If you are like many women out there, then you have had your fair share of ‘career advice,’ especially with regard to how you should not let sexist double standards get in the way of your promising career.
You have to be assertive during board meetings, but keep the tone of your voice low; and yet, you have to be alluring while asking for a raise. Don’t be a doormat either, but also learn to play well with others. And don’t be too intellectual, or superior, but you have to be smart. Also check your dressing, and don’t be too ambitious as that might be intimidating.
But these pieces of advice are essentially hidden forms of bias. You are made to think you have to go out of your way to conform to certain workplace ideals. Truthfully, there is nothing wrong with the way you talk, the way you dress, or the tone of voice you use when requesting a raise. It is the society that’s wrong.
It makes women doubt their sanity by making them question their own natural behaviors and personalities. In other words, this is gaslighting.
A study shows that piling these expectations on women burdens them with historical problems they should not be made to contend with in the first place.
Why this advice is wrong?
This ‘empowerment’ advice only creates the illusion of control. It might provide short-term hope, but it ignores the history of discrimination that plagues women.
Women are consistently made to think that they have to solve problems in the workplace themselves. They are made to feel that they have to do something in order to enjoy a certain workplace benefit, such as a higher salary, a better position, better working conditions, and so forth.
As a result, these women can feel like it’s their fault that they are not adequately represented in workplace environments, which is obviously not the case.
In a study where 2,000 subjects (male and female) were made to listen or read text excerpts from Sheryl Sandberg’s book, ‘Lean In.’ While the book promotes a DIY approach, it also highlights the broad issues that affect women in the workplace.
During the study, those who heard messages promoting a DIY approach to workplace success for women ended up believing that women had caused gender issues, and they were also the ones to fix them. But those who heard or read about structural issues that hindered women’s progress in the workplace felt that organizations and the society were to blame and that they should fix the discrimination.
The other category of study subjects would have most likely blamed the system for consistently discriminating against women, which is why their code was rejected more often. The study also notes that when humans cannot find a way to fix injustice, they often start blaming the victim.
What of female lawyers?
In the legal profession, female lawyers cannot be seen as too aggressive or too soft. They also have to ensure that they don’t come off as not being aggressive enough. Male lawyers show their aggression to impress the judge and the jury, but women have to be careful about the way they are seen.
While men will also be fine wearing a suit and a tie, women have to consider other minor issues like the height of their heels, length of hair, length of skirts and even their makeup. It is almost impossible for these women to wear clothes that will not attract attention.
When a female lawyer set up a firm with her husband, most clients automatically assumed she was his secretary. In some cases, she had to send a male lawyer in her place to avoid disadvantaging the client since her gender would be the focus of the case, not her prowess.
Putting up with these biases can be back-breaking, and what’s worrying is that they are so prevalent in such high-powered careers.
The debate on workplace equality is certainly alive, but getting rid of sexism in the workplace will not be easy.
It has to start in the family, where girls do more chores, although boys get paid more. This goes on to the schools, where girls are encouraged to be neat and nice while boys are applauded for expressing themselves.
For women in the workplace, being assertive does not always work, and some have paid for the mistake.
And as long as women will be held responsible for the outcome of their careers, they will continue to be seen as the cause and the cure for the inequality they face in the workplace.
In the meantime, what we need to do as women avoiding feeling like we are crazy because we are not. It’s our culture that’s broken.