The Problem with Gender Equality in the Workplace

First published in Feb 2008
Original Post - "The Struggle of Achieving Gender Equality in the Workplace"

I recently had a conversation with a female resident in my dorm about how women are underrepresented in the top level positions of academia and industry. Our discussion centered around the fact that as a man, I come into the conversation with assumptions about how women should be treated in the work-force. I recently wrote her an email:

” I’m not trying to start anything here. Like I said earlier, I am 100% in support of getting women equal salaries and top positions in industry and academia. But getting there will be very hard, because of one fact:

Women bear children and are generally expected to the primary caretaker for their children at least through infancy.

Penelope Trunk is an amazing writer/blogger and her blog Brazen Careerist is one of the few blogs where every single post is both worth reading and worth saving for future reference. She also talks about her personal issues, liker going into couples therapy and eventually annoucing her divorce. But it’s never annoying, but always mixed with some advice and reflection on the situation.

She blogged 6 years ago about how getting pregnant later in her career has affected her: Slowing down a career to have kids

I had access to education, I had access to the pill, I had access to money and jobs. I felt that society easily accepted my choices to be single, to focus on my career. Everyone told me “don’t worry about kids, you’ll have time.” … I thought I was so smart, so organized and driven for waiting. But I’m not sure if waiting got me all that much except a high-risk pregnancy.

She blogged recently about what post-partum depression was like for her - a working mother with no time off - and the story is heart-wrenching, real and illustrates the difficulties that women who wish to have a family face when advancing their career.

The part of postpartum depression that no one talks about

-Jason

I am a liberal and I believe that organizations benefit immensely when women hold top level jobs - including CEO - but I also recognize that there are biological constraints on when a women can do certain things like bear children, and a longer lasting societal expectation about how she is supposed to raise those children, (at home), that interfere with the promise of gender equality. It's unfortunate, but undeniable.

The takeaway point I want to make here isn't that it's impossible for women to succeed professionally, but that I think there is a choice that women have to make that, fair or unfair, men do not (as of now) have to make regarding children that will make a direct impact on their careers. Plenty of women have made it with children, (Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach for America, had 4 kids while in that role) but it's very difficult, and it's not something that we can take lightly.