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My future at work

By Georgia

My name is Georgia and I am an 18-year-old secondary school student at a central Auckland school sitting A Levels in Sociology, Business Studies, and Psychology. I know some of you may have lost interest in this article already from hearing the words “18 year old”, assuming I have a lack of experience and knowledge, but even a secondary school student such as myself can have an opinion on the workplace from a woman’s perspective.

Aspirations

Even at my age, I cannot begin to count the times I have thought about the path that lies ahead of me and how it will differ from that of my male counterparts in terms of the challenges that I will face at university and in my career.

At the beginning of next year I hope to take a conjoint Bachelor of Commerce in Business Management and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. I already feel as though, once holding this degree, I will still have major obstacles to overcome that someone of the opposite gender will probably never face.

Experiences and Expectations

Having older parents who no longer work, I haven’t necessarily witnessed a working adult first hand, and the toll it can have on them. Even so, I have had my fair share of experiences in the workplace having held varying jobs over the last five years.

The use of belittling terms such as being addressed as ‘girl’ and being delegated certain degrading jobs because they were typically seen as ‘female roles’ were just some of the issues I faced in the workplace. These instances of gender discrimination led me to terminate my employment at said workplace.

This has unfortunately caused me to be skeptical of equality in the workplace, even though women have been a significant and important part of the workplace for a long time. I am thankful that the role of a woman in the workplace is becoming more widely accepted as the years go by, but even after all this time, we are expected to ‘toughen up’ because unfortunately we are not as well respected or valued as a male employee.

The Labyrinth

As part of the Shadow A Leader programme, I sat with another student and our mentors for the day and discussed many hot topics regarding women in the workplace. One that has stuck in my mind was the career labyrinth women face. It is not typically a glass ceiling – where a woman can see what she aspires to but is unable to reach it due to gender barriers – but a labyrinth. The labyrinth suggests there is not one clear path to your goals but a maze which you must manoeuvre through, paying close attention to the choices that lie ahead. Women and men do not progress at the same pace until women hit a certain barrier and the males’ career continues up the staircase to promotion as the glass ceiling suggests. Instead, their pathways differ from day one.

A path I faced that differed from that of the males in the same employment position as me was the inability for me to be delegated stock movement related jobs. I was told I was “not strong enough” because I am a girl. As a result, I was left with the same cleaning jobs I had always been left with. This scenario was similar with many of the employees at my previous work place.

Instinct, socialisation and tradition are all aspects that can lead to the puzzles which women will have to negotiate. Some of the ‘pathways’ in the labyrinth may be characterised by how a woman is viewed – for example, as the gender that is responsible for child rearing and household duties as evidenced by the lengthier maternity leave term, as opposed to the short paternity leave term. Even clothing is a huge factor in the way a woman is perceived!

Traditional Socialisation

We have instinctively been socialised from birth by our parents, peers, and teachers. This develops the way in which we perceive the world, where many believe society to be patriarchal. Because of this socialisation, we have been drilled with the idea of the typical family and typical gender roles, therefore accepting and conforming to gender stereotypes.

Socialisation is patriarchal; girls are given Barbies and Disney Princess books (which portray us as ‘damsels in distress’) whereas boys are given GI Joes and plastic bows and arrows. This was extremely relevant within my family where my sister and I were given the ‘female’ items listed above, and my brothers, the ‘male’ items. Sociologists refer to this process as canalisation. It wasn’t until later that I ventured out and began favouring the typically male activities such as video games; I still get questioned with “…but you’re a girl?” when people hear of my favoured past-time.

In the traditional family, women were seen as the gender that stayed at home to cook, clean and raise the children, whereas the male was the ‘bread winner’. This is still blatantly the thought process of many who feel as though the workplace is ‘no place for women’. I once spoke with an overly opinionated male at my school who preached about the apparent “born leadership” that males hold, while women are “followers”. He carried on by saying how women “are not good leaders” and “that’s why there are more men in leadership positions”. I cannot begin to convey my thoughts in the moment of this discussion but regardless of what I said, he would not listen to another point of view. Thankfully, society is evolving as each generation comes into the working world.

Potential over Performance

Another area looked at within our discussion was how women are typically employed based on performance and males on potential. The workplace makes it much more of a challenge for women to reach their desired level of employment than it does for a male.

It is common knowledge that, globally, women on average earn around 80% of that of a male counterpart’s salary (around 86% in New Zealand). This is a degrading figure, assuming gender determines one’s ability. Something that worries me is that if I am being considered for employment or promotion against a male counterpart who is of equal ability and experience, the male is likely to be favoured because a women is viewed as the child bearer who may be taking time and money out of the business for ‘family related’ activities…but what makes ‘family related activities’ the woman’s responsibility, rather than that of both genders equally?

Unfortunately, society can be stubborn, meaning that perhaps only time will force change in the workplace. Creating awareness, proving ability, and putting your foot down on discrimination will speed up the process, and this is what I intend to do.

Change for the Better

Society is changing generation after generation. Remember when women were restricted from education and, later, from education at university? Well, now women make up a larger percentage in the numbers at universities across countries such as the UK and America.

Wait for it. Change is all around us. History has shown that past society was a ‘man’s world’; go back 120 years – women were not even allowed to vote. We were a second-class gender, for the use of procreation and domestic duties only.

It’s happening, even though it is slow, but I expect and hope the workplace for women to be a level field in the years to come. We as a gender have already achieved so much and I doubt the continuing change will stop any time soon.

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