How does being a woman affect your career?

It’s International Womens day. Do we need one of those? We certainly do! Are women still disadvantaged in the workplace? Without doubt. We earn less than men, struggle more to secure promotion and often find ourselves patronised or the victims of sexual abuse. What does this mean for those just embarking on a career?

Career Planning

woman on mountain300It makes sense for everyone (not just women) to think holistically about what you want your life to be like. Ponder how you see your work life balance five or ten years out from university. Do you want time for hobbies and family? If that’s important to you, then think about what path is most likely to offer you the ideal balance of work and play. If you think you’ll want to take time out to be with children, are there careers or sectors within career areas which offer you more chance to meet that aspiration?


Employers may not ask you questions about your plans to have children, or your arrangements for childcare. It doesn’t mean to say that these questions are not asked. Every year students tell me that they have been faced by questions like this. How do you deal with this? Is it?

  1. Smile and tell the employer firmly that he (probably he) is not allowed to ask you this?
  2. Feel upset but answer the question honestly.
  3. Terminate the interview saying that you don’t want to consider working in an environment where questions like this can be asked?

The inequality of power between you and the interviewer probably determines your response. If you already have another job offer and you didn’t really want this job anyway you can afford to adopt approaches 1 or 3. If this looks like your best chance of a job you’ll probably go with answer 2. But, do you want to accept a job from someone prepared to ask these questions? You’ll need to think very carefully indeed.

Sexism in the workplace

Boss touching subordinate employee in officeThis takes many forms. The casual use of “dear”, the assumption that you might pour the tea are just two. Is this actually on the same continuum as the pat on the arm or the bottom? What about when the pat becomes a stroke and the stroke becomes a kiss?

Your response is going to be driven once again by the power dynamic. Of course you’re completely within your rights to ask not to be called “dear” and to complain to HR or a senior manager about any and all inappropriate language or touching. But what impact will your complaint have on your career?

The sad fact is that in many cases your abuser may be very senior in the organisation, perhaps responsible for bringing in considerable profits he (probably he) may be bomb proof. You, on the other hand may be quite junior. Dispensable?   Well obviously there are laws that prevent employers from dismissing you for your complaint, but there are usually other ways of dealing with the situation. Perhaps a convenient restructure, oh dear, your role is redundant? If you’re a trainee maybe there just isn’t a job available when you qualify? This is going to weigh on your mind as you think about what to do and you may end up reflecting that it is better to put up with what is going on for a while.

Any better ideas?

removing mask300Talk to someone about what is going on and try to work out a plan.

Can you go to someone senior in the organisation whose discretion you trust? It might be possible for you to be moved to another area. Those restructures and be convenient in more than one way!

Are you marketable for other jobs? Could it be time to move on? It might just be better to do that making sure that you secure the glowing reference which is rightfully yours than rock the boat.

And remember…

It is still an unequal world but you have an absolute right not to be exploited because of your gender or treated less favourably. Work out how best for you to enforce that right.

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