January 2012

"Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?"

By Julie Swaner

In 1956, before women entered the workplace in droves, Broadway audiences roared with laughter when Professor Henry Higgins of My Fair Lady complained about Eliza Doolittle’s behavior and uttered these famous words: “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”.

Many of us are no longer laughing, and nothing seems particularly funny about continued inequalities for women in the workplace. At a time when women’s representation in the workforce is at its highest level and women-owned businesses have doubled in the last dozen years, women still lag in wage disparities and leadership roles in corporate America.

The problem of pay equity and the omnipresent glass ceiling continue as obstacles to women’s career success. It’s not simply about leveling the playing field at work. I have come to the conclusion that women must be taught, carefully taught, to make different kinds of career-related decisions. And they must learn that everything is negotiable: salaries, working conditions, childcare, and more.

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” As a feminist, I thought I would never hear myself utter those words! I see that when women follow masculine norms, they are seen as too tough. When they embody certain feminine stereotypes, they’re too soft. So women are destined to fall into a double-bind dilemma of “damned if you do, doomed if you don’t.”

However, in my 10 years of working with alumni job seekers, I have found that there are aspects to personal career planning and salary negotiation where men are simply more adroit than women. One suggestion for coaching and advising women is to encourage them to follow some nontraditional employment paths. Effective career planning means considering all of your options before choosing a career path.

The U.S. Department of Labor defines a nontraditional occupation for women as one in which they constitute less than 25 percent of those employed in the field.

  • Women are underrepresented in many occupations, including those in the trades, technology, and science fields, which typically pay well.
  • Women employed in nontraditional jobs earn higher wages than women employed in traditionally female occupations.

Women often make poor career choices when they fail to challenge their assumptions about the world of work. And in Utah, women mythologize and often think they won’t have to work or they will only work until…  This represents a kind of career delusion, because Utah has one of the highest rates of working females in the adult population. So embarking on a career path means that you might need to challenge the assumptions of your parents, your professors, your friends, and your own cultural milieu. Ask yourself:

  • Where’s your information coming from?
  • Are you generalizing?
  • Is it possible that you’ve been misinformed about a certain career path?
  • Are you taking information from non-credible sources?

Salary negotiation is another area where I wish women were more like men. Women enter the salary negotiation phase and, according to one human-resources person with whom I spoke, 50 to 60 percent of them accept the offer that was given. “It’s insane,” indicated this same person. “I know I can get authorization for more. Almost 90 percent of the men always negotiate that same offer.” So if you women are reading this out there:

  • Don't be afraid to ask for more. It's not insulting or in any way going to affect your ability to be hired. They can always say no.
  • When you ask for more, give a number! If you let the recruiter or HR person pick, they may continue to lowball it.
  • Ask for raises. Confident people get them more often than high performers in a heavy bureaucracy.

Need help in a career choice for you, whether it is traditional or nontraditional? Please feel free to contact me. It is too important to leave this to chance.

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Need help with a career choice for you, whether it is traditional or nontraditional? Contact Julie Swaner, director of Alumni Career Programs at the University of Utah, (801) 585-5036.

The mission of the Alumni Association is to support the University of Utah’s pursuit of excellence by forging and preserving lifelong relationships with alumni, students, and the community.