SIEGEL: It’s more than just the wage gap

Ingrained cultural attitudes in the workplace hold women and businesses back

Women still, in 2016, lack presence in the top corporations in America and the world. Of 190 heads of state in the world, only nine are women. Only 20 U.S. senators are women. Some would say there is no longer this so-called bias against women and that this inability for women to reach top positions is due to their own unwillingness to make familial sacrifices. I think it is time for both men and women to realize that gender discrimination is a real threat in today’s society and its true causes need to be addressed, which entails finding immediate comprehensive solutions to correct existing gender disparities.

The glass ceiling has not been cracked. The gender gap is rather wide due in part to the stereotyping that accompanies being a mother or father in the workplace. As New York Times journalist Claire Miller states in an article, “the motherhood penalty and the fatherhood bonus present a clear-cut look at American culture’s ambiguous feelings about gender and work.” Sadly, this traditional concept of fathers as breadwinners and mothers as caregivers remains deeply ingrained. Shelley J. Correll, director of Stanford’s Institute for Gender Research, conducted a study in which she asked employers how much they would pay similarly qualified job applicants. Mothers were offered on average $13,000 less than fathers. Employers also rated the fathers as the most desirable employees. Are fathers really more stable and committed to their work? Or are we labeling baby-birthing, the only role a woman cannot delegate, as a career-limiting activity that allegedly “distracts” working mothers from their jobs?

Not only does the gender gap exist, but it is fostered by a biological confidence gap which holds women back from succeeding. Success closely correlates to competence as well as confidence, suggesting another reason why women are so woefully underrepresented. Psychologist Cameron Anderson explains that when people think they are good at something, they display “expansive body language, a lower vocal tone, and a tendency to speak early and often in a calm, relaxed manner.” Those who display more confidence than competence, men perhaps more often than women, are more respected and regarded among their peers. For example, women keep their hands down until they are totally sure of the answer. They hold back from signing up for that triathlon unless they know they are more fit than is required. What else would explain this behavior besides a biological confidence gap?

It seems as though women are evaluated on their accomplishments, while men are evaluated on their aptitude. Deloitte partners, who evaluated a woman and a man with identical skills, said of the woman, “She’s really good, she gives 100 percent. But I just don’t see her interacting with a CFO.” The conversation about the man proceeded very differently: “He’s good. He and I are going to take a CFO golfing next week. I know he can grow into it; he has tremendous potential.” These subtle assumptions by decision makers devastate careers. The implications are sobering.

Gender disparities are not a thing of the past or last year’s news. As long as people make assumptions about what women do or do not want, about their personal sacrifices, about their willingness and ability to take on the job of a “man,” we will stay grounded in these traditional concepts that are so outdated, yet so ingrained in our culture. Companies should lean in by providing adequate entry points to full-time work for women or men who have taken a career break. When women return, the message that they are no longer considered players is communicated in various ways: they may be passed over for high-profile assignments, or removed from projects they once led. Women, either with or without children, desire a better balance in their personal and professional lives. Women need to become leaders with a voice that sounds like our own so people will start associating the sound of a woman’s voice with that of a CEO. If we take this notion of the gender gap seriously and react to its implications, then we can foster so much brilliance and creativity in the workplace, creating better environments for both men and women.

Lucy Siegel is a Viewpoint writer.

related stories