March saw people all over the world celebrate International Women’s Day, a day which honours women’s participation in the workforce and their contributions to the world. Though women have made great strides in the workplace and have come a long way from being seen as cheap and expendable labour, there’s still much progress to be made to remove an innate bias that still exists when it comes to working women. When it comes to equality in business, we have come a long way from the days when women were limited to being cleaners, nurses, secretaries and personal assistants, and nowadays many women have broken through the glass ceiling, holding powerful positions in large organisations. However, it is a hard-won victory for most and comes at a cost for women who constantly juggle their roles as businesswomen, wives, and mothers. Recently I interviewed over 100 working women to find out the challenges they face in the workplace. Many agreed that they have had to deal with ongoing prejudices, have been overlooked for promotions, paid lower salaries than their male colleagues, and been excluded from what is referred to as the “boys club”. Women still have to work extra hard to compete with men in the workplace to achieve equal status and many feel like they are still not being taken seriously in their jobs and are often side-lined in favour of a male co-worker. The results of the interviews were extremely interesting and some of the more worrying findings include the fact that sexual harassment – either subtle and underhanded or brazen and obvious – is still occurring in the workplace; some women wear fake wedding rings to try “protect” themselves from unwanted advances; many women commented on their feelings of anger and frustration at being openly flirted with by male colleagues, being called “babe” or “sweetie pie”, having their bottoms patted “playfully” as they walk past, having to listen to sexist jokes, and so many other inappropriate acts and uses of language that women in the workplace endure. And then enters the struggle that women have in balancing their work life with their roles as mothers and nurturers. Nearly all of the women I interviewed said that the challenge of juggling being a working professional and a mother was a huge concern. For women who have not yet started their families there is a worry that taking time off for maternity leave will result in them losing their hard-won footing within the organisation and being seen as obsolete – possibly even replaced. For this reason many working women are delaying starting a family or adding to their family. And once they do make this leap, then comes the years of trying to juggle the responsibilities of motherhood and work – with women agreeing that they must work as if they are not a mom, and mother as if they don’t have a job or business. And for women – the challenges don’t end there. Another issue that came up in the interviews is competitiveness and rivalry in the workplace between women who sometimes feel threatened by their female co-workers – particularly those that do not have to consider the work/parent juggling act. So what can women do?
Here are some of my coaching tips, as well as some advice gathered from top businesswomen who have walked the walk:
· Don’t lean on your biology as an excuse or expect it to secure you any favour but rather know who you are and what you are capable of – recognise your “superpower”.
· Know your worth and value within the workplace and do not allow anyone to compromise this or have you doubting yourself.
· Set clear boundaries and do not be afraid to articulate them – acting within your value system.
· Know what it is that you want in the end and set professional goals that align with your personal ones – is it status? Happiness? Freedom? Financial security? Recognition? Or perhaps self-actualisation?
· Be kinder to yourself and to other women – both in the workplace and in your life in general.
· Call out bad and inappropriate behaviour! Do not feel that you must shut up and accept situations that make you uncomfortable – this links back to knowing your worth, setting boundaries and being kinder to yourself.
The good news is that the culture is starting to shift as more and more women enter the workforce and occupy key roles within businesses. Women do not have to accept being told that they can have it all, but not just at once.