Let’s go back to our elementary school playground days…and today is the day the soccer tournament starts! The kids sprint out the double doors to the field, scrambling to team up with their best friends. One kid takes charge immediately and yells, “I’m the captain!” The same child divides up the teams, sets the rules and takes the ball to kick off the game. Right away it is clear that this kid means business and others quietly follow suit. And the game begins…
Now, let me ask you, is the child described above a boy or a girl?
I would guess that most of you pictured the child as a boy. Was it because it involves athletics? Or was it the take-charge attitude that triggered that thought?
Not only was the child in the story a girl; it was me! Now, I am a 21-year old young woman who still likes to take charge of a situation. I love leading teams. Some might even call me “bossy….” Until recently, the thought that being a strong-willed woman who likes to lead might have an influence on my professional career never crossed my mind. After all it is the 21st century, right?
Last week Sheryl Sandberg gave an interview with TedTalks called, “So we leaned in … now what?” When watching the video, I couldn’t help but question the reality of her message. Is there still a battle for women in the workforce? Is being “bossy” going to keep me from gaining leadership roles in my own career?
Then she said something and it all came together. Sandberg points out that women are called ‘bossy’, while men who do the exact same thing are often called “leaders.” Suddenly, everything clicked. I have been told I was bossy. In fact, I remember a very specific moment when I was called bossy and I was shocked! To me, I was just doing my job in the best way I knew how. I had a goal and I needed to reach it, so I assigned people jobs and took charge. However, those around me did not see this as a positive trait.
I, like others, can have all the success in the world running a project, but if our superiors think we handled the situation in a dominating way then that would change things. How would my team have reacted if my male co-worker had stepped up the same way I did? Based on Sandberg’s research, he may have been perceived as direct and confident, two positive traits. Maybe if I were a man doing the same job I would have received respect more easily from my peers and superiors.
So the answer to the question proposed above, is “YES”, there is still a battle for women in the workforce. In fact, according to McKinsey&Company’s survey results about gender diversity, men are much less aware than women of the challenges female employees face at work. It was found that 38% of men disagree that women have much more difficulty reaching top-management positions. This illustrates the biases in the way men and women perceive gender roles at work.
Often the challenges women face at work are ignored and many people may still think they don’t exist, but to those individuals – go listen to Sandberg’s interview, look at the data and then form your opinion. After all, I hadn’t realized the biases that existed and I hadn’t put much thought into it until I decided to listen.
Contributed by: Grace Herron, IWL Intern