This is not an article on feminism, nor one fighting for equal pay - though I do support that, naturally. This article was originally going to be about how women carry and birth children, multitask and walk in stilettos; all of the things we hold over men’s heads, seemingly in opposition of their superior upper-body strength. But as I was fleshing out the ideas I had in my head for this article and doing research, I had a sudden, wait-a-minute moment.
It seems that while men may have laid down the framework for the glass ceiling, women have successfully soldered it in. As I poured over the scientific community’s research and read about real-life experiences of various people, I came to a quick and enlightening conclusion:
Women aren’t better at business. And we need to stop thinking we are.
Researchers are just starting to dip their toes into this subject, and the results are even more surprising than you’d think. It turns out we might be holding ourselves back - not just by comparing ourselves to men. You read correctly. Women are holding women back. I have worked in a leadership position, rising up at a time when I was advised not to tell anyone my age, because it would be held against me - especially since I was a woman. I was told I had to “work harder to prove myself,” and that it was a “sad truth” by my lovingly supportive boss. He believed in me, but assured me that, despite their trust in him as a leader, those under me would not see me in the same light.
Mainstream media abhors this kind of gender bias and many large companies are coming to the realisation that it’s still happening within their walls to an unacceptable extent. According to the EOWA 2010 Australian Census of Women in Leadership, women hold only 8.4% of Board Directorship positions and, as of 2010, over half of the ASX200 companies had no women board members - a number which has increased by 4.3% since 2004.
How is this still a thing? Women are often, upon graduating, more qualified than their male counterparts - despite their tendency to undervalue and underestimate themselves and there have been movements spanning years for gender equality. Yet, the numbers are still staggeringly skewed. There is an underlying gender bias that goes against every notion we’ve been taught.
Women don’t like having women bosses, are less likely to hire a female subordinate and generally discriminate against their own sex - even the staunchest of feminists. From academia to the corporate ladder, women across many fields have been found guilty of holding back their lady peers.
When gender stereotypes - women being “helpful, gentle and nurturing" versus men as “assertive, confident and controlling” - are bent, and women are assertive or confident (see: bitchy) their female underlings don’t like it. Instead of seeing a confident woman in charge, perhaps they see someone who took their place. On the flip side, women on top are notably harsher to females beneath them. One study found that this could be as a deterrent “against threatening upward social comparisons.” As in, “Bitch, I worked for this, now step off.” This phenomenon is happening despite the same study finding that when female bosses gave positive feedback to female employees, the employees’ negative opinions of the “successful women” (i.e. bosses) in the study were lessened.
The most amazing trivia piece of all the studies? Believe it or not, the more jobs men held throughout their careers, the more they thought women make the best bosses. Let that sink in for a moment.
Moral of the story?
If women supported other women in the workplace, be it top-down or bottom-up, we would all be better off. Not to mention it would raise GDP, facilitate the narrowing of the gender gap and let’s throw in equal pay rights - just for good measure. Remember the leadership position with the highly encouraging boss I mentioned? The sad truth? He was right. The saddest truth? I had the hardest time converting the women - both those above and below me. And quite frankly, it sucked.
As I was writing this piece, I emailed women in leadership to ask, “What is one way that you think women can further their positions in the business world?” The most poignant and summarizing response came from Jodie Fox, the co-founder of Shoes of Prey, a Sydney-based, custom shoe retailer: “The more women simply hold their ground and find conviction in their beliefs, talent and work - the more they can further their position.” That means not belittling the women working beneath you. That means supporting other women who make it to the top, and maybe even aspiring to be like them instead of whispering behind their backs.
That means being a strong, confident woman that is just as good at business as men.