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Women in the Workplace – Working for Equality

As we celebrate another International Women’s Day, we recognize the many strides of achievement women have made in this world to achieve equality. But one place where we are still far behind, even in our own country, is equality in the workplace.

I have always thought of myself as a pretty good negotiator. When I was younger, I would seek out the local flea markets while on vacation and bargain with the retailers. It was like a game. My prized possession was a single-person hammock was priced at $150, and I walked away with it for $25.

But research and time has proven that women still get the short end of the stick in nearly every aspect of the working world. Paid 77 cents to the male dollar, and holding only 22 percent of all senior management positions, there is still a glass ceiling in this country that prevents women from rising to levels equal to men. The authors of the book “Women Don’t Ask” explain that this arises from the trials and challenges women face with negotiations. Women don’t ask for what they want, and when they do, they ask for less.

There seems to be a simple solution to this dilemma, suggested clearly by the book’s title: simply ask! Just get out of your chair, march to your boss’s office, and ask for what you wants.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. There are many social and cultural norms that may prevent a woman from asking for what she wants. What’s more, these norms also can negatively affect how she is perceived if she does ask. In the end, the average woman still ends up with less.

At the February bookclub, DC EcoWomen gathered at the ever-delightful Teaism to discuss this paradox.

We came up with several key messages and takeaways to remember.

1. Women need to recognize that the discrimination exists. It never occurs to most women that the starting salary at their first job is negotiable, or that if a promotion opens up they might have to ask instead of hoping their boss recognizes their talents. Do research, be upfront, and ask for what you want instead of hoping that you will get what you deserve.

2. Men need to recognize this, too. Too many dismiss gender discrimination because they don’t see it themselves. But much of this discrimination exists on a subconscious level.

3. Expectations are key. Many research studies have shown that people fulfill what they think is expected of them. If you are expected to do well, you probably will. If you are expected to fail, you are much more likely to do so.

4. Social gender norms are instilled even in early childhood. The expectations stem back to the chores, games, and mannerisms in childhood. When dividing up chores, girls are more likely to do housework – and not get paid – and boys are more likely to do outdoor tasks that they can even do for their neighbors for money. From the outset, many girls and boys are taught different things about the value of what they do.

5. Aggregate your assets. It is important to walk into a negotiation know what you are worth and be able to communicate that to your superior. It is also important to know for yourself, for self-confidence. One really intelligent suggestion that came from the bookclub is to create a “good-jobs folder” in your email account; every time someone sends you an email saying you did well, put it in that folder to reference later.

6. Feminine attributes have value in the workplace. One of the issues that arises when women do negotiate is the risk of seeming over-competitive and aggressive. To overcome this, it is often suggested that women ensure to be friendly, willing to negotiate, and be a team player. To emphasize that she cares about the good of the company, along with her self-interests. In my opinion, these traits are good, and are valuable for any gender.

7. Things are changing. At the end, the ladies felt hopeful. As more women excel in the workforce, there will be a gradual shift in values and norms. To reinforce positivity and work for the benefit of the whole can only have a positive impact in the workforce.

The flea market was a situation where I knew the rules, and was expected to haggle. So I did. Then if I walked away with a great deal, it was fantastic, and if not, it didn’t really matter – I had fun. Matters of business are not so clear, and often have more riding on the line than a hammock-chair. In this case, many things need to change.

The first step to social change is awareness. For now, women can learn about the social norms and use them to their advantage. They can recognize that they might be missing opportunities by not asking, and learn how to negotiate in a way that works for them.

Eventually, expectations will change until equality is the norm. It will take time, but time is always necessary to achieve something so valuable.

If you’re looking to educate yourself further, “Women Don’t Ask” co-author Sarah Laschever has a website of tools, education, and resources for women and negotiation. Check it out here:


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