Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” has sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide and her organisation of the same name is now stirring up more controversy about the negative stereotypes women continue to face with its “Ban Bossy” campaign, which contends that girls are called “bossy” for the same behaviours that signal leadership qualities in boys.
The campaign has brought the conversation about gender inequality back into the mainstream and placed a spotlight on residual biases against professional women.
In a recent Quora thread, users addressed the question, “What are some of the ways women are discriminated against that men are often aware of?” We’ve highlighted the recurring stereotypes that professional women still deal with in the workplace:
They are expected to have kids and quit their jobs.
An anonymous user said: “I’ve been flat-out told at job interviews that I would not be a candidate because training me, a person who would quit when she had kids (I gave no indication of this), was a waste of time.”
They are expected to be their child’s primary caregiver.
Even when companies try to accommodate new mothers, they operate under the assumption that they will be the primary parent and need to slow down their careers. Ironically, men are not expected to slow down when their kids are young and often don’t get the time or flexibility that would allow them to help their wives.
Ellen Vrana, a former McKinsey consultant, expressed her frustration at the apparent ultimatum women have between a family or a career: “[W]hat happens if I want to have a kid then work full-time? And stay a consultant? And still rise to the top? Quickly? What do you do for me then?”
They are judged more harshly when voicing their opinions.
A key premise of “Lean In” is that strong, confident women risk coming across as selfish or domineering, when the same qualities are readily admired in a man. In the thread, a user named Becky Lee commented that “men are respected for being assertive and direct and persistent” and that women are often called nasty, derogatory terms for possessing the same traits.
They are expected to have good soft skills.
Women are traditionally seen as being better at team-building and communication skills, which isn’t a bad thing in itself, but can lead to problems in the office.
As an anonymous user pointed out: “Giving irrelevant tasks to women — assuming that they will be better at them than men — deprives women of the chance to improve relevant skills.”
They are still seen as secondary to their husbands.
Multiple women recounted times when, in casual situations, people would ask about their husband’s profession and assume their job was less important — even when the women were actually the breadwinners.
Meanwhile, Dave Cheng, one of the guys who participated in the thread, complained about the absurd practice of waiters handing the man the check at the end of a meal, regardless of the situation: “This happens even if [my wife] is the one who ordered all the dishes. This happens even if she’s dressed for work (business casual), and I’m wearing gym clothes. This happens in Manhattan, Boston, Beijing, Hong Kong, Montreal, Vancouver, and just about every place in between.”
They are perceived as naturally weaker than their male coworkers.
Unless a woman proves herself to be ruthless, a traditionally masculine trait, men sometimes treat women as if they were gentler, which can undermine their authority.
Judi Golden, a materials scientist, works in a male-dominated field and said she’s picked up on this after meetings occasionally get heated. “A few times, I have had men come up to me afterwards and apologise for yelling or raising their voice,” she said. “I always felt puzzled about this, because it is professional, not personal, and I don’t generally get upset when people get worked up about things. Then it occurred to me that if I were male, this would never happen.”
They are judged more on their looks than men.
Women are held to higher beauty standards and judged more harshly for personal appearance mistakes. To meet these standards, they typically have to spend more time on their appearance than men. And as April Gunn pointed out in her response, even though most women have a long list of fashion and grooming responsibilities, men are fine as long as “they are clean, their clothes are clean and pressed, their hair is neat, [and] they wear deodorant.”
You can find the full discussion on Quora.
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