In my last few articles I’ve danced around an issue and now I am just going to put it out there.
Is corporate America using female employees as a ploy in their business development and marketing? And even worse, are women blind to it?
In the last few weeks I’ve seen a lot of companies show off their female employees but on closer examination the women really aren’t being set up for advancement. Also a few weeks ago I attended an annual forum sponsored by a major university and general contractors to advance women in construction. I’ve attended this forum for a few years and every year something about it bugs me. It just doesn’t feel right.
The first year I attended I hoped the discussion would center around women’s issues and challenges in non-traditional role. It didn’t. They discussed an industry sector. I thought this was odd, but at the time I was frustrated at work and thought it might just be me. All the women at the conference were proud of their careers and seemed happy and satisfied. No one let on that they were treated any differently than men. It seemed they were all in Utopia.
Well, finally this year some things became clear. I’ve spent a lot of time in women’s networking groups and understand how business women talk when it is just them. I realized just how odd it was that the forum centers around discussing an industry sector – this is what men talk about when they get together! The format of the forum was decided by men!
Then it really hit me – this forum is really all about business development. What better way to network with entities the major sponsor wants to do business with, than bring in women from those entities to speak to and network with the sponsor’s female employees.
Brilliant marketing strategy!
And as for advancing women in non-traditional roles, that is just an illusion.
Now you may think I am cynical but I am really just showing my age.
Back in the days when women were first emerging into non-traditional roles, tasks were divided. Women did tasks that required organization, administrative skills and were in the office. These tasks supposedly appealed to our feminine qualities and didn’t challenge what men did.
Listening to the younger women at the conference I was transported back in time. While each of the women did a stint out in the field, they were happy to return to the office where they could wear nice clothes and do the same tasks women were limited to 25 years ago!
I did talk to one woman who was in a field position and worked for the company for 10 years. The problem is that she is in a job for someone 2-3 years out of college – not 10 years into her career! I know enough of her male peers to know they have progressed beyond that position.
All of this has me wondering about the real reason women aren’t climbing the corporate ladder.
Are we naïve? Are we being manipulated by men? Outplayed?
Have we concerned ourselves so much with work/life balance that we returned to the 1980’s?
Or are the male managers stuck in the 80’s?
I blame some of my female peers for that – most (if not all) left engineering for more traditional jobs. One of my peers opened a cupcake shop and a second a donut shop! All of the women I knew in trade jobs returned to admin positions. They sent a message to our male peers that women were uncomfortable in traditional male roles – we like administrative office jobs.
My male peers are now the managers. They understand fostering women in non-traditional roles is good for business. In their experience though, the best way to retain women in non-traditional roles is to limit them to traditional tasks.
This keeps everyone comfortably tucked away in their comfort zones.
Without more women of my generation giving this younger generation of women a bigger concept of who women are and what we can accomplish, women will not advance.
If women believe their company’s marketing hype without question, they are buying into an illusion. The illusion makes them feel good, it tells them they have everything they want – a non-traditional career, work/life balance, a chance to look nice, lower stress. It’s Utopia. But they need to step back, take off the blinders and figure out if they are in a pretty little box that keeps them from being all they can and achieving all they can.
Empowered women know:
“If you are not careful you will end up living the illusions that others have created for you.” ― Steven Redhead, The Solution