There are some unique challenges women face that will perhaps never be able to be completely 'solved'... or will they?
'She works hard for the money' - Donna Summer said it best.
While so much of Western work culture has changed and continues to change, in relation to Wage Gaps, Parental Leave, and the various initiatives to close the bridge between men and women in the workplace to create a more equitable balance of input/output; there are some unique challenges women face that will perhaps never be able to be completely 'solved'.
And are they problems to be 'solved' or simply to be 'acknowledged better'? The benefit of focusing on equality in the workplace is that everybody has access to the same initiatives and opportunities, and everyone is encouraged to succeed and be supported in doing so. And, equality absolutely has its place and is an essential pillar of building great workplace culture. But painting everybody with the same brush doesn't necessarily propel forward the most disadvantaged employees, it simply levels the playing field slightly. Women will continue to face unique challenges in the workplace that are often overlooked, or not considered in Policy and Procedure - and yet they are also expected to deliver the same workload as a Male counterpart, remain ambitious, aggressively chase salary reviews and contribute to strategy and overall performance of the business.
It would be remiss to imply that there are not, often, key differences in the way Men and Women work. Another way to look at this is to focus on the concept of 'Masculine' and 'Feminine' skills - better known as 'Hard' or 'Soft' skills. Hard skills are data analysis, strategy, financial acumen, etc. Soft skills being Empathy, Synthesizing Ideas, Interpersonal skills, etc When women are placed in environments where Hard/"Masculine" Skills are prioritized over their often (but not always) natural Soft skills, they often adapt to suit this environment and become more hard-edged and more aggressively ambitious. In doing so Workplaces miss out on a critical skill set as the more domineering Masculine way of working is idealized.
Not only contributing financially and paying bills and mortgages - women also spend significant time caretaking and providing hands-on support to family members. This takes the form of children initially, but can also be elderly parents and siblings. And whilst caring for others is not a uniquely Female depiction, the difference for Male colleagues is that they haven't already taken a period(s) of Maternity Leave, left the workplace, returned, and had to rebuild their career. Periods absent from the business mean less financial stability and women are often required to give up financial independence in order to have children where as there are few times where Men are asked to give up their financial independence.
The Menstrual Cycle influences energy optimization and yet Women are expected to have the same energy output every day of the month. All employees are subject to the same Sick leave policy for occasional and unexpected periods of illness. Where Women are disadvantaged is they often have a predetermined period of illness or un-wellness monthly, which is not acknowledged or acceptable to use this leave on. Periods can be debilitatingly painful or completely manageable - every woman is different. But we know that hormonally the body is seeking a period of rest, lower energy output, and less movement and mental capacity. Women are even advised to do fewer Cardio/HIIT workouts and instead opt for gentle walking and Yoga during their Menstruation. And whilst Women can make adjustments in their home life to accommodate their cycle and lower energy, they rarely can do this at work.
We know that more discussions are being had between Male employees and employers regarding salaries, than they are with Women. Society has placed much emphasis on male colleagues' panache for ambitiously communicating their monetary worth and achieving more regular Pay rises. But this is far more than a Stereotype. If as mentioned, Hard Skills continue to be prioritized in business, then Salary negotiations are another example of situations where Women are forced to sit within that Masculine assertive framework in order to be successful. Add to these periods of absenteeism from the business due to MAT Leave, Period Leave, or anything else that mistakenly gets viewed as a lesser commitment to the business than male counterparts - and getting that Pay Rise can become very difficult.
As we've explored focusing on equality in the workplace is simply not enough, because painting both Women and Men in the workplace with the same brush, implies we all join the workforce with the same baggage and the same challenges. When we simply don't. It's important that we celebrate and acknowledge, the amazing and extraordinary ability of Women to juggle both family building and career building; and that we don't continue to put Women in environments where they are forced to become Men and adopt Masculine ways of working.
Here are FOUR ways businesses can specifically address the Challenges facing Women:
And hopefully, with these initiates, we can start to see a brighter future for Women where their unique gifts and skills are valued, and their equally unique challenges are respected and supported.
Transformemos nuestra percepción del fracaso y utilicémoslo como catalizador del crecimiento.