12 Most Frustrating Obstacles Women Face In The Business World
When Google Plus launched, a few people commented that it seemed to be very heavily laden with testosterone. Early adopters tended to shrug that off. Many said, “Well I’ve seen tons of women in there.” But over the last couple of weeks, statistics have shown that Google Plus is dominated by men. This is stirring some talk, but the conversation is geared in a direction that won’t ultimately be helpful. See, the problem isn’t that there are more men showing kitty videos on Google Plus. The issue is that women are sorely under-represented in the online world, in the tech world, and in the business world.
Woah there. Before you start rolling your eyes, check out this post called Why Tech Already Has Women (and why they’re better than Arrington), by Geoff Livingston, this interview that Livingston did with Robert Scoble as a follow-up to that post, a post by Scoble himself about the lack of women in the tech world, and this post by Carol Roth asking where the women are at the business table.
I’m not making this up, in other words!
As a woman in the business world and in the online world, I wanted to give a voice to the 12 most frustrating obstacles I perceive or experience. I’d love to hear your take on this issue!
1. Successful women in the online world are classified as “chatty”
I was really surprised by this when I first started the social media part of my career. I’d see an article about how women rule the roost when it comes to the use of social media platforms, but the article would be a summary of how women love to talk and shop. While it’s true that a lot of women (and men, let’s be honest) probably use social media to socialize (or shop), saying that women are powerful in these arenas because women are “good talkers” is sucking air out of the success balloon. Women like Liz Strauss don’t need a pat on the head and a nod to “good talking skills.” There’s a lot more, so much more, going on there.
2. Powerful women are categorized as “bitchy”
In my experience, women who have powerful personalities, who stay strong in the face of criticism and who fight back, are often downgraded to the “she’s a bitch” group. Men do not seem to have a similar problem. If anything, a man who tends to fight back a lot is viewed as, well, a man.
3. How a woman looks matters more than what a woman does
Awhile back, there was an article in a publication (I can’t remember which one now) about some of the most powerful women on Twitter. All of the women were photographed wearing trench coats and “come hither” looks on their faces. Their legs were bare, hinting that there might not be a whole lot going under that coat in the clothing department. Is that how we need to present powerful women? To me, and I’m sure to other women, that was a real disappointment. I’ll bet it disappointed lots of men, too.
4. Oh crap, I have a womb.
A lot of articles I read note that women may not get along well in the business world because women can make babies. Women then want to spend time with those babies. Therefore, clearly, women cannot work as CEOs. I’ve always thought this was discriminatory against men, quite frankly. Don’t men want to spend time with their children? Don’t men want to be in the lives of their children? Yet somehow they manage to work full time jobs. Women can, too.
5. The perception that women don’t have the right make-up for business
I’ve heard this in a few different places in a few different ways. “Women are soft and gentle, business is cold and mean.” Trust me, women can be ruthless if they want to be.
6. The “You slept your way to the top” problem
This is another bothersome phenomenon. When a woman makes it to the higher echelons of a company, people may whisper (or shout) that she must have slept her way to the top. Or people may say, “Wow, who did she sleep with to get that position?” Saying these things, even jokingly, doesn’t just demean that woman. It bespeaks a sentiment that women really aren’t capable of success unless the horizontal mambo is involved. Surely there is more to a woman’s success than that.
7. Women are compared to other women, not to the group as a whole
I’ve had these types of conversations with women and men a lot over the last year. Why are there lists of “top women” bloggers or tweeters or whatevers? You don’t often see a list that names the top 25 male bloggers. My personal preference would be to see a fully integrated list. Top dudes, top women, all mixed together. While knowing where I stand amongst other women is fine with me, the reality is that the business world I want to succeed in consists of both genders. I want to know where I stand in the business world, not in the women’s corner.
8. Disrespecting women is still okay
There are still FAR too many stories about women who were putting themselves out there, trying to gain respect and professional momentum, only to find that they were inundated with inappropriate conversation or other forms of disrespect or even harassment. While there are a lot of great voices, male and female, who are crying out against these incidents, it still happens. It’s still out there. And I fear it is holding women back. Who wants to have to deal with that kind of stuff when you’re just trying to make an honest living? It’s a real bummer.
9. The “women just aren’t as good as men at…” echo chamber
Young men get away with a lot of things because people respond, with knowing glances, “Ah, boys will be boys.” Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of times people have these views that women just aren’t good at some things because women are women. Women aren’t good at science or math. Women aren’t as good at remembering statistics. Women aren’t as good with technology. These kinds of views are sadly being passed on to the young women in our society. It shouldn’t be a big deal that a young lady wins a science award just because she’s a lady. But it is, isn’t it?
10. The most common ways to enhance business relationships are male-oriented
This is kind of a chicken and the egg problem. When you think about “wining and dining,” you probably think about things like sports events, golf, or fishing. While I’m fine going to sports games (go Cleveland!), it’s difficult, I think, for women to socialize with men in a business way in these kinds of environments. It’s not because women don’t like these things. It’s because men are used to doing these things with men. Women probably wouldn’t have success inviting men to their Stitch ‘n Bitch groups either. The old methodologies of building business relationships need to increase in flexibility so that women can get more than a toe in the door.
11. Women get in each others’ way
I’ve talked to a lot of women about this. Maybe there’s a male counterpart, but it really seems to me that women are more ruthlessly competitive with each other than they are with men. In fact, when I was in high school, it was a female coach who said that I shouldn’t be allowed on the Academic Challenge team because “girls aren’t competitive enough.” Try wrapping your head around that conundrum! While a lot of women are equally supportive of both genders, there is often this feeling that women need to outdo each other. I think the “women only” lists fuel these sentiments. “I want to be the top woman on that list of women.” It’s very painful to watch when these kinds of interactions flare up. No one wins.
12. It’s too easy to not take women seriously
For some reason, it seems easy for men in the business world or the online world to dismiss women, especially if that woman is voicing opinions that aren’t going down too smoothly. There are all kinds of possible reasons for this. Maybe that particular woman is judged by how she looks. Maybe what she is saying isn’t matching with the perception of her is at that moment. Maybe people just aren’t used to hearing a woman speak intelligently about that particular topic. Whatever it is, too often women are faced with a kind of “Isn’t she cute” mentality. It is the single most disarming factor I have witnessed in the business world.
I know that this is not an easy topic. I know that it’s also very easy to say, “Oy, why can’t we just leave it alone and everyone can do their best?” There’s this feeling sometimes, I think, that if women would just shut up about these things and do their best, there wouldn’t be a problem. But I don’t know. It just seems like there is too much of a gap. It seems like the glass ceiling is still there, and while there might be some hairline fractures in it, it’s still pretty well intact. And if we keep ignoring that…if we keep applauding how far we’ve come instead of pushing towards where we want to go, how will things ever get better?
What do you think?
Feature image courtesy of Gryphus31 licensed via creative commons.