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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Survey Says…Its all your fault

Many women's first work experiences read the same–the low pay, the demeaning tasks, men with half their education and work-experience getting hired at double their salaries. My own Harvard degree mocked me from its gilded frame on the wall of my micro mini apartment. It was a golden ticket alright, but I was not playing the part of Charlie Bucket. During those grueling experiences, many women long for a break in the storm, for someone to just play by the “rules” – they long for an answer to why things are so unfair.

It turns out the answer was right before us all along…the problem, it seems, is us.

In “Girl Power at School, but Not at the Office,” Hannah Seligson narrates an early job experience that reads eerily familiar to many women. She writes of unequal pay and highly qualified women becoming “‘assistant-ized’—saddled with all the coffee runs and photocopying.” She chronicles female/female job sabotage and pay discrimination. But ultimately, her focus is on the “young women…getting in the way of their own success.”

How do women get in the way of their own success, according to Seligson? By carrying an unsuccessful toolkit of resources into the work world. In fact, she argues that “we need to build a new arsenal of skills to mitigate some of our more 'feminine' tendencies.” No. No! NO!!!

The answer is not to conform to the status quo, but to bring change to the work world. It is not to learn how to “grab a beer” with the guys, but to forge new ways of building networks. It is not to scrap “the more traditionally ‘feminine’ trait of sensitivity” (whatever that means), for hard-nosed terseness. And, contrary to popular misinformation about what women have been up to for the past eons of history, it is not sitting around isolated on their own personal domestic islands.

“Women don’t have as much of a tradition of business networking,” Seligson asserts. Oh yeah, says who? Women have been networking amongst themselves and with men, for centuries. The interpersonal skills garnered from these encounters are just as valuable as those gained in a smoking club.

We need to honor our history, honor the invaluable work that we have already brought to humanity, and the networks forged by women. We need to bring our presence into the light that it deserves and demand that conditions improve for women in the here and now. Are there things that each person can improve on individually? Yes. But, the unfair experiences that women face in the work world should not be cause to denigrate that which we deem different in ourselves as of no account. It has its dignity too, and should be respected, not repressed.

I was born around the same time as Seligson, in the early 1980s, but I had a different experience. I saw women discriminated against, left and right. I understood the struggle that was before me. Perhaps being both African American and female highlighted that struggle and the existence of glass ceilings even more, but one thing that has been imprinted on me during my brief tenure on the planet is that there are still many fights to be waged in the battle for equality. Now is not the time for conformity, but for courage.


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