How Women Can Overcome the Most Common Career Barriers
Unfortunately we still live in an unequal society where women face more career barriers than men. In an effort to better understand some of the unique challenges women in the workplace encounter, GOBankingRates conducted a Women and Finance survey that asked (among other things), “What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in your career path?”
Here’s what we found out.
- 34% of women identified lack of available opportunities as the biggest obstacle.
- 16% identified taking time off for child care.
- 12% identified lack of fair pay due to gender/stagnant income.
- 6.5% identified gender discrimination as the biggest obstacle.
- 32% chose “other.”
Let’s unpack these barriers and explore ways that women can overcome them.
Also see why women get paid less in Social Security.
Overcoming Lack of Opportunities
Thalia Toha, a professional strategist and CEO of “Good Grow Great,” said some research finds that people naturally lean toward those who are similar to themselves.
“This makes those who have already advanced in their careers … want to work with … do business with and provide opportunities for people who are similar to them,” Toha said. “Which means that, whether it’s intentional or not, if most employers are male, they’ll more likely attract employees who are as similar to them as possible.”
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This can create a lack of opportunities. One way women can overcome this problem is by proactively finding “the hidden job market” and unlisted job opportunities.
“A LinkedIn survey suggests that the hidden job market comprises up to 75% of the job market,” Toha said. “This means reaching out to high-value decision makers to discover unmet and unlisted needs that they can fulfill and be employed for can make a big difference.”
Women also should be unafraid to be extra ambitious when applying for jobs that they may feel a tad underqualified for.
“Women apply to jobs at lower rates than men because they tend to think they must meet 100% of the qualifications in the job description,” said Ashley Valdez, director of career planning and resources at Scripps College. “It’s encouraged that a woman applies if she meets 60% of the qualifications on a job description and has a significant interest in the opportunity or employer.
“It’s highly likely that an applicant has qualifications or transferable skills beyond what is being asked anyway and even more likely that someone less qualified than them will submit an application and be considered.”
Overcoming the Burden of Providing Child Care
A stack of research shows that women are burdened with caregiving for their children far more often than men.
“Harvard Business Review calls this the ‘the maternal wall,” Toha said. “Even as recent as 2021, the lack of affordable child care keeps women out of the workforce for longer.”
The onus on women to provide child care is, like all of the issues on this list, a systemic one that society as a whole needs to work through. But there are steps that women can take to overcome this barrier.
“[One way] is by making employment decisions based on initial conversations with employers,” Toha said, adding that women may do the following in their early talks with employers:
- Present the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s outline for Procedures for Establishing Alternative Work Schedules when appropriate.
- Negotiate for and set expectations on hours they expect to be offline every day to pick up the kids.
- Negotiate more sick days if children become ill.
Another tactic women should consider is plugging in the cost of child care into their salary negotiations and highlighting that figure with their prospective employers.
“One way to look at this is how much it would or does cost for caretaking when it is hired,” said Julie Flanders, a leadership coach and the founder and CEO of Two Circles Crossing. “It is exorbitant for any family and stressful to even consider. There is no reason this great need for care, education, family time and health should not be part of our national and professional conversations.”
Overcoming Lack of Fair Pay
According to a study published by the World Economic Forum, the wage gap hasn’t changed much since the 1960s. Additional research by the WEF in 2022 showed that it will take 151 years to close the gender pay gap.
Though the onus should not be on women to close the wage gap, there are steps they can take to address it in their workplace. They may do the following:
- Negotiate a higher starting salary. “Negotiate a starting salary before accepting the job that is 10% to 15% of the initial offer,” Toha said.
- Set up a promotion plan out the gate. “Agree with the employer on a time-sensitive promotion plan provided that one can perform and meet reasonable goals or milestones set together,” Toha said.
Overcoming Gender Discrimination
One area where we tend to see gender discrimination is in promotions. Men are still promoted more frequently than women.
“I don’t like the idea of making women have to fix a situation where they are systematically passed over from promotions,” Rosalind Chow, associate professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business said. “It should be up to leaders to fix the system by making the evaluation standards more robust. But if I had to give women advice, then I suppose I would tell them that they should do what men do if they aren’t happy with their rate of advancement: Move around. Find other opportunities.”
During their initial job search, women also should be cognizant of “green” flags that indicate an equitable environment.
“Some green flags during the interview process include non-gendered language in job postings, benefits like flexible working hours, child care and generous maternity and paternity leave and having multiple women in leadership and involved in the hiring process,” said Grace He, people and culture director of TeamBuilding. “Furthermore, to eradicate these challenges from the work landscape, women should continue seeking out and pushing for leadership positions to gain more say in hiring and organizational policies.”
In the survey, 32% of women cited “other” as their biggest career obstacles to date.
“Other” could encompass so many challenges. One of those could be microaggressions in the workplace. These are vicious, albeit often unconscious, displays of internal bias. A microaggression could manifest in a number of ways. It may occur as a lack of consideration for a promotion, or as an assumption that you can’t make a post-work gathering because you have a young child at home.
So how do you deal with microaggressions in the workplace and prevent them from holding you back in your career?
“The right way for women confronted with microaggressions is to call it out either subtly or overtly, based on the situation,” said Smita D Jain, an executive coach, personal empowerment life coach, TEDx speaker and writer. “The key here is not to get on the defensive regarding one’s marital status or gender and speak politely but firmly. This will ensure that this behavior doesn’t go under the radar.”
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