Do Women suffer Disadvantages in Business?

This is a very popular topic for discussion in this day and age. A good friend forwarded me an article this week that prompted me to want to write this post. The article is called Salary, Gender and the Social Cost of Haggling

It included a lot of great quantitative data on this subject, if you are interested in the details. Key points of view of this article are:

  • Yes, women do suffer disadvantages in businesses such a 1) lower salary than men with the same position and skill set. 2) less opportunity for advancement, experience, and promotion than men
  • The reasons, the article claims, are two folds: 1) Women tends to be much less assertive than men in negotiating for higher salary and more opportunities for career advancement. 2) More interestingly, the article states that even if women are as assertive as men, the social norm works against women. It has studies that show that men typically unfavorably regards women who are too assertive and therefore will not react favorably to a woman being assertive as they would to a man being equally assertive.

What do you think? Do you agree with this point of view? I personally do not. While I agree with the first point above that unfortunately women can be disadvantaged in business if we are not as assertive as men, I refuse to believe that it is outside of our control to change that situation. If we agree to the second point, then we are really saying no matter what women do, unless we can change the social norm, women will always be disadvantaged in the business world of men.

I think this article takes a narrow view of this topic and didn’t consider other possibilities.

  • It all depends on our perspective of the world. If we believe there are disadvantages for a particular ethnic or gender group, we will find it because we will only see examples that supports our beliefs. I bet you every minority ethnic group can write an article on why they may be at a disadvantage at work. I would even go further to claim that even men can have this belief in certain companies or departments. Imagine working in marketing for a retail company where 80%+ are women. I bet I can find a few men in this department that will strongly claim that they are at a disadvantage and cannot do anything about it.
  • Saying that being disadvantaged is partly outside of our control is a cop-out. It gives us an excuse not to try and I don’t buy it. While there are social norms, not every company or department or boss follows them. Every individual have their unique set of skills and challenges. It’s up to each of us to develop ourselves and find the right company and circumstances that best values what we have to offer. This is how social norms can change and evolve over generations – by us all trying to break them.
  • Where there are disadvantages, there could also be advantages. This article doesn’t provide the complete picture. There are many circumstances where women have advantages that men don’t. We just have to recognize it and use it. For example, a woman sales person can have much better luck cold-calling a perspective client that is a man if she knows how to finesse it. I don’t mean using some sex appeal. A woman can be very professional and charming and a man could easily just agree to meet for a sales pitch because of her charm and it’s a change of pace as he may deal with men all day long. Of course, the woman still have to great at her job but she may have the advantage of getting a foot in the door instead of a man with the same skills. This is just one of many examples that if you looked and understood it, you can find it and use it to your advantage.
  • Defining ourselves by gender is in itself flawed. By choosing to always lead with I am a female professional instead of just a business professional already pre-disposes us to have a chip on our shoulder. Then if we receive any slight from anyone, we can always ask ourselves if it’s a gender discrimination. When in fact, life happens and is not always fair. What you choose to decide to be the reason of that unfairness is completely up to you. I personally choose to find a reason that is more empowering and in my control than something that I cannot do anything about.

At the end of the day, each and every one of us (man, woman, asian, black, gay, Jewish, etc) has our advantages and disadvantages in life. There are also social norms and stereotypes for all different groups and everyone has their own set of prejudices and beliefs. I just choose to believe that if I want to accomplish something, I will find a way to do it and nothing can really stand in my way.

What do you choose to believe? I look forward to your thoughts. Good luck out there and enjoy life with all of its ups and downs!

– Lei

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I agree with Lei's statement 100%! It's up to us to break stereotypes around women in business and to work with companies that support and encourage equality. The article is based on clinical studies and does not take into account that the way women are perceived depends greatly on the culture of the company they are working for. The way I see it, there are 2 things women can do to encourage equality:1) Choose to work for companies whose cultures support women's equality 2) Start our own companies and lead by example. I'd be interested to hear if anyone has… Read more »