Four Barrier Breakers for Working Womenby Michelle Patterson, President, Global Women Foundation
In taking on a more dominant role in the business world as more women confidently climb their career ladders and step into important roles and leadership positions, the experience in the American workforce is shifting and the power balance is beginning to tilt in their direction. With more women in the U.S. workforce than men, this provides an opportunity to take a stand on some important issues that continue to impact women in their multiple roles as career woman, wife, and mother.
While the glass ceiling clearly has large cracks and even holes, there is more work to be done to truly leverage the earning potential and talent that can catapult Corporate America toward greater success and help women in the process.
Changing the Face of the American Workforce
Here are some tips for taking charge of these issues and helping to continue turning the tide on long-ingrained Corporate America barriers:
- Equalizing pay and negotiating that raise: This issue continues to be one of the major sticking points for women in America with women still earning 77 cents for every dollar that their male counterparts make. Not acceptable! That’s why it is important to continue pushing for raises and negotiating pay increases based on talent, knowledge, and specialized skills that others in your workplace do not have, thereby increasing your importance and value to your firm. Too often women undervalue what they bring to the table when, in actual fact, their abilities could far exceed others. When negotiating for greater or even equal pay, focus on the quantitative evidence you have for getting more money, including accomplishments and first-hand knowledge of today’s most powerful consumer—women. With corporations under so much pressure to perform and not lose the talent that drives their success, you have to realize just how many cards you hold in your hand, so you can call their bluff and get them to put their money on the table. And, before you go in and collect on that raise, make a list of all the specific places you add value to the company and use these as your bargaining chips. Most importantly, develop the mindset that you deserve it because, when you believe in yourself, it will have a positive and influential impact on the belief that others have in you.
- Enjoying a maternity leave without the guilt: Women often feel torn between their careers and their role as a mom, which is often exacerbated thanks to hormones and exhaustion that comes with being pregnant or just giving birth. Often, women feel guilty for taking ‘time off’ to let their bodies recover and bond with their little bundle. If anything, this is a time that should be provided to women guilt-free and enhanced by a comprehensive maternity leave so that money and work responsibilities are not top of mind for however it long it takes to get comfortable with your physical and emotional life changes. This means asking for the longest maternity leave possible. That’s because every pregnancy is different – some may have you bouncing back quickly while others are much more challenging. Even if it is, take the time to enjoy this special addition to your family. You’ll always have work but you will never regain those precious memories of your children’s first few months. Don’t be bullied by your company to come back earlier or feel guilty that you are slacking off; if anything, you are working harder than you ever did before on a VIP project that needs your attention. Know what you are entitled to and what an employer cannot ask of you during this time. Don’t even think about taking on work to do at home while on maternity leave but do leave that open as a point of negotiation when you are ready to come back to the office, suggesting a day or two of telecommuting to spend more time with your children.
- Mentoring other women to help them up the corporate ladder: An important responsibility you have – especially if you are in a leadership role – is to mentor other women, encouraging them to develop their valuable skills and increase their knowledge and helping them raise their value within the workforce. Not only are providing them with the assistance they need to generate additional bargaining power for themselves, but you are also building a united army of women who share a similar cause to smash what remains of Corporate America’s glass ceiling and its unequal standards of pay, benefits, and perception about the value of women in the workplace.
- Adding a feminine touch to a male-dominated work environment: By this I do not mean adding flowers to every office or cubicle or putting a doily under the water cooler. This is about leveraging those feminine traits that help the staff achieve strategic objectives, including clear and regular communication, a nurturing and caring attitude, and even that incredible sense we women have for determining how to handle a situation known as intuition. Research has found that having such traits as part of a workforce culture has helped achieve objectives, solve problems, and unify talent. Don’t be afraid to use these non-male skills in the workplace – it’s something you have that the male-dominated office does not have, which can turn you into a standout and potential candidate for that next promotion.
How critical is this issue? As a recent report from the Center for American Progress indicates...
- Although women are 50.8 percent of the U.S. population earning almost 60 percent of both undergraduate and Master’s degrees, also holding almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, American women lag substantially behind men when it comes to their representation in leadership positions (Center for American Progress, Catalyst, Center for Economic Development):
- The United States, once a world leader in gender equality, now lags behind other similarly wealthy nations in women’s economic participation. In the two decades from 1990 to 2010, our country fell from having the sixth-highest rate of female labor-force participation among 22 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, countries to 17th on the list. (CAP)
- America ranks number six in women’s economic participation and opportunity on the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Gender Gap Index of 136 countries. (Catalyst)
Stereotypes and skewed perceptions remain powerful and still impede the advancement of women. The dearth of women in leadership roles—and in whole fields—creates the perception that women do not belong in those positions or professions. (CAP)
- Structural barriers: A shortage of role models, for example, means that women—and women of color in particular—lack mentors, sponsors, and opportunities in male-heavy organizations to develop the sorts of social relationships out of which mentorship, sponsorship, board appointments, or simply promotions, naturally evolve. (CAP)
About the Author
Visionary and lauded business accelerator Michelle Patterson is President of the Global Women Foundation and The California Women’s Conference - the largest women’s symposium in North America that has featured esteemed First Ladies, A-List Hollywood celebrities, and high caliber business influencers, which is scheduled for May 19-20, 2014 in Long Beach, CA. Michelle is also the CEO of Women Network LLC, an online digital media platform dedicated to giving women a voice and a platform to share their message. Michelle may be reached at WomenNetwork.com.
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