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How can women advance their careers in a patriarchal society?

Women's careers & patriarchy

It’s a good question, right? Is it even possible? With Western society being bound to a patriarchal structure for longer than some people realize, it’s hard to see how women can advance their careers. However, I believe that by encouraging gender equality, women can move up the ranks in the workplace.

You might not agree

I’m going to defend the argument made in the opening paragraph throughout this post. But I absolutely recognize it’s not the only opinion.

You might feel that there is no patriarchy in North American society, and you have the right to your opinion. But I respectfully disagree. Women haven’t been given fair opportunities in their professional or personal lives. It could be that you’ve not witnessed sexual harassment or gender discrimination. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, though.

I’m not saying I’m an expert on the topic, by the way. But we each have our opinions, and I’m sharing mine on this platform. All I ask is for a respectful ear to listen. And, if you’re feeling the love, join the fight for gender equality!

I’m also going to say here that all genders face stereotyping. Men are often told not to cry from the time they are young boys, for example. The reasoning is “it’s not manly.” For women, it’s “this looks pretty” while that doesn’t. As this website focuses on women’s issues, those are the ones I’m focusing on in this post. “Women” includes trans, queer, and other women in marginalized groups.

The Western patriarchal society, then and now

Looking back at the 70s, the roles of men and women were definitely carved out. Men traditionally were breadwinners, bringing home the income through their jobs. The women, meanwhile, had their “place” in the home. Between childbearing, cooking, and cleaning, their days were full. But not emotionally full, I’m sure.

The feminist marches of the time began to shed light on women’s “hidden” side – Their intelligence, quest for their own careers, and independence. The viewpoint that they were not less than their husbands was finally being made, and a growing number were listening to it.

But while big strides were made during that decade and since, there is still a lot of work to do. There are still issues with power across all aspects of life. The recent overturning of Roe vs. Wade, for example, shows the opposition to women controlling their own bodies. Arguably, the abortion fight is about the quest to maintain a patriarchal structure.

The gender wage gap and explanations for it

There are many challenges women face, one of the main ones being that they are taking care of the home, kids, and having careers. For those who are married, the role of the husband as the household’s primary breadwinner is often carried down and ingrained into their children. Women have a lot on their plates, and there is only so much energy for advancing their careers in addition to all they do within the home.

In addition to the women’s health rights touched on earlier, there is also the matter of unequal pay. While the labor market is changing and more women seek education, wage discrepancies exist in many industries. As per UN Women, 16% is the gender gap. In other words, women in the workforce earn about 84% of what men earn in the same or similar roles. The gap is even greater for women of color, mothers, and immigrant women.

With equal work positions, does it not make sense to have equal pay between men and women? Especially when the qualifications and skills of the individuals are equal.

To get ahead career-wise, women need to make a decent wage. It’s about having a comfortable lifestyle, raising kids (especially in a single-parent household), saving for retirement, and getting what you deserve wage-wise.

There are several reasons women are paid less, and none are fair. One reason is that they are undervalued for the work done. Another reason is that they are penalized for having kids, reducing work hours. Family-friendly jobs may also be lower-paying ones.

The gender roles persisting generation after generation in Western society keep going. Whether people want to admit it or not, women are penalized for taking time away from giving birth, maternity leave, and reduced hours when they have kids. The “Motherhood Penalty” posits that hiring managers are less likely to hire mothers than women without kids, and when mothers are hired, they are often given less pay.

Advancing women’s careers: Ideas for change

While women can start using career advancement strategies, the reality is that their progression will likely be slower than that of men using the same or similar techniques. The reason is the patriarchal patriarchal structure.

The change needs to happen higher up, with employers and HR policies encouraging equality and diversity. From hiring practices to the everyday workplace, there’s a lot to change.

It requires increasing awareness of gender disparities. The changes need to happen structurally rather than at the level of the individual women. The goal is to get the workplace to a point where it champions gender equality.

When it comes to hiring, for instance, recruit a diverse pool of candidates and rewrite job postings to be gender-neutral, without bias. Organizations need to be proactive about overcoming unconscious bias when hiring and training.

The reality is that it’s not about women changing, although I encourage you to give your all in the workplace, of course! That begins with submitting a great resume written by a professional service like But it’s a bigger structural change that needs to happen. Access to the same opportunities as men in careers and other aspects of life. Only then can women begin to advance as they rightly should in careers.

Changing workplace culture starts from within the organization. That involves creating programs and policies that target gender-based violence and harassment to help ensure it no longer happens. Providing leave for those affected by these issues is crucial and will help to end patriarchal norms in society.

Also, employers must embrace flexibility in work arrangements to accommodate families. That potentially means job sharing, changes to workweek hours, and more. After maternity leave, employers ought to provide supports to women returning to the workplace to make the transition a smoother one.

There will also need to be changes to pay structures to enable equal pay for work that is of the same value. To employers, I want you to build a workplace culture that encourages women to take on leadership roles and provide mentoring support where needed. Take the time, as well, to monitor women’s advancement in the organization, including promotions and pay, to ensure it is fair and just.

2 thoughts on “How can women advance their careers in a patriarchal society?”

  1. Hi Christy, I have many thoughts on this conversation based on my own experiences for the past 25 years. I would have far to much to say to share it in a comment here, but the one thing I will share from a professional career point of view is that equality means playing on an equal playing field and that means that women can expect special treatment or concessions in the workplace if they want to be treated the same as the men. Obviously, certain things like maternity leave are necessary, but you can be expecting to never work overtime or take time off for childcare needs in a professional world without making career sacrifices. My frequent experience of women in the workplace recently is they want equality on their own terms that are just not equal and that’s the bottom line.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences here, Robbie, and for bringing up the point that there’s much more to the discussion. It’s about equality right to opportunities, what’s right and fair, and eradicating gender-based discrimination.

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