The Glass Ceiling: 8 Guidelines for Women in the Workplace

The Glass Ceiling: 8 Guidelines for Women in the Workplace

The workplace should be an environment where you get both respect and self-respect, so do what you need to do to make it happen.

by Joe Shervell

It’s all very well saying “we’ve come a long way since the sixties”, and certainly there have been numerous social and legal changes, but the business world has yet to embrace women in a fully equal way. Nearly every day you pick up a paper to find yet another woman has either been pushed out of her finance job or she’s been made to leave it because of discrimation. Women are still largely nudged into caregiving roles (nothing wrong with caregiving, but no-one puts Baby in a corner). Women are also pushed towards admin roles, human resources or serving food. While a few women have managed to break the glass ceiling, like the current CEOs of IBM and Hewlett-Packard, the working world is still largely ruled by straight white guys.

Here are eight things to keep in mind when hacking your way through the thorny maze of modern business whilst retaining your gender identity.

1) Do your homework.

No one is likely to tell you honestly that Dave, who was hired two weeks ago to do the exact same job you are interviewing for, is getting paid five, ten, or twenty percent more than you are being offered. Businesses often stack the deck by handling salary negotiations behind closed doors and punishing employees who ask others about their pay. Perhaps even worse, many resources that discuss what the mean salaries are for a given profession are targeted at men, often to the exclusion of women. Learning how to seek out these resources so you know what you should expect to make for a given job could be one of the most critical business skills you’ll ever acquire.

2) Be assertive.

An assertive man is often hailed as “aggressive,” “a go-getter,” “a hard charger,” and so on. On the other hand, an aggressive woman is frequently treated as overbearing, hot-headed, or described in less politically correct terms. It’s okay to stand up for yourself. It’s better for you, and it’s better for the company. An assertive person in the workplace can be an asset, especially when that person backs up her assertiveness with action.

3) Be confident.

It is important to understand your own worth and value, as well as that of your work. Doing your research beforehand and knowing what a man would be paid for identical work is a key weapon in ensuring you receive fair treatment. If nothing else, consider that your salary may be directly influenced by your willingness or unwillingness to speak up and say “I know you would pay a man twenty percent more for identical work. Why is my work not as valuable?”

4) Be willing to walk away.

In old days of the Industrial Revolution, a woman in the West was paid only twice a year and forfeited all her earnings if she was fired at any time during the “pay period”. Those days are long gone. Today, many employers may throw out a scandalously low compensation offer as a test to see who will accept. This is where the ability to walk away from a bad deal if the employer will not budge can actually make you appear more valuable. There is also the added bonus that the employer will know you are not a doormat and will be less likely to treat you as such.

5) Know the difference between right and wrong.

If a man behaves or speaks inappropriately to you or you are placed in a position where you feel uncomfortable for any reason, it is your right to speak out about it, and doing so will benefit other women as well as yourself. Chances are you are not the only woman who has been made to feel that way, despite what the rumour mill may claim. By being willing to enforce the difference between right and wrong, you will make the workplace more congenial for everyone.

6) Don’t demur.

The fifties ideal of the “Stepford Wife” has, fortunately for us all, fallen by the wayside. However, far too many men will still attempt to take advantage of a woman in the workplace, either by accident or design, as with a coworker who claims your ideas as his own. If you believe something like this is happening to you, speaking up is the only way to correct the problem. Take it to the culprit first. If you are uncomfortable with this for any reason, go to the next level in the chain of command above him. Do not be afraid to go to the next level if the problem is not satisfactorily addressed. Silence is too often taken as assent in the business world; do not let fear of repercussions prevent you from calling out unscrupulous behaviour.

7) Remember who your friends are.

Keep in mind that not every man in the company is out to get you (one way or another), and not every woman is automatically an ally because of her gender. Let your friends prove themselves by their words and actions, and take care of yourself.

8) “It’s none of your business.”

One of the excuses trotted out most often by corporate types and human resources people for the lower pay women receive is, “If you get romantically involved/married/pregnant, we may lose you for an indeterminate amount of time or permanently, which means we’ll have to train someone else to do what we pay you for.” This smacks of the worst kind of archaic gender prejudiced thinking, and in many places is against the law. However, many managers may ask questions about your personal life that have nothing to do with your job performance. When confronted with such a situation, your best defence is first to try to deflect the question with a noncommittal answer.

The business world has come a long way in accepting women as equals and even in many cases as bosses. However, there’s still a chance that you’ll encounter either covert or blantant discrimination in the workplace. Know your rights and what protection is available to you under the law. While knowing your worth may not always earn you friends, it will establish you as someone who is capable of retaining their identity and not being a target for gender discrimination. The workplace should be an environment where you get both respect and self-respect, so do what you need to do to make it happen.