International Women’s Day typically provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the challenges faced by women.
Whether the role is mothering, caregiving, paid professional work or a combination thereof, prioritizing the competing demands women contend with can feel relentless. One woman described it as “hurtling through life as if it were an out-of-body experience.”
This article will not cite all the ways in which women’s lived experience has not changed much over history, never mind in the past 50 years. There were very distinct role norms for female and male staff in the 1960’s when I worked as a secretary. My sons just laugh at my stories and say “Ah, come on Mom, things weren’t that bad!” While that may be true in part, real progress since has been painfully slow.
In my current role as a career counselling therapist and executive coach here are some realities from my client's experience this past couple of years:
- A double standard still exists regarding behaviour. For example, when bullying is disguised as humour and women are expected to put up with it or told they “just need to learn to take a joke.”
- Although fully competent, a woman is not promoted over and over, and in some cases a less than competent male becomes her supervisor with the expectation that she will “train” him.
- Women continuing to be accused of being too emotional or strident when providing feedback as a manager/leader vs men whose feedback to direct reports is seen as "strong," “sensible,” or “calm.”
- The continuing existence of the Queen Bee syndrome which is defined as a woman in a position of authority in a male-dominated environment who treats subordinates more critically if they are female.
So, what is to be done you ask? First, women must consistently build and maintain a strong professional support network of both men and women. It is critical that women have sponsors and mentors.
And women must speak up about what we will and will not tolerate and do that judiciously. We must stop putting up with the bullets listed above, and with other unacceptable realities that I have failed to list here in the interest of space.
And when that becomes impossible and your heart aches from the unfairness of it all, then you must take action to move on to a place where you truly belong; where your strengths and competencies are appreciated and recognized.
I close with this little poem that I hope will touch your spirit and move you to action.
Women’s Progress from the Heart
Open your heart and let your special dreams come true,
For the time has come for you to know what you are here to do.
Your gifts are there inside you, and the world awaits to see,
What the angels always knew you were really meant to be.
It may have been a while that you have wandered and felt lost,
But you can recover from the sadness and its cost.
Deep within your heart lie the secrets of your soul,
You must let them surface with delight and shine for all to know.