March 8 is International Women’s Day!
This month marks an important time to celebrate and appreciate the women in history who made the ultimate sacrifice and fought so hard so that modern women are treated fairly and with equal access and privileges. Join us in celebrating International Women’s Day in commemoration of Women’s History Month!
Beginning with a focus on how inequalities between women and men, as well as, among women, have been explained and critiqued, it is always important to consider the impact of social structure and culture on gender. The intersections of gender, racial class, sexual orientation, and age are investigated in national and international contexts.
Often, women leaders find themselves in a “no-win” situation. Mired by stereotypes that persist, perceptions of women as incompetent leaders, and the centuries-old practice of gender inequality, professional women are left questioning how much progress really has been made over the years.
Why are today’s women still suffering penalties for failing to live up to gender role expectations?
Inequalities And Gender Privileges
Gender inequality exists in terms of wealth, income, status occurs in the workplace, family, and educational systems. In addition, everyday life provides demonstration of the generalized devaluation of women and feminine traits. If a football team is not playing well, a coach might tell his boys that they are playing like a bunch of girls and the assumption communicated to the boys is that nothing is worse. A baseball player making a poor throw might be told, “You threw that one like a girl.”
Men are the cultural standard for humanity. “It’s a man’s world” is an expression pointing to the male-dominated character of society that places most power in the hands of men. It is still common to use masculine pronouns to refer to people in general, or to use man to name the entire species as in “mankind.”
Most respected occupations are organized around qualities associated with masculinity, such as assertiveness and competitiveness, where women are identified with such qualities as cooperativeness and nurturing whereby she is likely to be seen as not having what it takes to get the job done or as unable to make “tough” decisions. On the other hand if she shows that she can be assertive and competitive, she may be described as being “cold” or a “bitch.”
A History Of Patriarchy
Political, economic, legal, religious, educational, and military positions of authority are generally reserved for men. Heads of state, corporate chief executive officers, corporate board members, religious leaders, members of legislatures at all levels of government, senior law partners, generals, etc., tend to be mostly males under patriarchy.
When women find themselves in these positions, people tend to think of them as exceptions to the general rule. Consequently, male dominance creates power differences between men and women and promotes the idea of male superiority even though most men are not powerful in their individual lives.
In patriarchal societies, core values about what is desirable or normal are viewed from the lens of male gender and masculinity. The idea of a high-level career with its implicit 60-plus-hour workweeks assumes the worker has a wife at home to provide support with child care, laundry, and the creation of a relaxing environment after a work day. Since a woman is more likely to not have a caregiver at home, she might begin her day making lunches, planning dinner, and doing laundry before she jets off to work.
It is difficult for women to compete on this unequal playing filed. Men with stay-at-home wives go home to dinner on the table, while many working women begin cooking dinner when they eventually get home from their long workday.
What’s Holding Women Back?
Forbes’ World’s Most Powerful Women list includes activists, queens, businesswomen, and Oprah. Number one on the list for the year 2022 was the president of the European Commission appointed into office in July 2019. She is the first woman to serve in that role.
In 2022, Ursula von der Leyen became one of the West’s staunchest supporters of Ukraine amid Russia’s unprovoked invasion. Forbes ranks these individuals based on global visibility and economic impact, as well as the size of the economic area over which they have influence.
While this may sound very encouraging, the percentage of high-powered women in the world remains diminutive compared with their male counterparts. According to Wellington, Kropt, & Gerkovich, 2003: What’s Holding Women Back? “several years into the new millennium, women make up more than half of the managerial and professional labor pool but account for just over 1 percent of all Fortune 500 chief executives.”
Critics contend that men still hold a large majority of high level positions, thereby dominating the long-term pool available for the next generation of business leaders. Some women do not rise to top leadership positions because they do not know these positions are available, while others may be discouraged from pursuing these roles by colleagues or superiors who do not feel that women can perform well at this level.
Studies of inequities on the corporate ladder indicate that a number of other factors that may block the advancement of women include exclusion from informal networks, stereotyping, lack of mentoring, a shortage of role models, commitment to family responsibilities and little accountability for top management to promote diversity.
The Myth Of Having It All
The demands of ambitious careers, the lack of balance within male-female relationships, and later life child-bearing difficulties conspire against executive women who want to have children. These realities take a personal toll on women who must decide whether they will pursue an ambitious career or leave the full-time workforce to stay at home and raise their families. Either choice is a difficult one and involves giving up something important to a woman.
In order to avoid the waste of exceptional talent, business leaders and the federal government need to establish new policies to support working parents and assist in improved work-life balance. For professional women, it is unusual not to step off the career fast track at least once. With children to raise, elderly parents to care for, and other family demands, many women feel they have little choice but to give up their demanding careers. Companies can assist in this area by offering reduced hours, job sharing, flexible workdays, and removal of the stigma that takes place when a woman takes an extended leave and tries to return to work.
The Future Won’t Change Itself, People Will
Today, blatant cases of gender discrimination are rare. They have been wiped out by laws and by increased organizational awareness that there is nothing to gain and a whole lot to lose, by keeping women out of positions of authority. On special occasions, women had found powerful, yet unlikely allies in the opposite sex who believed in supporting and advancing the fight for women’s rights. Nonetheless, that does not mean that gender inequity has vanished. It has just gone underground and become more subtle. Most organizations have been created by and for men and are based on the male experience.
The challenge society faces is that gender discrimination has existed for thousands of years. With a large number of the population siting on the sidelines and not seeing themselves as part of either the problem or the solution, their silence allows the problem to continue. The greatest obstacle to change is that dominant groups hardly ever see the issues of the subordinate groups as theirs. Diversity is the engine that drives originality and creativeness and gender is part of that diversity. To be effective in today’s global marketplace, business organizations must fully utilize their talent pool and commit to advancing all groups of employees.