The first day I set foot on the scene of corporate America I did so with a six-month pregnant belly leading my way. Fresh out of college and determined to revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry, I couldn’t wait to put on that white coat, get into the laboratory and make discoveries that would have a positive impact on the lives of patients. Instead, I was escorted to my desk and told I would be spending the remainder of my time there until my maternity leave. This was a decision made for the health of my child, there was no disputing that, but I couldn’t help but wonder during those first few months how many times in the future my ability to procreate would affect my career aspirations. Instead of fearing impending labor, I began to worry about being mommy tracked.
Fast forward five years and I’ve learned that those fears that took root from day one were not unfounded. Despite the fact that women account for roughly half of the American work force, I still find myself struggling to prove my right to exist within it among my male colleagues. I watch as female coworkers and I are passed over for business trips, promotions, and positions as project leads with excuses that never quite seem to add up.
We have husbands and families perfectly capable of caring for our children while we are traveling on business. Shouldn’t we be the ones to decide if we can spare the time away from home? This is not our grandmas’ generation. We are not here working for pocket money. We are bread winners and don’t we deserve to be paid as such? We possess the same qualifications as our male counterparts, but all too often our promotions are on very dissimilar timelines. Women are, by their very nature, collaborative, flexible, and skilled multi-taskers. A project with a woman at the helm is by no means one bound for failure. Yet, our ability to carry children often seems to earn us the label of flight risk leading to the assumption that it is in the company’s best interest that we not assume too much responsibility.
During a personal development meeting with a new boss I was once told “It’s okay if you don’t have a five-year plan. I know that you are the mother of small children.” In that moment faced with such a ridiculous statement, I could think of nothing better than an equally ridiculous response. So, I braced myself and asked him. “I’m sorry; does my vagina make me look stupid? Does the fact that I birthed children render me incapable of personal goals to you?” While he pioneered new shades of crimson, I gave a sigh of relief years in the making. From that day forward, he never made the mistake of discounting me, of passing over the ideas I brought to the table until they were repackaged and regurgitated by a male scientist and that progress alone was worth the mortification that ensued after using the word ‘vagina’ in a business meeting.
While I would not suggest bringing attention to your womanhood as the cause for inequities in quite such a forward way, I do implore young women entering the workforce to first acknowledge the existence of and then refuse to accept the fact that gender matters. By acknowledging this obstacle you can better prepare and position yourself to climb the corporate ladder. Do not wait for opportunities to fall into your lap. Ask for them! If you think you deserve a raise or a promotion, start the discussion. Do not be afraid to call attention to your achievements and when someone else does it for you don’t be modest. Own them! Be assured, the men you work with are doing the same.
There is no refuting the fact that the role of and the options available to women have drastically changed over the last few decades. Today’s women are empowered, better educated and more equipped than ever to close the gender gap. If we can raise children, we can certainly raise that pesky glass ceiling.
Amber Doty is the managing editor of Go Mighty, as well as a slightly eccentric wife and mother of two. Her interests include eating meals she had no hand in preparing, making formerly professional business meetings awkward, and perfecting the emotional outburst. One day she hopes to travel to all seven continents, but for now she lives in North Carolina happily equidistant from the mountains and the beach. You can read more from Amber on her blog, The Daily Doty.