Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Women At Work — Is It As Simple As It Sounds?

Ellen, 42 and a mother of five, has been struggling to find a steady job for a while now. Her idea of an independent woman is of one who can earn enough to become financially stable and take care of herself and her family. She has been doing freelancing work for most of her career, and while she’s trying really hard to make the change to a full time role, this isn’t the only issue that’s stopping her from taking up a job, even when she’s being offered one.

She has had two offers until now that seemed perfectly fine until the ‘guys’ at these jobs started behaving inappropriately with her. They didn’t exactly want to hire her for the intended job position because of her technical skills. She’s had discussions with me and her husband and she’s beginning to believe that when it comes to men in technology who are willing to hire women as assistants, they’re not really looking for work.

Her husband has another story to tell. He recounts instances from his college days from his Computer Science Degree which had only three women out of 400 students. He says that one of the women was younger and better looking than the other two, and as a result, she had all the opportunities and attention she could possibly have. In his entire career, he’s witnessed that women who are deemed ‘unattractive’ are ignored until they’re fired for not working, even though no work is assigned to them.

Both these accounts indicate the stigma that the society has established for women in various fields. Either they are not considered relevant enough for a job, or they are considered for a job based on other — what you may call — metrics. Why would women desire to work harder for involving themselves in the industry, just as men are?

Feminism

Feminism has gathered a lot of steam and continues to do so, with no considerable or measurable results to indicate that women have indeed progressed when it comes to their participation in several fields. Feminism advocates the idea that women are as good as men in all walks of life. This also points towards the notion that women must be paid equally for a certain designation, must have and deserve an equal amount of respect if not more, and are no less than men in each and every fathomable perspective.

Year after year, we are greeted with disappointing results. Be it the number of women in Politics, be it the number of women winning laurels in STEM related research, or be it the literacy rate of women when it comes to developing countries. Even after several campaigns and movements, #TimesUp being one of those, women continue to be treated in a manner that is brutally reflected in these two accounts stated above. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Brutality and use of unfair means to suppress women goes deep down to the lowest levels of employment, and at those levels, no one has enough power or the means to actually speak up against the culture.

No one wants to lose their job because no firm is willing to hire women who were either kicked out by their previous employer because they filed a lawsuit against sexual harassment or because they ended up winning the lawsuit and leaving the employer on their own terms. Considering that for specific fields such as Mechanical and Civil Engineering, participation of women is already pretty low due to these being considered as ‘Male Dominated Work Environments’, this would be a bad move.

According to the American Society for Engineering Education, only 13.2 percent of bachelor’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering for the year of 2015 were earned by women. Male dominance is clearly a huge factor here that either forces women to switch majors or not get involved in such a field in the first place. According to Forbes, Mechanical Engineering stood at #3 for 10 worst jobs for women in 2012; the ratio of women on the job was a mere 6%.

Higher Education

Potential reasons why fewer number of women choose to pursue careers in STEM when thinking about the long term were discussed in a recent article on Code Like A Girl by Kriti Khare.

The nature of jobs does not permit them to continue them for a long time, as usually it’s the woman in the family who has to take care of the family. If there’s more studying involved, and a child is on the way, there would most likely be a break that would make it tough to manage a higher academic degree. — Kriti Khare

I believe one reason women choose to not pursue a higher degree, even when they are totally dedicated towards their field is harassment in the higher education environment. I have learned from my female friends that often a higher degree or professional status leads to an increase in sexual harassment as men are trying to men often try to put women ‘in their place’.

Based on my own experiences with women in undergraduate degrees, I can only say that the situation gets worse as women are mocked and looked down upon even when they succeed in building great products. A stroke of luck — that’s what ‘they’ like to call it when a woman builds something. On the other hand, a man may be appreciated beyond what he deserves for something that doesn’t even come close.

Men: Responsibility or Liability?

Male dominance isn’t something we can ignore, because well, we’re everywhere. The sad part is though, that this is often neglected when it comes to making key policy decisions that involve women in the workplace.

I think it is our responsibility, as men, to improve the climate in the workplace so that it becomes more appealing to women. Instead, the current climate has been largely uncooperative, especially in developing countries, and when it comes to building a team, people usually have other interests apart from actually considering the woman a leader.

I am repulsed by the idea of treating a woman as a commodity instead of a person. I hate to use this word and yet there’s always this hint of desperation and loathing that accompanies perceptions of women who are working really hard to make a name for themselves.

I believe that we must make it a point to build a system that eliminates the need for women quit their jobs in order to take care of the family. That can be included into the work culture by asking and cultivating the habit for men to take care of the house, allowing them to breathe in a different space altogether while women earn for the family. It would also help both sexes understand what challenges they face in their respective lives, and how they can work together to reduce them.

No matter what we do to make women more comfortable at work, if they are not considered equals — not treated, but considered — we will continue to witness feminism as just another word thrown here and there for the purposes of indicating that “Look, women are being included as well”, when nothing really happens. Feminism is the first step towards gender equality!

Women at work have never been treated the same as men at work. Men often don’t see it because it hasn’t happened to them. But that doesn’t mean the disparity does not exist and the way we are going to change it is by talking about it and calling it out.

Featured Image Source: Sushicam on Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND