are a women looking to have a successful career without running into the brick walls of gender imbalance in the working world by being thrown in a cube farm, there are 3 things you should never do. Here they are:
- Use your looks/charm/flirting to get you ahead. This is demeaning and you are worth more than just the object of a man’s attention. Develop your skills, not your wardrobe.
- Take a job as a ______ assistant. You are not someone else’s bitch. You have skills and talents. Put them to use at work.
- Accept a salary that is below what you deserve. If you have to, do some research on what people in your preferred line of work tend to earn. Don’t take the first offer you get. I give this advice with some hesitation, given my general dislike of the “salary” model of working.
Here are three things you should do if you want to get to a better place:
- Find a woman who you admire on a professional level. What is it about what she does that you find yourself impressed by? Would you like to have this kind of profession? Ask her how she got to where she did and what she thinks of this career. You’ll be surprised what you might learn, not only about the career, but about yourself.
- Start a business. I am not kidding. It doesn’t have to be anything big. It can be (and in fact, probably should be at first) something fun on the side that relates to a hobby you are interested in. You never know where this might go.
- Support yourself financially. Do not rely on a male figure. While the “male provider” model of livelihood seems to work just fine in some situations, nothing can replace the empowering feeling of supporting yourself financially. If you truly want to be independent, this is a must.
So here is a question for you: Are you tired of seeing women in some of these low-level positions? Tired of seeing women offering helpful advice and opinions to co-workers and not being taken seriously? Would you like to see more female CEOs?
This stuff actually makes me angry, and I’m a guy!
Untying Your Work from Your IncomeFebruary 15th, 2010
Women’s Liberation at WorkJanuary 24th, 2009
Escaping the Office During a RecessionJanuary 15th, 2009
Freelancing Your JobJanuary 3rd, 2008
Facebook as a Marketing ToolNovember 27th, 2007