Only a few decades ago, if a woman wanted a career, rather than or as well as being a homemaker, she was expected to choose one of very few options, such as teaching, nursing or secretarial work. Nowadays, you have a much greater chance of meeting women interested in becoming scientists or engineers, for example.
Let’s be clear, the traditionally “female” roles are wholly important and certainly of equal value to any other job – it’s just nice for women to feel they have options too. Likewise, there is no reason nowadays that a man cannot become a nurse or teacher, or fill any other traditionally female role, such as being a homemaker and caring for children.
Sadly, many organisations have not yet caught up with this, and research shows that if two identical CVs are presented to a panel, with the only difference being the gender, the male candidate is still perceived to be more competent and is also likely to be offered a higher salary. This bias is often completely unconscious, but it clearly exists. The irony is that research also shows that companies with gender equality perform better and have higher returns on investment.
Although the process of correcting this is a slow one, change must begin with us – and note that “us” includes both men and women. Here’s what you can do to help:
Be aware of how you speak
As a woman, never put yourself down. Whether at home or in your place of study, be sure to remember your strengths, and if it seems appropriate, and without being arrogant, make sure others know them too. Also, look for opportunities to support other women, who may not feel as comfortable to speak up.
If you are male, be aware of how you speak to and about women, both in mixed company and with male friends. Language that puts women down, either directly or subtly, only makes matters worse.
Celebrate good female role models
There are many female celebrities out there, both in the entertainment world and in scientific, financial and technical fields, who provide great examples of successful women. Even better, look around for strong and successful women you personally know, whether they’ve chosen to be a homemaker or to take up a career of some kind, and compliment and celebrate them. You may even want to pick their brains to find out how they do it.
Follow your heart
Think about what you really want to do with your life, and if that means training for a job that is traditionally dominated by the opposite gender, go ahead and do it. Likewise support others who are doing this. The world needs positive examples of people who are prepared to do what fulfils them, regardless of society’s expectations.
When you are ready to start interviewing for jobs, ask questions during your interview about the company’s attitudes towards the caretakers of children (whether the caretaker is male or female), how many women versus men currently hold senior positions and whether there is a gender pay gap. Whether you get the job or not, this will help gauge the company’s attitude towards these issues and drawing attention to them can only help the greater cause.
Remember that striving for gender equality is not about putting men down either. It’s about both genders having equal opportunities and being worthy of equal respect, regardless of the personal or career choices they make. Doing what you can to help will only make the world a better place.