By Georgia

My Future at Work

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 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.

I was thankful to be chosen to participate in the Shadow A Leader event organised by AUT Business and Law school on July the 10th. The aim of Shadow A Leader is give a secondary school student and an AUT Business/Law student a chance to follow a business leader for a day, in order to see what it takes to excel in the leader’s particular field.

The event consisted of teams of three ‒ a secondary school student, an AUT student of Business/Law, and a business Leader. The two students were elected based on highest performance and in portraying future business leadership potential. I, along with Fiona Grayson from AUT Business School were chosen, and teamed with our Business Leader, Galia BarHava-Monteith of Professionelle.

It was obvious that AUT had put a lot of time and effort into this pairing, allowing me to shadow Galia, someone with whom so many of my interests are shared. Her work in co-founding Professionelle (alongside Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes), which helps women with their career needs and climbing the ladder of the workplace, is inspirational.

Aspirations

Even at my age, I cannot begin to count the number of times I have sat thinking 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 later career.

At the beginning of next year I hope to take a conjoint of a Bachelor of Commerce in Business Management and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at university. I already feel as though, once holding this degree, I will still have major obstacles which I will have 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 myself 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 discriminations led me to terminate my employment at said workplace.

This has unfortunately caused me to be sceptical of the equality in the workplace, even though women have been a significant and important part of the workplace for a long period of 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

The day on which Shadow A Leader commenced, Fiona and I sat with Galia and Sarah and discussed many hot topics regarding women in the workplace. One that stuck in my mind was the career labyrinth women face. It is not typically a glass ceiling – where a woman can see where she aspires to, but is unable to reach it due to gender barriers – but a labyrinth. The labyrinth suggests there is no one clear path to your goals, but a maze which you must manoeuvre yourself 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’ careers continue on 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’m “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 manoeuvre themselves through, as stated in the labyrinth above. Some of the ‘pathways’ in the maze may be characterised by how a woman is viewed – for example, as the gender that is responsible for child rearing and household duties, evidenced by the lengthier maternity leave term, as opposed to the short paternity leave term. As discussed on the day, 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 have been given Barbies and Disney Princess books (which portray us as “damsels in distress”), whereas boys are given GI Joes and plastic bow and arrows. This is 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 conveying my thoughts in the moment of this discussion, but regardless of what I said, he would not listen to another point of view. Even so, society is evolving as each generation comes into the working world.

Potential over performance

Another area looked at within the Professionelle discussion was how women are typically employed based on performance, and males, 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 only 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 up for employment or promotion against a male counterpart who is of equal ability and experience, they are likely to favour the male because a women is viewed as the maternal 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 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 one hundred and twenty years – women were not even allowed to vote. We were completely considered a second-class gender, seen to be for the use of procreation and domestic duties.

It’s happening, even though slowly, 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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