Sunday, September 11, 2011

Seven career handicaps of women

To be a career woman is much less difficult than it used to be, but being a woman still brings  handicaps. In my listing, career women have seven handicaps to overcome, two that make entrance more difficult and five during their careers.
One: outright prejudice.
Prejudices against women working, against women having responsibility and against men reporting to women. These prejudices are stronger at lower management levels.
Two: lower expectations.
Expectancy of lower job stability: monthly dips in productivity and emotional stability, pregnancies and the pull of home life and domestic responsibilities.
Three: doubts because of alternatives.
Women, like men, have such choices as: become employee, free-lance or entrepreneur; be a business employee or government employee; invest in further schooling and training or not. Many women have, however, one basic choice extra: to work or to stay at home.
To go against expectations costs energy, to have to consider pros and cons costs energy.
After the decision to work, the option to stay at home, now or in the future (get married) stays, resulting in recurrent moments of doubts or choice. When working is less obvious, it costs more energy. This handicap has lessened considerably the last decades.
Four: belonging to a conspicuous minority.
What attitude to take to the male majority? Be grateful? Ignore? Apologize? Defend? Be extra assertive? And what attitude to take to the female minority? We are all sisters, so we should stick together? We are all sisters, so we compete? We have nothing in common apart from our gender, which is irrelevant here? To position yourself, also among other women who take other positions, costs extra attention and energy. This handicap is greatest in organizations that have yet few women; it is growing less, but it's still there.
Five: ambivalence of femininity.
Judgment on femininity is on-going. You are supposed to be feminine and non-feminine simultaneously. Being feminine is not quite OK, being masculine is not quite OK, to be halfway is not quite OK. This means on-going positioning in behavior, dress, decisiveness, etc. and so costs attention and energy.
Six: the ambivalence of attractiveness.
Unattractiveness is a burden, attractiveness is an ambivalent privilege. Should you try to enhance your attractiveness? Should you use your attractiveness? Or should you downplay your attractiveness?
Seven: political vulnerability.
Allusions are made to personal attractiveness and unattractiveness, to femininity and masculinity. In general, allusions and speculations are made about private life; personal relations, personal plans (marriage, children) and personal frustrations.
Coalition-behavior, both with men and with women, is easily suspicious. Special efforts are also easily suspicious. The continuous awareness and caution and positioning on the previous four items leaves less energy for defense.

These handicaps do not depend on any specific female characteristics. They would be precisely true for men in a female dominated society in which most married men would stay at home. Some handicaps would be true for men in a predominantly homosexual organization.
Running with a handicap is like swimming with your clothes on. Such swimmers become stronger. Therefore, average career women are more aware, more energetic, more capable than their average male counterparts.


1.  Have a plan. Unless you change that plan consciously and willingly, stick to it; don’t yield to pressures.
2. Have your attitudes well-defined about: your “sisters,” your femininity (and masculinity), your attractiveness, allusions, speculations and criticism that relate to your gender rather than to you; clear discrimination. Unless you change your attitudes consciously and willingly, stick to them, don’t yield to pressures.
3. Don’t position yourself in any way that makes it more difficult to be yourself. Watch your energy-level!
4. Keep business and private life separate.

And if you think this list is too extensive, I can provide a short list. One handicap: men. Sorry.

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