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Women in the workplace Part I: are women preventing themselves from achieving power in the workplace?

stairs to successThe other day, I read an interesting article regarding an interview with the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. The author, Gloria Feldt, argues that it is actually women themselves who are preventing the achievement of female power in the workplace.

Given that women outnumber men in colleges and universities, and there are equal numbers of men and women in the workforce, the questions are, Why are women still earning less than their male counterparts, and why are they still occupying less management positions at work?

When I think about this, it makes me more than a little frustrated that this is still going on in the year 2010.

There must be a reason this is happening. Feldt thinks women are not seizing the opportunity to accomplish full gender equality in the workplace.

How can this be?

The author makes the following points:

  • Women do not realize how much power they have; studies have shown that companies with women on their boards of directors or management teams actually have better returns on investment
  • Women hinder themselves by not negotiating properly for their first salary, and not asking for earned pay raises; women have socially learned to conform to cultural standards to the point where they do not ask for what they deserve, and this causes them to fall behind their male counterparts each year
  • Women are afraid of being viewed negatively; an assertive female employee is not looked upon favourably in society, but self-confidence and assertion are required in order to stand up for oneself and succeed in the workplace, especially in male-dominated occupations
  • Women mistakenly view power as a bad thing; power that is required in the workplace is not “power over someone” (an oppressive phrase that women do not like), but “power to accomplish something” (a more productive and applicable phrase that results in effective leadership)
  • Women attempt to succeed by: acting like men and trying to be “one of the boys”; supporting the same old-school policies that have never been welcoming or conducive for women; and not supporting (or even sabotaging) fellow female colleagues; this does not create transformational change
  • Some women become educated and skilled in a certain area, but then choose not to work in their field; this does not help the advancement of women in the workplace

Well, as an assertive female who has worked in the business/employment departments of male-dominated law firms where I was the first female lawyer allowed into the department on more than one occasion, I can appreciate the points the author makes. But I think there is more to it than that, and this is just a start (I will explain more in my next post in the series).

Let’s assume the author’s points are true for the purposes of discussion. What can we do about this? Something has to change, or things will never progress for women in the workplace.

Feldt proposes that women do the following in order to be more successful in the workplace:

  • Women must start to realize their worth in the workplace and become more self-confident
  • Women must not be afraid to negotiate an appropriate first salary (one that is similar to a man’s salary at that level), and to ask for earned pay raises; although this may seem contrary to what women have been taught over the years, it is imperative that women assert themselves in the workplace
  • Women have to stop caring so much about being viewed negatively just because they are being assertive; this is tough because no one likes to be called names (usually quite negative names), but the goal should be to act both respectfully and assertively when standing up for oneself or accomplishing a task in the workplace
  • Women have to embrace power, meaning the power to accomplish what one wants to achieve and to become a leader
  • Stop trying to be “one of the boys”, supporting the same old-school policies, and not supporting (or even sabotaging) fellow female colleagues; this will not work, and it will not help women in the long run
  • After becoming educated, use the degree!

What do you think? What is causing the salary differences between men and women today? What is preventing women from becoming managers of companies?

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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4 thoughts on “Women in the workplace Part I: are women preventing themselves from achieving power in the workplace?
  • Oh, just wait until my next post…this is only the beginning. This is a complicated issue, Adam, and there is much more to examine…we are only getting started on this topic!

  • Adam Gorley says:

    I wonder!

    I think at the moment business is too focused on short-term profit and growth, and I suspect that these goals align with traditionally male qualities.

    I’d also like to know then if companies with women in the C-suite and as directors and managers are more likely to take a long-term focus and to work on building core strengths rather than constant expansion.

  • Yes, I think it is quite a hot topic, thanks for the comment.

    Honestly, there are not very many female professionals I can ask that question, as most of the ones I know ceased practising in law firms 1-3 years after they began working in them (including me!). Anyone out there know what the secret is to “making it” longer than a couple of years in male-dominated professions? Or maybe the question is, “Were there other priorities in life that prevented the female professionals from wanting to make the sacrifice required to “make it”?


  • Adam Gorley says:

    That’s pretty interesting Christina—and a no small bit controversial I imagine.

    I guess it would be interesting to know how the women who have “made it” alongside their male peers managed to do it. Did they follow some or all of these ideas?