One of the key tenets of feminism is that women should support one another, and nowhere is it more important than in business. It’s not just a piece of idealism along the lines of how the world would be a better place if we were all a little nicer to each other – it’s a very practical piece of strategic advice. This article looks at some of the reasons why.
We Still Don’t Have A Level Playing Field
It’s amazing how many people – including women themselves – think that the struggle is over now and that everybody has the same rights and opportunities. Women working full-time hours still earn an average of 18% less than men and 60% of women still earn less even after accounting for their educational attainments and the number of hours they have put in.
One in four women experience workplace sexual harassment (as opposed to one in 20 men) and pregnancy-related discrimination is widespread. The US is now the only country in the developed world that doesn’t have a national policy ensuring that new mothers get paid time off.
These problems don’t disappear when women start working for themselves, with female entrepreneurs often reporting sex-based discrimination and sexual harassment as a problem when negotiating contracts, and many struggling to keep their businesses afloat because they’re expected to provide the bulk of care for children and ailing relatives at the same time.
Men Don’t Get It
Discuss these issues with your male colleagues and the chances are that they’ll argue and insist you’ve misunderstood something. Some men accept them and are sympathetic, of course, but unless they’ve had similar experiences of discrimination for other reasons, it’s difficult for them to grasp the systematic way in which such barriers impact women’s careers.
This means that even when they make an effort to help you overcome individual problems, they’re unlikely to understand your reluctance to go down routes that you already know will be dead ends and they often suggest impractical solutions. This doesn’t mean that you can’t forge positive, mutually advantageous working relationships with men, but as a rule, women will be able to provide you with better support.
It’s Tough Trying To Be One Of The Boys
Most people who study the challenges that women face in business don’t think men are actively trying to make life harder for them. There’s something subtler at work. Most people like to help their friends and think first of people in their social circles when they’re wondering who a good fit for a particular role would be, or whose company might make a good trading partner.
In our society, men tend to do most of their socializing with other men. Breaking into those social circles is hard for women and many find it impossible to fit in there, especially if they have responsibilities that get in the way or they just don’t have the constitution to cope with a heavy drinking culture. Networking with each other gives women an alternative to the boys’ clubs and reduces resultant disadvantages.
Women Understand Each Other’s Struggles
Many women in business have faced the same struggles and are well placed to help one another get through them. Lady Barbara Judge remembers growing up in a world where hardly any top jobs were held by women, but her mother showed her that she too could achieve, and now she helps other women to believe in themselves.
Women’s organizations can help with everything from childcare to transport and there are successful female entrepreneurs out there who have set up investments dedicated to helping women launch and grow their own companies. Because they understand the issues, they can offer much more useful advice.
It’s Not Always A Competition
Historically, women working in the same spaces have often felt that they need to compete to succeed, especially when they’re constantly being compared by male colleagues or when there’s a feeling that bosses think promoting two women would be excessive.
Entrepreneurs may find themselves hesitant to promote other women when they might be in competition for the same grants or loans, and there can be pressure from marketers to label yourself as the first or most important woman to achieve various goals in your sector, which is harder when there are more women there.
The evidence shows, however, that where women help each other they benefit overall. They are no longer vulnerable to a divide and conquer approach by established interests and their businesses can more effectively increase market share.
The world of business isn’t going to change overnight and suddenly become completely female-friendly. By helping the next generation, however, women can ensure that it changes significantly in the longer term.
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