Let’s talk about women in the workplace

Here’s a riddle: a father and a son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital, but just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate — that boy is my son!” Explain.

Ready for the answer?

The surgeon is his mother.

Did you come up with multiple solutions where the surgeon was still a man? If so, do not feel bad, you are in the majority. 

According to a Boston University College of Arts & Sciences study of 197 BU psychology students and 103 children, only 15% of children and 14% of BU students answered correctly. 

What makes imagining the surgeon as a woman so hard for some? Gender schemas or generalizations that help one better understand the complex world.

The generalizations “don’t reflect personal values or life experience,” explains Mikaela Wapman, one of the researchers. 

“Schemas are very, very powerful,” Deborah Belle, a BU College of Arts & Sciences psychology professor, added. 

The BU study also points to Virginia Valian, a Hunter College psychologist, who found that when people were presented with the same CV for a man and woman they typically assume the man is more competent.

“I have learned that in many cultures, including places in America, girls are still being taught that we’re not good enough,” Melissa Sanderson, vice president of international affairs at Freeport-McMorRan, said at the Global Chamber Annual Women’s Panel. “You’re not good enough dot dot dot, to be a brain surgeon, to be a banker, to be a diplomat. I’ve learned that we need to work cohesively with mothers, with teachers and with the young folk to say, ‘you are good enough, good enough for whatever you want to be.’”

In the United States, women currently make up 50.8 percent of the population, 57 percent of undergraduate degree holders and 59 percent of master’s degree holders, but only 40 percent of the workforce, and the number of women at the top of companies is significantly lower.

According to MSCI, a financial planning company, companies with three or more women on the board perform better financially. They also saw higher average dividend payout ratios and return on equity.\ 

So why aren’t more companies hiring women in higher positions? Besides societal schemas, one reason may be that women are less likely to apply for jobs than men.

LinkedIn found that men and women view roughly the same number of jobs, but women are 16 percent less likely to apply for a job. One reason for this could be because women are less confident than men in their skills. 

“When a leadership position becomes available, men will review and they will apply for the leadership position when they think that they have 50 percent of the qualifications. Women will not apply until they are confident they have 100 percent of the qualifications,” Jaime Daddona, partner at Squire Patton Boggs, said at the panel. 

Since 1970, 26 percent of the growth in the U.S. GDP has been directly attributed to having more women in the workforce and according to Forbes Magazine, women are valuable to hire because they are highly qualified leaders, more likely to seek out opportunities to learn and improve throughout their career, and organizations/companies benefit from a more diverse workforce.

According to the Global Chamber panel, it is up to leaders to create an environment that attracts women to the workforce and leadership positions.

“I think by collectively getting together and encouraging women to step up and say ‘wow, you know this is what you’re really strong at. I think you have so many talents in these categories.’ Having that community to support them and encourage them to apply, we’ll go so much further,” Lindsay Moellenberndt, vice president of client development at Cresa, said.

“It’s the leaders in the organizations,” Haley Metcalf, event director at Phoenix Business Journal, said. “It’s the men that are there right now knowing the importance for the women to stay… It’s great that us women, we are here for each other and can talk about that, but I do think it’s really important that we do focus on the male aspect and understand what are their thoughts on it and really collaborate with them… I think it really starts from the top.”

“Male mentors are very actively engaged and says to a younger person, there’s a training course you can do. There’s an online course at the university that would be really useful for you. I don’t see that as much with women when they mentor. I think we’re better maybe at emotional support than we are sometimes at concrete ‘this is what you’re going to need to get to the next level’ advice,” Sanderson said.

According to Metcalf, it is also important for young women to have confidence and not be scared of trying new things and opportunities.

“Especially as a young leader, it’s so important to have that confidence and have that trust in yourself because your teammates can see that. If you’re not trusting in your leadership ability, they’ll sense that and they’ll know that,” she said. “It’s so important to surround yourself with smarter, better people than you and don’t be afraid as a young leader, or any age, to go out and try new things.” 

Emily Richardson

Add comment

Subscribe to the Dry Heat

Get updates on the most important news delivered right to your email. Fully personalized options. No SPAM. Unsubscribe anytime.

Sign Me Up!

Let’s Get Social

Chamber Business News wants to connect with you. Follow us, tweet, share, post, comment... however you get social is the perfect way to connect.