Effective Communication

Women Still Face Double Standard at Work


At first glance, the results of a Pew Research report about women in the workplace are baffling.

The survey of about 1,800 Americans found that most believe women are qualified for top corporate roles. But so few are reaching them not just because of time away from the workforce for family obligations, but because of the double standard. Women still have to prove themselves.

And most of the respondents expect that those biases will continue into the near future. About half—53%– believe men will continue to hold more top executive positions in business, while 44% say it is only a matter of time before as many women are in top executive positions as men. Interestingly, Americans have more hope for political equality. About 73% expect to see a female president in their lifetime.

More conflicting feelings: women and men were generally thought to possess the skills needed to be an effective leader. But among those who did feel there are differences, women were rated higher in honesty and ethics, providing fair pay and benefits, and offering mentorship to young employees. Men scored higher on taking risks and negotiating deals.

Those biases are reflected in industry-specific findings.  Most Americans (54%) say men would do a better job running a professional sports team, while just 8% say women would be better at this. Men were considered more equipped to run a large oil or gas company. But the public is two and a half times more likely to say a woman, rather than a man, would do a better job running a major hospital or a major retail chain.

Along with recent findings about women still lagging dramatically as CEOs and on boards, the research reminds us that the field is a long way from level for women.

Of course, every women is different, and every situation is as well. And that reminder should help women use the data to inform career decisions without derailing a career.

When choosing a career, industry and company, be aware of lingering biases. No one would suggest you don’t follow your own path, but having a realistic assessment of the market, industries and companies is essential if you don’t want you career to stall. Choosing to join companies that are serious about diversity may be the smartest career move a woman can make.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.