Women in the Workplace: Overeducated, Underestimated, and Underpaid?

Over the last 40+ years in business, the role of women in business has significantly changed… and it needed to change.  When a team of only women are empowered and given the freedom and support required, I have found them to out-perform and out-produce a team of just men or a combined team of women and men.  I’m not smart enough to speculate on the underlying reasons, but I have seen the results in a number of businesses and industries.  How we, as business leaders, entrepreneurs and a culture and society, leverage this untapped talent will be a key factor in our future.  This article touches on some of the many questions and inequities that exist in our collective mind-set.  MHSservice_big3
by Aoife Gorey – April 23, 2014
Last month, we celebrated Women’s History Month, with International Women’s Day on March 8. Thousands of blog posts, articles, and infographics were shared, taking a wide variety of angles on the topic of women in the workplace, and the passionate topic of “The Gender Pay Gap.” Some bloggers and authors shared how women are more educated but underestimated in the workplace. Some people celebrated Equal Pay Day last week. I asked my network (colleagues, friends, and Facebook friends) for their opinion on the matter. Was this a mistake? Some responses shocked me.
President Obama made a statement early this year that, “Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.”

A blogger at The Daily Beast states, “The 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between average earnings of all men and women working full time. It does not account for the difference in occupations, positions, education, job tenure, or hours worked per week.”

Reading up on this subject, I quickly realized that there are innumerable opinions, research reports, and statistics on this heated topic. Over the next several weeks, I will share a bi-weekly post on Women in the Workplace.

For this first edition, however, I am going to share some feedback that I received from colleagues, friends, and my Facebook network. Some I agree or disagree with, and some I am appalled at; however – taking an unbiased approach in this series- I’ll try not to divulge my personal sentiment too blantantly.

This is what I asked: I’m conducting research for an article on women in the workplace. Statistics show that they earn more degrees than men, but are underrepresented in leadership roles. Only 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. A typical woman earns 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. The paycheck fairness act was 6 votes short of passing last week. I’m looking for feedback from men and women please! Why are these figures this way? What is the biggest obstacle for women in the workplace?

Some responses:

“First, because this is the way it’s always been. Traditionally, women have been seen as the “weaker” sex, since the beginning of time. With that being said, it is not true that women are weaker. Human nature dictates that someone has to win or someone has to be first, even [if] that someone has to serve. This entire mindset has to be RESET and that takes time. But, it will happen. Laws will be passed and equality for all will be written into our standards for living.”

“Culturally and historically, women are still viewed as being emotionally softer, nurturing, etc. Their strength is that they are generally more relational. Business is seen as hard, tough, and sometimes ruthless. Men are typically viewed as aligning with those attributes. Many women I talk to feel they have to be a b***h if they want to move up. Why? I just stated it.”

“It’s sort of bias, but there are some women who are not getting paid as much as men. Reason? Some women might think that a raise will come to them if they don’t ask; if they are patient. Which is not how that works. Maybe women don’t pursue as hard, who knows? I doubt that women are getting treated unfairly in most cases.”

My Facebook feed got “slightly heated,” and soon after posting my query, I questioned if I should remove it. Many people were more focused on arguing with the opinions of other commenters rather than just sharing their own.

*Side note: The commentary below is taken from responses to my Facebook query, and should not be construed as my opinion or that of Profiles International. 

 “Research has indicated that women are less assertive in asking for a raise or promotion. I would hypothesize, also, that most of America still views the male as the breadwinner. And, although women are working, their income is viewed as supplemental. People in positions of leadership may subconsciously decide to pay a male more, because he needs that income for a family.”

“As you say, more women are getting degrees than men at this stage, I reckon we are simply at a transitional stage. Give it another generation, allow the established males to retire/die and you’ll see a much more equal picture. But I agree with above, more men will ask for a raise.”

“Women shouldn’t be in leadership positions. Women are more hormonal (regardless of children), more unreliable (because of family and children responsibilities) and overall just not as good or respectable. And I think women kind of screwed themselves wanting to have equal status in the workplace and wanting to work (for the single, young women out there I get it), BUT now, we have families that are forced to have both mothers and fathers working, just to make ends meet, so children aren’t being raised by their mothers, but by daycare facilities or family. Sad but true. Eventually, a woman’s place is in the home. And yes, this is highly offensive to feminists and many others but it’s true.”

Stating that ‘Women shouldn’t be in leadership positions’ is ridiculously laughable.”

“Biggest obstacle is maternity leave I’d say. Plus, women tend to undersell themselves & think about their family first. I think in the Scandinavian countries things are fairly equal.”

“Women are more of a liability. Having a baby = 6 to 8 weeks off. Sick child = several unexpected days off.”

“What about the women who don’t have children or never plan to have them? They have no liability then so then why are they being punished because maybe one day they change their minds?”

So, for part 1 of my series, let me ask you the same question:

Statistics show that women earn more degrees than men, but are underrepresented in leadership roles. Only 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. A typical woman earns 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. The paycheck fairness act was 6 votes short of passing last week. I’m looking for feedback from men and women please! Why are these figures this way? What is the biggest obstacle for women in the workplace?

In the next few segments of this series, I will dive into women’s presence  in the workplace, popular occupations, and how traditionalism of occupational roles is evolving.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this:

Focus on you, and getting where you need and want to go. Regardless of gender, sex, age, or location. There are child prodigies changing the face of science, math, and philosophy. Male and female teens and young 20-something CEOs are running major corporations. Just like women in the workplace hundreds of years ago, the above were also uncommon. We are a constantly-evolving nation. We send people into space, create cures for illnesses, reattach limbs, and transplant organs. We are amazing. No matter the gender.

Focus on the purpose and mission in life.