On Gender Bias at the Workplace in Present Times
It’s far from perfect, but views are changing and conversations are being had
Lucky are the women who grew up and live in the present.
It’s far from perfect and still not the future I pictured in my head all those years I was in school. But views are starting to shift and conversations are being made about the woman: on who and what she can be instead of where she needs to be.
My mother told me I could be anything I wanted. But when college came around and I had to decide on a course (initially marine biology and then political science), I was strongly encouraged to pursue something more “generic,” like mass communications. Her strong suggestion was based on the opportunities available for women at that time and their success rate in their chosen field. Well, mom was right, at least in that I would thrive in a career related to communications.
After graduation, there were two things I wanted to pursue. The first was a career as a serious journalist, covering stories in war-torn parts of the country or the world. But as a fresh female graduate, I was told to stick to my lane: lifestyle. Second was a career in advertising as a storyteller or a creative director. I wanted to conceptualize commercials that told a story and made people cry (because it was and still is amazing to me how something that pushes product can bring viewers to tears in a little over a minute). When I finally got an interview at one of the top ad agencies in the metro, I was asked, “Would you consider an account executive role instead?”
So how exactly can a woman thrive in a time and place where she’s told to aim less, to want nothing more than what society prescribes, to stay in line, to be nice, to smile, and to not rock the damn boat with your ideas and opinions? Reality hit hard.
Finally, I found a career (in fashion) that I liked and loved, and for a couple of years it loved me back. But in that same place, I was conditioned to think that being a mom would be a huge disadvantage, that it’s a liability and that it would hurt my chances of being in top management “because being a mom changes one’s priorities.”
Then, I became a mom myself. And yes, my priorities did change. However, not in the way I thought or in the way others made me believe. My son became my top priority, but that didn’t mean I worked less. In fact, life became quite the opposite.
Pregnant women and working moms should be supported at the workplace and not made to fear for their livelihood on baseless assumptions, such as that work will no longer be important to them. Why not let them decide that for themselves? Because that’s something I had to learn myself, that my contributions are just as valuable as my younger and single counterparts because of my skills, my experience and my motivations.
Luckily, I found an employer that values women, where women hold top positions and are welcome in the boardroom. I feel a sense of pride that, in a male-dominated economy, the company’s Chief Finance Officer is female and that a number of businesses within its portfolio are women-led. You know what else? A lot of them are moms. It sends a message to women like myself that, regardless of age, gender, status and whatever identifier, we can aim higher, we have a voice, our opinions matter, that we should be taken seriously and that, woman, it is okay to be aggressive when need be if that’s what it takes to drive a point.
No place is perfect, however, and gender bias still exists to some degree no matter how progressive the work culture. It exists because that’s what we were taught and exposed to, and we have a lot of unlearning to do—not just the men, but also the women.
Sometimes I forget, but for you reading this and to myself, don’t let the system force you to act or be a certain way. Don’t allow it to push you around and threaten you with consequences. It won’t be easy but when you find (or regain) your voice, speak up and speak louder; they need to hear what you have to say. Find a mentor that will encourage your leadership skills and your “aggressiveness” just as it is encouraged in men. Your emotional intelligence is not only important, it’s crucial to the success of your business.
To the women who have worked hard to get where they are, helping other women doesn’t take away from what’s yours. Lifting up other women facing similar challenges is one of the ways we can break the cycle and unlearn gender bias at the workplace (and elsewhere, tbh). Because isn’t that what we’re all fighting for anyway, equal opportunities?
Art Alexandra Lara