An overwhelming 91% of women say they feel they have to prove themselves more than men at work, according to a Workingmums.co.uk poll.
The poll of more than 350 women found 8% said they did not have to prove themselves more than men at work – this included women who worked in all-female environments and the self employed. One per cent said they didn’t know.
One woman commented: “I work in a government department that boasts equality, but often the ‘better’ or simply the more challenging and satisfying roles are passed over to men within the office.”
Another said: “I work in a consultancy that is 60% male and the emphasis is always on the male career and women are viewed as a temporary stop gap who are looking for marriage and a family.”
This was echoed by another respondent who stated: “The more interesting jobs are always passed over to less qualified and less experienced men while I have to do the ‘donkey work’ that makes them look good!”
Another said that she had been sidelined since returning to work from maternity leave. She said: “I have not been offered any of the opportunities given to my male colleagues with the clear message that they are ‘readily available’ and I do not guarantee flexibility.”
A recently published book on unconscious gender bias at work by US lawyer Joan C. Williams and her daughter Anne-Marie Slaughter found just over two thirds of women felt they not only had to prove themselves at work, but prove themselves continually to be seen as equally competent as men in ways that men did not have to.
The book singles out five patterns which explain this phenomenon: men are judged on potential whereas women are judged on achievement; men’s successes are attributed to skill whilst women’s are overlooked or attributed to luck, with the reverse applying to mistakes; objective requirements are applied strictly to women and leniently to men; women are ‘gossiping’ whereas men are ‘talking about business’; and what is seen as important for a given job is whatever the male candidate has.
The book, What Works for Women at Work, states: “Different ways of naming the same behaviour have a huge impact on how a conflict and its participants are perceived. Sometimes when women are on the phone at wok, it’s for a personal call.
Sometimes it’s a business call. The same is true for men. But bias leads people to interpret the same action differently for men and for women, creating the illusion that men are more serious workers than women are and, once again, reinforcing the very stereotypes that drive the bias in the first place.”
The book recognises that women sometimes play down their achievements, which again is a result of social stereotyping.
In her foreword, Anne-Marie Slaughter writes that studies show why this gender bias is often overlooked by men. “We are living and working in a world shaped by deeply, deeply embedded assumptions about gender roles.
These assumptions are laid down from infancy onward and create a set of filters in our brains that condition our interpretation of virtually all human interaction.”
She is optimistic, however, about the future, not just because people can be made aware of unconscious bias, but also because of the growing number of women who are in the workplace, including their partners and their daughters.