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How gender stereotypes hurt women in the workplace

Gender stereotypes at work

Today’s guest post is from Agata Szczepanek, a job search expert at LiveCareer. Below, she describes how gender stereotypes hurt women in the workplace.

Women. Judged for every step they take. On their career paths and beyond.

Glass ceiling, mansplaining, pay gap. Meet the gender stereotypes in the workplace.

Oh, wait. You know them too well, I bet. New reality, old assumptions, the same harm.

The reality of women at work

A few, sad but true, facts to begin with.

* According to the latest WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2022, it will take 132 years to close the global gender gap. Not in our lifetime, sorry.

* Women earn less than men do. It is a concrete fact proven by solid numerical data. What’s worse, as the study conducted by researchers associated with Harvard University reveals, women’s requests for advancement are treated differently from men’s requests. In other words, asking for a pay rise doesn’t necessarily mean getting it. For a female, at least.

* Working mothers’ struggles are real. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 7 in 10 mothers with children at home are working. Nevertheless, women’s earnings—as well as their earning potential—often dramatically decrease the moment they become mothers. The impact of parenthood cannot go unnoticed.

* Gender inequality in the workplace can take many forms. Unequal pay, disparity in promotions, racism, sexual harassment. Also, it may show in more indirect—still, equally harmful—ways like fewer opportunities for women who are mothers or a higher incidence of burnout in women.

* McKinsey’s 2021 Women in the Workplace study reveals that black women, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities are much more likely than women overall to experience microaggressions as professionals.

* In the recent research conducted by Zety, as many as 71% of respondents claimed gender stereotypes were still alive in the workplace. Additionally, more than half (51%) of respondents declared that their competencies had been questioned because of their gender.

Where does it lead us? To the conclusion that full gender equality is still just wishful thinking, it seems.

A matter of gender double standards

Gender double standards should be just an echo of the past, where they belong. Sadly, it’s definitely not the case. Let’s dig deeper.

Men who act assertively are seen as dominant, progressive, strongly-willed leaders. On the contrary, women behaving in the same manner, are considered whiny, pushy, and bossy.

Also, it seems that women have to be twice as good to get half the credit of men. Women are always having to prove themselves and their capabilities, whereas with men, they are just expected to be a certain way. What’s more, while male employees are seen as workers, strictly, female workers are labelled as weak and emotional. Men have a bad day, women make a fuss.

And the list goes on. So far, not so good.

Another thing worth mentioning regards social perception of parental duties. A woman who takes care of her children is doing what is expected of her. At the same time, a man who takes care of his children is viewed as an involved father. Okay, bye logic.

Aren’t men disproportionately praised here? Wouldn’t a greater celebration of working mothers be fair? They deserve it, I believe.

Gender stereotypes and all their harm

Many gender-related barriers and biases have declined over the years. Researchers agree that gender stereotypes hold women back in the workplace, though. What’s worse, they can even make women question their own abilities and shy away from certain professions.

Katherine Coffman, a professor at Harvard Business School, claims that harmful gender stereotypes kill women’s self-confidence. It may be the reason why female employees are more reluctant to share their ideas in group discussions on some subjects, in which men are stereotypically believed to perform more strongly (e.g. science, technology, maths).

Women, especially those pursuing careers in traditionally male-dominated professions, are often forced to struggle daily with battling gender-infused stereotypes. In the long run, it can hinder their performance and productivity at work. Female employees are often the targets of such negative stereotypes as the following:

  • Women do not possess some skills that men inherently possess for certain jobs.
  • Men take their careers more seriously than women, who are less dedicated to the work.
  • Women are primarily responsible for their children, professional life always comes second. Working mothers are believed to prioritize their role as mothers over their careers, basically. This is not the case for fathers, though.

Let’s be honest. Similar stereotypic depictions plague women in the professional sphere, from estheticians to women construction workers. At the same time, society is a fast-changing picture, and gender roles keep evolving. Shouldn’t this matter?

The challenges females face due to gender stereotypes can be devastating, as you can see. They slow, obstruct and block women’s progress up the career ladder.

Changing people’s conscious and unconscious beliefs about women is not a piece of cake. Still, there are various ways to reduce their negative effects on your—both professional and general—well-being.

How to stereotype-proof your (work) life

Here are some tips on how to handle gender stereotypes at work (and beyond).

Set your boundaries. Whenever you feel subjected to stereotypes, be sure to act. Assertiveness and clear communication are the best long-term ways to deal with difficult situations—both in professional and private life. Introduce your limits at neutral times. Be concise, dispassionate, and tough-minded. There is no need to fight or deeply explain anything. Your firm stance will show. Let it speak for itself.

Speak up for yourself and for the others. If you do nothing, nothing happens. Don’t stay quiet, even in a male-dominated industry. Why to deprive yourself of a chance to be heard? Achieving professional success requires voicing opinions and advocating for one’s ideas. When you don’t share your suggestions or doubts, you can’t expect anyone to consider them.

Update your resume. Get new qualifications, improve your skills, learn a language, or attend an online course. It can help you outstand in a candidate pool while job hunt. The broader and more diverse skill set you have to offer, the better your employment opportunities. What’s more, self-development will give yourself a confidence boost. To make sure your updated CV stands out from others, you can use such professional tools such as LiveCareer’s Resume Builder.

Make professionalism and high quality your trademarks. Keep calm and always be prepared. Shut all the gender-obsessed badmouths with the actual effects of your work. Actions speak louder than words. Breaking a glass ceiling won’t happen in a day, though. With no way out, go through, basically. It won’t always be easy, but fighting for yourself in any circumstances is greatly rewarding.

Don’t be afraid to ask for more. No one is going to offer you more without being asked. Stereotypically, women are less assertive when seeking raises and promotions. Come on, prove them wrong. Make your contribution to speeding up closing the pay gap.

Last but not least. Stereotypes won’t hurt that much unless you let them do so.

Being a woman is a great reason to be proud. Not ashamed. You go, girl!

About today’s writer

Agata Szczepanek is a job search expert at LiveCareer. Her professional insight and thinking outside the box help people from all walks of life find their dream job.

Agata’s work has been featured by top media outlets, including Forbes, Fast Company, The Motley Fool, and HR Dive. A bookworm, cat lover, working mum of a two-year-old. Feminist.

9 thoughts on “How gender stereotypes hurt women in the workplace”

    1. Hi there. It was my pleasure to write this article for you.:) I’m really happy you find it valuable!

  1. This is both interesting and puzzling to me. It’s not that I disagree, it’s that it never occurred to me that gender stereotyping was a bad thing. Maybe that’s because I am such a female stereotype, and a lot of the limits described I see as advantages.

    I guess for women with serious careers in corporate life, it would be different. I wonder what that would feel like. I can see why it might feel limiting.

    I really puzzling and interesting article. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks for appreciating Agatha’s guest post. While I can’t speak for her, I can say that I want to be known as an individual rather than summed up by a certain viewpoint about my gender. I also want to say it’s ok to disagree with a post if you ever do, as everyone deserves their opinion 😊 A healthy debate helps moves topics forward

    2. Hello. To be honest, before conducting the study, I wasn’t aware of the scale of the phenomenon discussed. Digging into the research findings, I was shocked, as I hadn’t experienced the negative effect of gender stereotypes at work myself. Not to THAT extent, at least. Anyway, I do believe that none of us– human beings, not only women– should be limited by social expectations and gender roles. As an uncurable idealist, I dream about the world of happy people, feeling fulfilled with their careers, private life, and who they are. Age, gender, race, sexual orientations, and so on are just features to me.

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