Women and Their Battle with the Ladder (OP-ED)
By Samiha Ahmed
Representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are taking seats in Washington to get some things straight. Athletes like Simone Biles are breaking world records with their perfect landings, not letting the gold medals on their necks weigh them down. Musicians like Ariana Grande are rising on the Billboard Hot 100 charts while strutting in heels. After so much progress, why are women still having difficulty climbing the ladder or even getting onto the ladder? It’s 2019!
In terms of education, more women are in school now and graduation rates are higher for women than men.
According to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, “Female educational attainment rates are at an all-time high, with more women continuing on to higher education at the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral levels than are men, and these trends are expected to continue.”
However, when women enter the job market, they tend to struggle with finding their footing or progressing after getting their first job.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to intern at an insurance company in New York City. Upon meeting the other summer interns, it surprised me that there were six female interns (including me) and one male intern. I was happy that the company was giving women opportunities. However, the insurance industry in general is traditionally male and still is from what I experienced over the summer. This made me wonder: are we at the point in our careers where us women get stuck?
There are both internal and external reasons as to why women get stuck or fall behind. Women react differently in situations depending on the circumstances, like if men are present, what their physical appearance is and who their audience is.
One psychological reason why women fall behind is because women tend to take action only if they feel they are completely ready and qualified.
According to Time Magazine, “[w]omen are more likely than men to be perfectionists, holding themselves back from answering a question, applying for a new job, asking for a raise, until they’re absolutely 100 percent sure we can predict the outcome.”
Many female students and working women have this mentality.
For example, Sabriya Saif, an undergraduate sophomore at Stony Brook University said, “There is an internalization of having to be the best all the time. I feel like I have to be perfect and that I don’t have the opportunity to mess up even a little bit.”
Another reason women are often unable to progress is because they feel like their presence is not acknowledged in a room with men present.
When recounting her classroom experiences, Juliette Brams, an undergraduate junior at Stony Brook University, said, “I feel, as a woman, embarrassed to talk. I feel like whatever I say, sometimes it might be taken as ‘no, you’re wrong.’ I feel like I don’t know enough about what I want to talk about, but in reality, I do.”
She also explains that her posture, self-confidence and mindset changes when there is a man in the room. “He can be the nicest guy, but you’ll still react.”
This effect is heightened when women enter male-dominated industries, like STEM fields.
For example, from her teaching observations, a professor from the Business Department at Stony Brook University said, “In class, women are shyer and talk less compared to guys. Boys are more likely to ask me questions. But the grades are the same. There is no difference in the performance of the students.”
Although there've been numerous programs and initiatives implemented in schools and companies to close the gender gap in traditionally male-dominated fields, like Girls Who Code and the Women in Energy program, there is still a disregard for women who enter these industries.
For instance, sociologist Natasha Quadlin conducted a study at Ohio State University in which she sent out over 2,000 job applications with resumes with half female and half male names. The results of the experiment demonstrate that there was only about a 50 percent chance that the employers would follow up or offer an interview to women with high grades compared to men with high grades. This effect is reinforced further when comparing women who were math majors to their male counterparts. Only recently large companies began adopting blind recruitment to rid of these biases.
Additionally, based on the audience they are addressing, women feel the need to change their tone to move away from the feminine stereotype of being too loud and shrill. For example, female moderators on televised debates and news anchors in the past have altered their voices to steer away from their natural feminine tone.
For example, The New York Times reports that Carole Simpson, a famous newscaster, “worked to make her voice deeper, ‘pitching it to a lower register’ to project the sound from her diaphragm.”
Just a couple of days ago, on Nov. 20, 2019, for the first time, there was an all-female panel of four moderators for the Democratic Presidential Debate.
Also, Katherine W. Phillips, Columbia University professor of organizational management, said, “If they’re perceived as nice and warm and nurturing, as they’re expected to be, they don’t show what it takes to move into a leadership position.”
The professor from Stony Brook University mentioned earlier says, when giving presentations with fellow colleagues, “people perceived me as a ‘young woman,’ meaning that I was less experienced and not qualified.” Meanwhile, “men’s words are taken more heavily, even if we have the same knowledge or opinion on a topic. It feels like they are discounting what I am saying.”
These female stereotypes of being too gentle or too sensitive are what keep women from being taken seriously or being given the chance to prove themselves. This presidential race broke the record for the most women running for president, proving that it takes a lot of courage and confidence to enter such a scathing race.
Although companies, the government and individuals have put in effort to get rid of gender gaps and biases, we need to keep up with the momentum. Companies cannot create programs that increase female participation in STEM fields and ignore the biases that infect their recruitment process. Teachers cannot disregard the lack of or minimal female participation in classrooms because then, their reserved and insecure behaviors will continue into the workplace.
Women, while climbing the ladder, should be able to behave the way they want and trust that they can succeed like any man can, without feeling the pressure to be perfect 100 percent of the time. Men mess up all the time and are still in power; thus, we deserve the same courtesy.
About the Author
Samiha Ahmed is a 20-year-old Bengali-American Muslim woman. She lives in New York City and attends Stony Brook University. She is currently an undergraduate junior, majoring in business management, with a finance specialization, and is minoring in accounting. She has been writing since she was 12-years-old. She enjoys writing and reading short stories, autobiographical pieces and poetry. She is a coffee-obsessed, productive student trying to learn more about the world.