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The glass ceiling: Alive and well.

March 29, 2010

... from the Newsweek article...

You need to read this article. Now.

Thank you, Newsweek.

Sexism is no longer blatant. There are no extreme statements or policies any longer. You can get sued for that. For good reason.

But women are not equal in the workplace. It’s not just a pay thing, either.

The glass ceiling works differently these days – and although the article is generally spot-on – there are a few additional points I’d like to make.

First point: Sometimes, women are given more responsibility. Case in point: management reorganizes. Several men are promoted and additional responsibilities are given. Men may have the promotion as reward, women below them end up with additional responsibilities, too – but no reward. Be a “team player” and help us out.

Maybe they’re additional tasks that are thankless… that someone higher up the food chain “doesn’t have time for”. So how about they take up your time instead.

In addition… I also have to wonder. As the article points out, women are doing better in school, i.e. we have higher GPAs, etc. Let’s make the leap that we’re still intelligent and highly motivated and ambitious when we leave school (and this is not to say men aren’t, for crying out loud). We end up in a job where we are highly capable and we get things done. As such… is it a stretch to see we’re also given more responsibilities because our superiors know we are capable and do a job well?

Yet… we don’t get the promotions or the pay.

Second point: We have to take on those additional responsibilities just to remain competitive. The minute we let anything slide… we know that is what’s noticed. Although doing (multiple) job(s) well is soon taken for granted, the one time something slips, that’s when people pay attention.

We work 50 hour workweeks to pick up the slack – and watch our male colleagues advancing on projects we don’t have the time for. Well…make it 60 hours a week and then we can stay in the game. We have to compete – or we’re left behind. So. Easily.

Third point: In my opinion, sexism, as well as other prejudice such as racism, have gone more “underground” (maybe “subconscious” is a better term). In the past, these biases have been blunt or obvious statements, policies or behavior. Now, they manifests themselves in decisions and more subtle judgments…and the person making it does not see the bias at all. They do not see themselves as sexist in any way, shape, or form. If confronted, they would presumably deny it vehemently – and they would really mean that denial.

Sometimes the people making decisions don’t even know that, somewhere in their brains, a penis is still important for having expertise, understanding a problem, and getting a job done. Given a choice, the corner office goes to the one with the extra package.

And – they can be men or women making these decisions. Women are not better at understanding their own biases then men.

But that is why we’re not only paid less and promoted less, we’re also given thankless responsibilities that are unnoticed – but why any time we slip, no matter the reason, that is. Subconsciously, it’s evidence for the hidden assumption that we can’t do the job as well as a man. Even if the reason we slip is because we’re doing all these other things – not because we’re incapable .

People always look for evidence to reinforce their beliefs – not for evidence that those beliefs are wrong… even for views we don’t know we have.

How do you address a glass ceiling when those around you insist it doesn’t exist? When they look right through it at you and say … “What are you talking about? I don’t see anything. You’re on my level.” Even though they are looking down at you?

I don’t know which is more difficult to deal with: the evil and the hate we can see and respond to, or the subconscious biases we don’t even know we have. One can be more violent, but can also be clearly battled against. The other is far far more subtle and hidden.

How do you show someone there own biases, when their own image of themselves is the opposite?

Fourth and final point: This is more to reiterate discussion from the article: We don’t complain. We don’t point anything out for two reasons.

One: we’re afraid we’ll be labeled a “sensitive female” or a “bitch”. We need to make sure we’re still a “team player.” But it’s more than that. We don’t speak up because we’re already promoted less and given raises less often. What – we want to add to the subconscious list of reasons we’re not the same as men? Because we whine? We know complaints won’t get us anywhere.

Two: As the article points out, we also lack the language or the skills to bring issues to the attention of our superiors. We’re told we can do anything, sexism is a thing of the past. The men around us are not chauvinists… or they don’t even know that they are. And then… bam. We literally don’t know what to do.

So. We work our asses off and we keep our mouths shut.

What the fuck do we do?

To other women: You need to be aware that this is still a problem. You need to know this WILL happen to you, this IS something you will be faced with – but that you are not alone in this, you’re not the only one. We also need to learn from others how we go about fighting this. More than that, we need to support one another. We need make sure work done well is acknowledged and appreciated. Other women may be afraid to speak up – but we can do it for one another.

To men: We need you at this table. We need you to understand this is still a problem. We need your support, too. We need you to speak up, too.

We need to work together on this – and we all need to be more self-aware.

For example: I worry that this will garner these reactions: 1) “this isn’t a problem any more” *scoff* (which actually equates to me being labeled the “sensitive female”). 2) “Oh for the love of god would you women stop effing complaining already??? I might even be offended” (which equates to me being labeled the “bitch”).

Don’t be offended. Don’t scoff. This is still a real problem. If you are a man, keep this in mind: Even if we were at school at the same time. Even if I graduated before you. One day, (if you want it) YOU WILL BE MY BOSS. One day, you WILL be in charge of these decisions, about who gets promoted, who gets the raise, who gets the corner office, who gets what responsibilities.

You are as much a part of this solution as I am. We need you to believe us, to step up.

Finally – I also hear the point that this is not just a woman’s issue. Bias and prejudice against races, against sexual orientation or transgendered individuals, is just as rampant. But, instead of comparing who has it worse… can we instead look at is as the same fight for equality instead of a competition? Can we not work together on this?

Pay attention. Self-evaluate your own decisions and judgment. Support one another.

But in the meantime… what the fuck do we do?


Maureen Fitzgerald

The Sexademic

...Rob Rogers glass ceiling cartoon...

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Ineeda Codename permalink
    March 31, 2010 9:03 am

    Plus, aren’t men stereotypically more visually stimulated than women are (or is this just another false stereotype that society reinforces)? So by extension, women in the workplace are hotter than guys (as perceived by their perceivers). So, women not only do extra work, but also provide a greater workplace “morale boost” that ironically would be illegal to compensate them for. (Though studies would show that attractive people get paid more on average than ugly people. We’ll ignore that for now.) Meanwhile not many guys are going around providing “morale boosts” through companionship and understanding to the women in the workplace. If you want that companionship and understanding, you’ll have to compensate those guys – they’re called therapists.

    Sexist Summary: you’re not only doing more work to prove you can, but you’re also looking damn good for free.

    Summary P.S.: I do not mean to make light of the extra work some women may be doing at this time, and in fact am feeling horribly, horribly guilty and down about it.

  2. Dave permalink
    September 9, 2010 4:01 pm

    I am not very impressed by this I’m afraid.

    The phrase ‘the glass ceiling’ implies an abrupt cut off point. But this does not exist. It is a gradually diminishing of women in the upper senior positions. The reasons for this are exactly the same as would be the case if women had to compete on an equal basis in tennis for the one prize. Men are bigger, stronger, tougher, and cleverer.

    Sorry, but that is my opinion.

    • December 8, 2010 9:49 am

      Oh, Dave.

      I had forgotten about you until I came back to re-read this post. Comment arguments… those were some good times. Haven’t heard from you in awhile… must assume you knuckle-walked back to your cave…


  1. Sexism is dead. We can all go home now. « Women Are From Mars

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