Since the mid-1960s, legislation has been in effect to prohibit discrimination against women because of their gender. Great strides have been made to uphold the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent amendments, but there are times when various factors still prevent women from advancing in their careers. While the law upholds their rights in terms of equal opportunity and equal compensation for the same job, there are still some mitigating circumstances where employers are skirting the issue.
Some of these practices are questionable, at best, but the fact remains that women are severely underrepresented in senior positions due to a variety of factors which, according to a study undertaken by Cornell University, fall under the broad categories of that which is organizational, societal and personal or on an individual level.
Stereotypes Are Still Dominant
Unfortunately, society still has a strong proclivity to stereotype women as the ‘weaker sex’ and as a result, many women simply aren’t considered for upper management due to the fact that they are assumed to be unable to handle the challenges and stresses inherent in these types of positions. Also, there seems to be a perpetration of this stereotype in the media in that women in leadership positions are often characterized as the exception to the rule. Women simply aren’t being portrayed as often in the media as being leaders and the study further found that women in leadership positions are seen as younger and thus giving the appearance of being less qualified based on a lack of experience which older men can bring to the table
Personal (Individual) Factors Preventing Advancement
Since there are few examples of women who have risen to the top of their field, women lack role models and mentors. This is a limiting factor when it comes to being assertive. Most women will hold back because when they are assertive they then become less desirable socially and less hirable as a result of that. There are also times when women are not strong negotiators due to their reluctance to be assertive. A woman being assertive is often characterized as being aggressive whereas her male counterpart is seen as exactly that, assertive.
Societal Factors May Be Hardest to Overcome
No matter how long and how hard women have fought for equal rights in the workplace, they are still largely seen as the ‘homemaker’, since, in reality, they are the ones who bear and give birth to the children. Women, then, are often questioned as to whether or not they can handle a position and all that it entails because they have a family at home. Even divorced women who now are the sole support of the family are questioned as to their ‘availability’ to be accessible as needed. On the other side of the coin, when the Child Custody Order determined by the court gives the father 50% custody as part of a parenting plan, he is not questioned whether his role as a father will prohibit him from being available to perform his duties because he has dependent children at home.
A Long and Winding Road Yet to Travel
While there is legislation in place to safeguard a woman’s rights to equality, there is still a long and winding road to travel. Some of the factors that prohibit women from advancing on the job can be questioned and even brought to court under a discrimination suit. However, intentional discrimination may be difficult to prove so many women don’t even bother. Further evidence on just how discriminatory these factors are was brought forward by the Fortune 500 list of CEOs in the United States in 2013. Only slightly more than 4% of CEOs are women and within those same companies only 15% of those on boards or commissions were women. It is clear discrimination but difficult to prove.
Many believe that more women simply don’t strive to reach upper management, senior level positions, because of the above listed factors. Perhaps it’s a case of apathy, a feeling of, “Why bother?” No one would question a man’s ability to do a job simply because he has children at home so what gives them the right to question women? The answer, plain and simple, is they don’t have that right. Even so, there are women who do set their goals high and do rise above these societal and organizational stereotypes. It’s time to reevaluate what has been done, what is being done and what can still be accomplished to promote gender equity in career advancement.
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