Breaking down stereotypes: Can there be gender equality in the workplace?

Written by Brandy Houser, PhD, de la Femme co-founder.

Thanks to Betty Friedan, the voice of the 1950’s housewife was finally heard.  “There has to be more than this, more than cleaning after a husband and the children.”  Women, and society, have come a long way from this – but are we there yet?  The second wave feminist movement women fought to grant us reproductive rights (Roe vs. Wade, 1973), advanced educational and extracurricular opportunities (Title IX, 1972), and equal places in the workforce (affirmative action, expansion in 1967 to include gender).  Yet, have we really reached true gender equality?

Today, girls are outpacing their male peers throughout their education.  But we have yet to see a female president or even a board comprised of at least 50% women in a fortune 1000 company.  Strong women leaders who challenge their male opponents are often ostracized (since women are supposed to sweet and compliant) leaving only derogatory names to suffice as adjectives.  Beyond demeanor, women are still noted for clothing style (The Male Factor).  Women not only have to work harder than their male counterparts for the same job (Gorman and Kmec, 2007), the same wage (CNN, 2010), but they have to look good (but not too good) while doing so.  Not even Jackie Kennedy could have pulled off what Sheryl Sandberg does on a daily basis – and in such nice attire!  Even beyond career, clothing, and dealing with men who cannot handle emotion – women still manage nearly 70% of the childcare responsibilities at home (Sheryl Sandberg, TEDwomen).  How can workplace equality exist when it doesn’t even exist at home?

Stereotypes come in all forms- from cultural to religious and certainly including gender.  Women leaders are seen as supportive while male leaders are seen as influencing upward movement (Catalyst).  Why?  And, how does this cultural perspective affect women (and men) in the workplace today?  In Shaunti Feldhan’s The Male Factor, male colleagues who see a female colleague become even marginally emotional, automatically distrust their ability to think clearly.  However, it has been shown that women can process emotions at the same time that they need to be clearly thinking.

How will we move past these stereotypes?  Work.  Men and women today need to recognize the power that all women harness in the workplace and how leveraging these untapped skill sets will lead to more successful business operations, better work-life balance overall, and economic prosperity for our world.