Fighting the Cult of Power
Almost every woman believes in equality whether it’s in the workplace or in life in general. Unfortunately, women’s equality has yet to be achieved. In almost every single company, men earn more. All the while women still face sexual harassment, degradation and isolation.
Urbanette Magazine recently sat down with political psychologist and women’s equity expert Martha Burk to discuss equality in the workplace. The Cult of Power author shines a light on the reality of the fight for equality:
Urbanette Magazine: Is it true that there are companies out there that discourage women from applying for prominent positions, and instead encourage their male counterparts?
Martha Burk: Yes. There are many more companies than people realize which exclude women from work groups, some informally and some not so informally, such as giving women lesser assignments, or assigning them to “lost cause” accounts and projects. Informal networks outside the workplace are a problem too. We found that in the case of client entertainment at Augusta National, where companies can spend up to $500,000 in a week, women were not told they couldn’t participate, but “strongly discouraged” from attending, according to one division head.
Sexual harassment is often written off as “just joking around,” or the women are labeled “over sensitive.” This would rarely happen in cases of racial harassment, and it has been documented that companies are more prone to blame the victim.
Urbanette: How are companies excluding women in the workplace?
Martha: It is documented in lawsuits, for example, that Morgan Stanley entertained clients at all-male golf clubs and strip clubs, and that Wal-Mart managers sometimes held staff meetings at Hooters.
Urbanette: How common is the phenomenon of women feeling degraded in the workplace and how often do the employing companies look the other way?
Martha: It is extremely common. Sexual harassment is often written off as “just joking around,” or the women are labeled “over sensitive.” This would rarely happen in cases of racial harassment, and it has been documented that companies are more prone to blame the victim. Sometimes these infractions result in lawsuits, which can take years to litigate. More often, the women just move on, because they cannot afford the financial and emotional strain of fighting with a large, well-funded company for years. This is why it is so important for women to bring class actions in companies that treat them badly. That way, no one is alone, and the company is more likely to be responsive.
We must change the corporate culture, and get away from the notion that men own the jobs, and are by definition better at the jobs. We must have corporate policies that recognize that men and women alike have families, and would like to spend time with them without losing out at work.
Urbanette: There are many companies who, on paper, have said they would ensure that both minorities and women would get equal pay but when it comes down to it, it’s still just on paper. How are companies still able to pay women less?
Martha: Most pay discrimination lawsuits are brought because the women found out, usually by accident, that they were not being paid the same as the men. In some cases, such as the recent suit against the Smith-Barney division of Citigroup, it is slightly more complicated. In that case male brokers got more administrative support and were assigned to more lucrative accounts.
Urbanette: For years now women have been fighting for equal rights and yet when it comes time to have a family, it is often more economically feasible – and more socially accepted – for women to become the stay at home parent. What are the effects of this Catch-22 phenomenon?
Martha: When a family decides to give up one income to care for a child or elderly parent, 99% of the time it is the lower income. That makes economic sense, but it also punishes women, who are usually the lower earners. So the person that takes off falls further behind in advancement, making the pay gap even worse. It is definitely a Catch-22. If there were no pay gap, the decision about who stays home would be made on the basis of other factors, like which parent is more suited to it, or which one needs a career break more.
Martha Burk on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart:
Urbanette: Which women are finally breaking the gender pay barrier?
Martha: Sadly, almost nobody. Even in the very highest ranks of corporate America, women at the top make less. In terms of advancement, women who are unmarried or childless advance farther and faster. Family responsibilities punish women in the workplace, but they don’t seem to have an impact on men in the same way. Men who are married advance faster.
Urbanette: What solutions do you suggest for women’s equality in the workplace?
Martha: We need what I call “positive momentum solutions.” That means companies must take action to close the wage and promotion gap, not just invent rhetoric and programs that have little impact. One thing companies should do is a gender equity audit of their pay and promotion every year, by gender and job category. If it’s out of whack, fix it. How? Make managers accountable. If they don’t fix inequities in their departments, they won’t be there next year. We audit everything else, why not audit pay practices?
Americans are working more hours than at any time in history, and it’s not healthy for a balanced workplace, or for society in general.
Urbanette: When do you think the time will come when women and men are treated as true equals in the workplace? How can we make sure this does happen?
Martha: We must change the corporate culture, and get away from the notion that men own the jobs, and are by definition better at the jobs. We must have corporate policies that recognize that men and women alike have families, and would like to spend time with them without losing out at work. Americans are working more hours than at any time in history, and it’s not healthy for a balanced workplace, or for society in general.
Urbanette: What steps can an individual woman take when faced with discrimination in the workplace, including if they suspect they are being paid unequally?
Martha: First, women should talk to the individual who is responsible. Document any conversations, and the outcome. And talk to each other. It is important to bring a problem to the attention of management or the human resources department in a group if possible. If that doesn’t work, outside intervention is often necessary. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has very good information on its website about your rights at work and how to bring a complaint. Of course we hope to get to a time when complaints are rare because the workplace is fair.