What Working Women Need to Know
Despite significant advances, women still face discrimination in the workplace. Joan Williams has studied women and work for over 25 years and through her research she has identified four types of gender bias that women encounter. She and her daughter, Rachel Dempsey, describe these biases and give women advice on how to handle them in their book, What Works for Women at Work.
The first pattern of gender bias at work is Prove-it-Again!, meaning that women have to prove their competence over and over again. They are judged on their performance, while men are judged on their potential. So men, and not women, are given the benefit of the doubt when they make a mistake. We can address this bias by carefully documenting our achievements. It also helps to have a posse, a group of men and women, who call attention to each other’s successes.
The second pattern is the Tightrope. This describes the double standard to which women are held. They are expected to behave in traditionally feminine ways, yet masculine behaviors are required to be successful at work. Women who are “too feminine” are judged to be low on competence, while women who are “too masculine” are penalized for not being nice. This means we have to work to maintain a precarious balance in order not to be perceived as a doormat nor as a bitch. We need to learn to mix the masculine with the feminine; to combine competence with likability.
The third pattern of bias is the Maternal Wall. There are strong negative assumptions that associate motherhood with a lack of competence and commitment. This means the pressure to prove ourselves over again becomes even greater when we become mothers. We need to let people know that we remain committed to our career. Balancing work and life requires careful planning and an acceptance that there will be trade-offs. It is impossible to be the ideal worker and the perfect mother, but good enough is just fine.
The final gender bias pattern is the Tug of War that occurs when gender bias in the workplace leads to conflict among women. We all have to make difficult decisions about how to handle the challenges facing us at work and at home. Often we worry whether or not we made the right choice. Tensions arise when women judge each other based on what each one personally believes is the best strategy. Women need to realize that we all have our own battles and we should be more supportive and less judgmental of each other.