Last night, I was in pariSoma in a small conference room listening to Nita Singh Kaushal speak on the current state of women in the workplace, and it was not looking good.
On the PowerPoint screen, she pointed to 2011 statistics which told us, point blank, that women are still only making 77.5 cents for every dollar that men are making across the career landscape. And that women CEOs, when compared to their male counterparts, controlling for the size of the company and other variances, are still receiving only 85% the compensation that the men are receiving.
The harrowing truth behind these statistics is that there is still gender-bias in the workplace, and Nita was convinced that not only was it systemic, a societal flaw we’re still trying to overcome—women themselves were partly to blame for the gap.
She cited a story from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg who talked of wanting to promote a woman who was hesitant about taking the promotion. The hesitation, she later confirmed, was due to anxiety around having time to raise a family and balance the workload of a position with more responsibility. Sheryl’s advice? “Don’t leave before you leave.” To drive the point home, Nita argued that women tend to “be forward thinking but make decisions prematurely” when it comes to their careers and their lives.
The presentation really struck me. As a woman who is very career-driven, it was refreshing and intellectually stimulating to hear someone speak so candidly on the topic of gender inequality in the workplace. Nita herself is the founder of Miss CEO, an educational startup focused on delivering premier leadership training, educational resources and mentoring to girls ages 12-18. There was plenty of discussion among the attendees, and it was fascinating to hear every woman in the room’s point of view—because they truly were very different.
One woman talked about how she is always encouraged to be “more strict” in her managerial role, but she doesn’t want to appear harsh or mean. Another woman talked about how society in the United States seems to look down on women who don’t prioritize a family, and that it was difficult to overcome the stigma.
Her talk wasn’t just focused on the problems, however. Nita laid out practical tips that were immediately actionable to help women make smart decisions at work and move forward. One example was, “pretend you’re negotiating for someone else,” based on the statistic that women managers excel at advocating for others—why not for themselves? Another point Nita made was to know the difference between a mentor and a sponsor when seeking guidance and role models. She also gave advice on how to measure your work and to strategically gain more visible projects that earn you more credit.
Talks like these remind us women that, unfortunately, the road to success in the workplace may sometimes seem like a different one than the road that our male counterparts take. But that doesn’t mean it’s less viable, we’re less deserving, or the end is any less rewarding.
The game begins when we envision what we want. Once you’ve got that, the game is on, and as Elizabeth Taylor once said, “Now is the time for guts and guile.”