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Stereotypes of Women's Work Ethic: The Real Reason There Aren't More Women in Positions of Power

Business Insider recently raised the question that has sparked debate amongst women and experts for decades: Why aren’t there more women in positions of power?   

Women outnumber men in this country by 51%, yet only 15% comprise the Senate, 16.6% make up the House of Representatives, a mere 2.4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and only 15.7% of women hold positions on Fortune 500 boards. To top it off, women are earning 81% of what men earn in America.

Many of the explanations and reasoning for the astounding gender gap in U.S. leadership are false and help sustain the gap ever further. The negative stereotypes about the work ethics of women provoked by society keep them from advancing in their careers. Society does not encourage women to become leaders in the workforce, only leaders in the household.

A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau, which determines the worth of higher education in the U.S. and exemplifies the continual pay gap of male and female employees who have equal degrees, underlines that in every field and level of education, men earn higher wages than women. The report shows that men earn $800 more than women every month amongst Americans with any form of post-high school degree, including vocational, associates, bachelor’s, or advanced degrees. The pay gap becomes even wider as men and women pursue more education and earn higher degrees. In business, men with bachelor degrees make $1,000 more each month compared to their female classmates. Amongst men and women who hold advanced degrees in business, men make $1,400 more a month. Although the pay gap between men and women with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in the natural sciences earned reasonably equal pay, amongst advanced degree holders, men make approximately $2,600 more per month. Even in fields such as education and liberal arts, which tend to be dominated by women, male wages continue to outweigh that of their female counterparts. As a result of these pay gaps, women must earn higher degrees in order to match the salaries of their male peers with less-advanced degrees. In liberal arts degrees, women with advanced degrees earn equal pay as males with bachelor’s degrees in the same field. In general, education is a beneficial tool, but it’s apparent that men benefit the most from it.

There are many damaging explanations and excuses made for the lack of women in leadership positions, which discourages women from advancing. One very common excuse is that women opt out of the workforce. Families have a tough choice when deciding if both parents can continue working while also juggling the responsibility of raising children. It is often a financial decision since childcare can be expensive. Judging by the statistics, men are usually the bread-winners, which is why parents see it as practical for the female to discontinue working. Another reason is the values placed by society on how to raise children. Conventionally, women are expected to be primary childcare providers in a household.  

Women do not leave their careers only because they would like to stay at home with their children; women and families are left with that choice. If women’s wages were equal to that of their male counterparts in their respected fields, it is guaranteed that more women would decide to continue their careers and pursue leadership, even after having children. There are limited incentives for women to maintain careers outside of their homes while juggling a family and household duties. There is also a disregard from society to shed importance on men taking responsibility as equal partners in a family and a limited outlook on women’s ability to successfully involve themselves and thrive at a workplace and in leadership positions. These misconceptions lower the potential women have to pursue leadership.  Having a career is essential for anyone seeking to obtain a leadership position, and once more women are given the opportunity to maintain their careers, women will advance themselves and reach their potential.

Another false explanation for the lack of women in power is women don’t help advance other women.  Instead of attempting to conform to workplaces where the culture has been formed by men, it should easier for women to create work environments that match and respect their needs. With this advantage, women will be able to become authentic and authoritative leaders, create safe environments for female colleagues, create solutions that men could not, and help educate men through their actions.  This will increase the number of new and strong women with individual power.

The most harmful reasoning behind the question may be that women are not ambitious. This myth debilitates women from declaring goals and working towards them. Women need the power to recognize their ambitions and pursue them in order to achieve greatness. To increase the amount of women leaders, there needs to be an increase in the number of good male and female leaders, who are in support of the development of others and aim for success that exceeds themselves.

The only way for the females of future generations to change these statistics is to show them that becoming a powerful woman is an attainable reality. In order to inspire young women, this March, MissRepresentation.org, an organization that “exposes how American youth are being sold the concept that women and girls’ value lies in their youth, beauty and sexuality,” is collecting stories of women who have broken barriers and accomplished their goals. They released an infographic and video, created in partnership with LoveSocial.org, in honor of International Women’s Day. Women need more encouragement and support like this to strike change in the daunting statistics and advance to positions of power.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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