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Hear our roar: Women have spoken, the world must respond

Natalie Taylor

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“If we lean in too far, we’ll fall over,” said Heidi Stevens, writer of the column “Balancing Act” in the Chicago Tribune.

Stevens referenced Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”, which urges women to be confident in the workplace. On Thursday, Oct. 12, Stevens moderated a panel titled Cultivating Confidence: Reshaping the Workplace by Tupperware. As Stevens said, being confident can only go so far. There comes a time when the workforce and other organizations must meet women halfway.

Women have shown up in mass, both recently and over the decades, to fight for equal rights. The Women’s March on Jan. 21, was not only the largest single-day protest in U.S. history, it was also a worldwide display of women’s power, confidence and determination to spark social, economic and legal change. Women are making their voices heard, and its time for the world to respond accordingly.

Nonetheless, just because women are standing up for rights does not mean there are no roadblocks on the path to success. Panelist at “Cultivating Confidence: Reshaping the Workplace,” Joyce Roché broke down the barriers women face in the workplace into three categories: cultural, life’s tests and self-doubt. Roché said there is priming in organizations, or an unconscious bias against a woman’s work ability.

Panelists from the Cultivating Confidence series speak to a crowd of women about barriers and challenges in the workplace and how to overcome them. Left to right: Heidi Stevens, Gerri Kahnweiler, Elinor Steele, Iliana Mora and Joyce Roche. (Photo courtesy of Cultivating Confidence)

Additionally, when a women has a child in a family where both parents are working, childcare often falls to the woman, which requires a mom to constantly be making trade-offs between family and work life.

Finally, an obstacle to woman in the workforce is self-doubt. While it is not only a women’s job to fight for equality, it is important for women to be confident and assert their worth.

“I think the young women students I have seen and worked with should be confident that they are every bit as smart, as prepared, and as capable of doing everything, and anything, men can do,” said PRAD professor Jill Stewart.

Statistical representations of inequalities can create a lack of confidence in women. The average woman makes 79 cents to the dollar men make, but this number varies among races. According to the Pew Research Center, Asian women earn 87 percent of what men earn, white women earn 82 percent, black women earn 65 percent, and Hispanic women earn 58 percent. The wage gap is unjust and sends the message a women’s work is less valuable than a man’s. It is time for equal work to result in equal compensation.

Today, more women are graduating from college, obtaining graduate degrees and entering the workforce. According to the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau, the most common jobs for women in 2014 were an elementary school teacher, resident nurse, a secretary and nursing aides. All professions are honorable, but they are also characteristically female. Throughout history, women have been encapsulated into traditional, “care giving” roles for professions or trapped into the role of a “secretary” in corporate America. Even today, the top professions show that stereotypical female traits are ingrained into a woman’s career.

The top professions for men hold one defining role that top female professions do not – leadership roles. According to the Department of Labor, the most common jobs for men include driver, manager, first-line supervisors, laborers and retail salesperson. It can be argued that some professions play to the ideal of the brutish man and are focused on the power of physicality such as a laborer. However, it speaks volumes that two management roles are in the top five professions for men, while women have none.

(Victoria Williamson/The DePaulia)

“I am a big cheerleader for women at all levels, and I wish we saw many more in board rooms and the C-suite. Progress is slow, but steady. Institutional and policy support for women during their child-bearing and child-rearing years would make a world of difference: universal parent leave policies and safe, affordable daycare would advance women in the work world. The USA lags behind in both leave and child care support,” Stewart said.

It is time for more women to enter higher levels of management. In order to bring about this change, it is not only on women to assert their value and worth in the workplace, but also for organizations to become more accommodating. According to the Pew Research Center, the United States falls as one of the countries that offer the lowest amount of paid maternity leave for new mothers. This often forces women to use sick days and paid time off to care for children.

Iliana Mora, CEO of Women Employed, shared the story of her going back to work three months after her child was born at the “Cultivating Confidence” panel. She shared the struggle of making 7 a.m. meetings when her child would not sleep through the night for months. Working with a majority of male co-workers, they did not understand the struggle of making early meetings while caring for a new child.

It is common that the strain of working and caring for an infant at the same time will result in women leaving the workforce. This creates a gap in the workforce of women at management levels, who have left to care for children full time. Companies must mandate programming to help transition women back into the workforce, and set them up to regain promotions and upper-management positions after leave. This way, taking time to care for a child does not mean falling behind in a career.

Even in starting positions at a company, an organization can show a bias against female workers. That model is slowly evolving.

“The structure is changing for women in finance,” said junior Isabel Bakros. “Many executives and seniors are male while at my company many of our new hires are women. Women are adding a unique perspective and drive in this industry. I know moving into a male dominated field can be a challenge but I have only felt empowered by being able to go against the norm. I wish more women would consider a career in finance push industry to consider the value women can add.”

Hiring women and promoting them in the workforce has proven benefits. The study “Working Women in the City and Urban Wage Growth in the United States,” by Al Weinstein shows a 10 percent increase of women entering the workforce results in a 5 percent real wage growth. The success of women in the workforce is beneficial to all.

Women are speaking up for their rights, it’s time for organizations to respond and implement action to finally reach equality

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Hear our roar: Women have spoken, the world must respond