How are women “doers” and what does it do to my value if I let go of that mindset? I was recently asked this question based on my statement that women are “doers.” I never want to speak for a group of individuals in totality because I realize identity is more than a singular grouping, and each person identifies within a group differently. But I do feel that women have been given a different value currency than men in the workplace. And a lot of that has to do with the way we view their acts of "doing."
When assessing women’s roles across various cultures, there is a common element of “doing” that exists. Historically, in a traditional American culture, women used to be the ones who stayed home with children. Their "doing" consisted of domestic duties, child rearing, and maybe some sort of community involvement. The currency for this work was typically non-monetary. In African cultures, the historical "doing" -I say historical to give credit to the changing attitudes regarding gender roles and sexuality in Africa- was deeply tied to the gathering duties, or agricultural work. Planting and harvesting crops, processing, and preparing food, gathering water, etc., are some examples of the tasks performed. The currency for this work was non-monetary but still important- sustenance. Men oversaw the sale, distribution, and money associated with crops.
This is a similar scenario in many cultures from a historical standpoint- women performing activities that traditionally yield a non-monetary currency. Throughout history, women’s rights have evolved, lifting restrictions on what woman can do and opening doors for them. The American culture looks different today. More and more members of households share the domestic tasks equally, regardless of gender identity. And they share the financial burden of supporting their households. But the value currency assigned to women continues to lag and has yet to reach that equivalent to men. While we may have evolved beyond trying to define a “traditional" structure in the home, we have yet to carry that evolution of thought into the organizations employing these women.
Europe is a great example of working to create gender equality. Sweden’s gender equality policy aims at giving women the same power as men to “shape society and their own lives"(sweden.se). That sounds like a goal I can get behind! Then why is there still a pay gap between men and women even in Sweden? In 2020, women’s salaries were 90% of men’s. It's because we have work to do in bringing change of mindset to life. In the US, women still made 84% of what men did in 2020 -those that remained employed (pewresearch.org). While we have evolved in seeing women as equal contributors, and we have evolved in embracing women in "doing" things in exchange for monetary currency, some organizational values and architecture pre-date this modernized thinking. The industrial era brought women into the workforce, but it was not designed for the working woman of today. The first and second industrial revolutions occurred before women even had the right to vote. And when the third industrial revolution took place in 1969, the basis for expanding business with a woman in mind was made at a time where less than 40% of women were part of the workforce.
The shaping and building of the traditional organizational structure lacked a diverse voice. This means that a shift towards re-valuing women requires a mind shift change; it is not inherent to the core of a traditional structure. We believe in women as equal contributors. But that is no longer enough. We need to start looking at the way traditional organizations are structured and dig into why we are not living out those beliefs. Why are women getting paid less? What are parts of the organization that enables or even perpetuates this? In doing that work, we can support the shift in thinking of women as "doers" to women as equal contributors. Currently, lower paying jobs are in higher demand for women. And they tend to come with a higher quantity of work. But we need women in leadership roles, to bring that "doer" mindset into leadership and reframe it from task oriented to strategy-oriented work. We need allies for women to develop into these roles. Which means we need to grant permission to change the way the work is done. And we need to compensate them adequately for their contributions.
One way we can support the development of women into leadership roles is to uncover the barriers they face in getting a leadership position. What is preventing women from growing in your own organization? I am confident that simply asking the question would yield some valuable feedback. The reasons are different for every organization, but there are some underlying themes when we think about the creation of the organizational model during the industrial era. We have already established the foundation created during this era didn’t have the woman leader as a main player in its design. And we have established views on women are changing and evolving over time. But what infrastructural elements have failed to keep up?
Consider the evolution of family medical leave protections as an example. How are they interpreted and applied in your own company? Are they updated to address current barriers? Pregnancy discrimination is one of those items that was intended to support the evolution of women in the workplace but has carried unintended consequences that now might be working against their growth efforts. Having a child is stilled viewed as a disability under the EEOC (eeoc.gov/pregnancy-discrimination). While this might be the right step to protect someone from discrimination, to protect their job during a leave, and ensure equal opportunity to jobs, the designation alone carries a subconscious association with one’s ability to do a job. When someone leverages a “disability” benefit, how does your organization see them? Does their time off continue to count towards days worked?
What does that do for their seniority track? How does it affect promotional opportunities? And what are women left to grapple with in this instance? Care for a newly born child (sometimes without pay) and heal their body from a massive undertaking? Or rush back to work to start the clock ticking again so they may be considered for the next opportunity.This example perpetuates the psychological concept of “doing” and proving. Pay is equated to tasks. The more doing, the more pay. Women are historically doers. And some outdated organizational infrastructures have not caught up with the evolving view of how that “doing” has changed and should be compensated. What if a company didn’t stop that clock during maternity leave? What would that do to a women’s opportunities when they returned? How much would that cost a company? While this is just one example, the message is the same. We must challenge what we have known about organizational structure and culture in the past. And we must be willing to change it. We must recognize and accept that women have been in the workplace less than men, but women haven’t been working less than men. Maybe that is the first step towards undoing the ‘doer’ mindset. It is challenging. And accepting a challenge.