How Women Can Get Top Jobs
Are women treated differently than men in the workplace? Although the answer to this question for some is “no”, some shocking facts reveal the harsh truth about the way society undervalues women’s qualities and talents. Moreover, this prejudice inevitably leads to women being at a disadvantage in the labour market. It is clear through the estimation done in 2020: on average, women earn 81 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Discrimination based on gender affects women everywhere. As it could be easy to predict, it affects women in underdeveloped and developing countries disproportionally. According to UN Women agency, 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men. Out of 189 economies assessed in 2018, 104 have laws preventing women from working in specific jobs, 59 have no laws on sexual harassment in the workplace, and in 18 of these, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.
However, if you think this is alarming, women’s conditions in developed economies are not much better. Indeed, besides the fact that women are more likely to be unemployed than men (globally, in 2018, 6% of women were unemployed, a rate 0.8 times higher than men’s), women are exponentially more involved in informal and vulnerable employment compared to their male counterparts. Some specific fields are traditionally reserved for women especially those involving care-work. However, this type of activity is often unpaid and unrecognised, yet essential for a country’s economy.
Not only are numerous women employed in such vulnerable jobs, they are also less likely to occupy management or leadership positions. For example, in the US, last year, women were 47% of the labour force but only the 40% of managers. Additionally, they are unlikely to become entrepreneurs and face more difficulties when starting a business. In the world, 6.2% of them own a business, compared to 9.5% of men.
Indeed, women are disproportionately less likely to achieve success in their career because of certain specific prejudices. This is due to the role traditionally attributed to women, who are often seen as merely mothers and wives raising children and caring for the house. This is why, worldwide, some families tend to invest more on the education of male children while raising girls to make them become housewives.
Women tend to become more competitive against each other, both in academia and at work. They are required to show results and need more resilience and strength than their male colleagues. They are taught to compete against each other from an early age, and are encouraged to continuously compare themselves to other women throughout their lives.
Naturally, women also have to compete with men. What is more, male workers are usually more resentful of being criticised by female bosses rather than male bosses. A study shows that criticisms from female managers leads to a 70% larger reduction in job satisfaction than criticism from male managers.Men tend to dismiss the validity of the criticism made by women, judging their feedback as less accurate. Usually, men do not enjoy being inferior to women because they are not used to it and some even find it difficult to work for women.
To learn more about what happens when the boss is a woman and understand how relationships among colleagues work in such a case, I (LVN) had an interesting interview with Paola Carnevale (PC). Mrs. Carnevale is the Manager for the Sustainable Development of the Environment, Infrastructures and Transports in the Liguria Region.
Due to the distancing restrictions, I interviewed Miss Carnevale via Skype. Miss Carnevale is a middle-aged woman with striking red hair. She took my call in her living room of her house in Liguria.
LVN: What was your first approach to the world of work? How did you begin your career in Public Administration?
PC: Actually, I began to work before finishing my studies because it felt right to me to contribute to the payment of my studies. Of course, I did not work 8 hours a day, but I had jobs that allowed me to study and work. I gave private lessons and worked at exhibitions like Fiere di Genova. Then, when I graduated in the early ‘90s, I began to work. Those were years that followed a period of economic growth: if you had a degree, then you were certain you would find a good job. However, this was not the case for biologists. As a biologist, and my Bachelor’s degree is in Biology. Moreover, my field of expertise was ecology and nature. I chose projects that combined studying and working. Then, I did a Master’s and a stage at Confindustria Liguria in order to have as many experiences as possible. Later, a friend of mine suggested I apply for a job competition in the municipality and I fortunately won. This is when I, along with some of my colleagues founded a Cooperative, that still exists to this day. I am very proud of it because we were among the youngest entrepreneurs in Liguria. Public administration was not a fallback for me; it was a choice and this is why I applied to work in the regional administration in Liguria. Once again, I got the job. This was not easy, as many young people can attest.
LVN: When you were a young girl, what were your dreams and expectations?
PC: Yes, so not a long time ago at all! (she laughs). To be honest, I did not have one specific dream in my mind. I have always envied those people who, when they were 6, they were saying, “I want to be an astronaut” or “I will be an engineer” and so on. I have always thought about doing what I like in the first place. Of course, I did not want a routine job that does not require creativity; I also wanted to immerse myself in my job, that is for sure. It is not like I thought “I will be a manager in the public administration”. I just chose this path because I could contribute in society. That is what I needed: to contribute to something.
LVN: Do you think the path towards your success and the position that you have reached could have been easier and shorter if you were a man?
PC: Well, probably yes, even though in the public administration, women are relatively protected. There are two factors. The first one is that, probably, men appear to have more credibility: when a man expresses himself, he is automatically seen as more credible than a woman. The second factor is antagonism and competition in the workplace: for men, it is more likely to be among each other; for women, instead, both men and women compete with them. The competition is fiercer. However, in certain cases, public administration protects women. Indeed, there are many female managers. However, yes, my path would have been easier if I was a man. Let us think about that: Regione Liguria used to publish a brochure showing the positions occupied by workers based on gender. We could see that most public servants were women, even in high categories. However, managers were mostly men. So, in an organisation which had a large number of women compared to men, there was a high number of men in management positions.
LVN: Could it be a problem linked to education, involving both family and school?
PC: Yes, for sure. Education plays a crucial role. It involves both the education a girl receives, so what others think of her, and her family sphere. Families taught you that you, as a girl, could find a job and that you were equal to men. However, they also taught you that, at the same time, you had to be a good wife and a good mother.
LVN: Do you think that the men you work with and especially those who work for you take your words less seriously or underestimate your work because you are a woman?
PC: No, not really. Mine is a safe environment. They all take me seriously from a technical point of view. However, problems appear when I have to discipline a man working for me. It is difficult for a woman to reproach a male worker. I can feel it: they get offended more easily than their female counterparts. To avoid conflicts, I usually do it in private, using words that are acceptable to the other person. Obviously, admonish both men and women in the same way. I saw some situations that are different from mine, where some workers tried to destroy the life of female managers when they got offended. Naturally, we should strive to talk to everyone in a way that does not offend them irrespective of gender.
LVN: And what are your relationships with female colleagues? Are these relationships based on mutual support, sharing or they are characterised by something else?
PC: Well, I have examples of both cases. When I manage to create a good relationship with a female colleague or manager, sisterhood is created. When this happens, I can collaborate and work with them very effectively. Instead, where I can’t create this relationship, I will struggle. Those are two extremes; either we get on, or we don’t.
LVN: Do you think women are more competitive than men in the workplace?
PC: Women are often more competitive. This is because we, as women, have to show that we are capable, even more capable than men and of other women.
LVN: In your opinion, are the salary differences based on gender still existing nowadays? If yes, how can we overcome this problem?
PC: I think it exists. Some of my friends who work for private companies suffer from this. They are paid less than men and have big problems linked to the development of their careers. Unfortunately, this is a culture-based issue. The first social movements, thanks to which women gained more rights, happened 50 years ago. You would think: “big improvements must have happened since then!”, but it is not so. We reach improvements by small steps. I do not see big changes taking place nowadays. However, there is one element that I think would be useful. When I was a young girl, these movements were still important. This is why, although my parents were linked to a traditional culture, they would never have dared to prevent me from studying. On the contrary, they supported me to do so. In my family, I never felt inferior to males. Instead, certain models are proposed to modern girls that make the situation even worse than when I was their age. Those images that they see are worse because they promote equality only in theory, but not in reality. We should change it. We should underline the potential and the smartness of women, and not only their beauty or capability to seduce men. This would help both young girls and boys.
LVN: Nowadays, it is harder for a woman to manage her private life and the family sphere with career than it is for a man. How did you manage to deal with this issue?
PC: My husband helps me and he is my biggest supporter. We both work for the family and share our chores daily. This approach enabled both of us to choose our careers and do what we wanted to do.
LVN: What advice would you like to offer to young women trying to make an impact in the social field to help them overcome future obstacles?
PC: There is one thing that my mother always says to me: “chi ha più giudizio lo usi” (those who have more wisdom should use it). Firstly, you should always remember your value. Unfortunately, you will have to overcome many obstacles and problems, especially in some sexist working environments, so you have to be aware of how much you are worth. Secondly, I suggest you approach new experiences with wisdom. Then, if you have your own set of values, you will eventually find your way. You will. I think that women can do great things for society. They can give an enormous contribution. They have a very pragmatic technical intelligence. One positive value of the tradition linked to women, is that women can have social horizons that are wider than those imagined by our male counterparts. It may only be because of cultural heritage, but this is a significant value. We have more developed empathy and emotional intelligence. We can understand situations and we can also easily see a broader range of opportunities and solutions. We do it strategically. We catch the meaning of situations and we can predict what their evolution will be in the future, in order to get the best of it not only for ourselves but in the interest of the community.
Life for women has always been more challenging than for men for several reasons. However, we can change this. Living in our society, dealing with career disadvantages and the antagonism of other people is stressful. Men should, of course, support our cause, but they will never experience our fights and daily struggles as we do. The revolution should start from ourselves. If we are the first ones that compete against each other instead of building a safe environment in which we can grow thanks to mutual support, how can we expect our male counterparts to do it?
Moreover, education is crucial to this process. Young girls are influenced by the examples they can look at both in their family and in the society that surrounds them. Let us provide them role models that can empower them in different ways. Let us underline their strength, their capabilities and their power to reach their goals. Let us give them the freedom to develop their abilities without forcing them to represent any stereotype only for the sake of the protection of traditions. Traditions are created in order to be developed and changed through time. Otherwise, tradition could be used to justify anything. Families should invest equally in the education of male and female children. Both genders should be given the same opportunities. Boys and girls should be raised the same way while respecting their differences. As writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote in her “Dear Ijeawele”, “Do not ever tell her that she should or should not do something because she is a girl”.