Why Do We Have Fewer Women in the Workplace?

I was surprised to read recently that the number of women in the workplace in the United States has declined. In a recent article, Gail Collins of the New York Times reported that the United States now ranks twentieth out of twenty-four industrialized countries for women in the labor force. We used to rank seventh. This can’t be good for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • The US economy has not been robust since the great recession of 2008. Higher employment is needed to stimulate the overall economy.
  • Wages have been stagnant, and Americans report feeling economically fragile.
  • Most US households are more dependent than ever on two incomes to maintain a family. When one parent leaves the workforce in a two-parent family, the standard of living falls for the family.
So, why are women leaving the workforce in the United States in greater numbers than in other developed countries?  Collins says the answer is the cost of childcare. She cites these statistics from the Economic Policy Institute on family budgets:
  • The cost of childcare for a family with a four-year-old and an eight-year-old exceeds housing costs for the family.
  • A single working mother with those same two children spends one-third of her income on childcare.
  • In most states, infant care is more expensive than college tuition.
Other countries, like Japan, which now has a higher proportion of working women than we do, recognize that higher employment rates for women is good for the economy. They implement family-friendly policies, such as subsidized childcare and paid family leave, in order to encourage women to enter and stay in the labor market. In a previous article, I reviewed lessons learned from the implementation of family-friendly policies in other countries. There are many best practices we can learn from. It really does not make sense for the overall economy, for families, or for women’s careers for these obstacles—childcare costs and lack of paid family leave—to exist in the United States of America. Let’s hold our presidential candidates and law makers accountable for correcting this problem.   Image provided courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Now That Men Can Cry at Work, Why Can’t Women?

The cultural climate may finally be changing for men—which could be good news for women in the workplace. In a recent New York Times article, Jim Windolf makes the case that “the cultural bias against male tears” may be a thing of the past. This bias equates tears with weakness and treats the ability to “quash or conceal sadness or pain” as a manly virtue and a sign of strength. I have always felt that suppressing tears and quashing feelings cuts us off from full and authentic self-expression in the workplace. The author agrees that “crying is part of being human, and men are probably just as human as anybody else.” Windolf notes that these days male politicians are practically required to show their humanity by shedding a few tears in public. He recalls that Barack Obama cried in public before he was elected in 2008, and Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner have cried in public, too. While it is true that Boehner still gets teased about how easily he cries, he may have done more than any other politician to normalize the sight of a strong male leader crying. Windolf goes on to identify other examples of men “slipping out of the emotional straitjacket” by crying in public, including Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, and several sports figures such as Wilmer Flores of the New York Mets. Why could this change be good for women?  I have written in a past article about the pressure my female clients are under to suppress their tears at work. They have been told that it is bad to be seen as “too emotional” and that “leaders don’t cry.”  Yet tears are a natural form of expression of a wide range of feelings from intense joy to deep frustration. I offer tips in my past article about how to handle authentic emotion in the workplace. Being able to express a full range of emotion is part of effective communication and authentic leadership. Let’s hope the emotional straitjacket is finally coming off for both women and men in the workplace. I know we’re not there yet, but the signs of change in the larger society are encouraging. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Tears at Work: Natural but Taboo

The Complexity of Connection. As one of my research participants explained, in most workplaces where masculine workplace values dominate the culture, you are expected to “leave your feelings at the door” when you come into the workplace. I have always felt that tears are a natural expression of a wide range of emotions, from intense joy to deep frustration or disappointment, as well as less extreme emotional reactions, such as a release in response to the pressures of deadlines. Both men and women shed tears at work, but because of our socialization, women tend to express emotion more easily and tears come more often for them. Anne Kreamer’s study found that women cry in the office more than men do—40 percent of women cry compared with 9 percent of men. I feel sad, though, that so many of my female clients feel they must suppress their tears at work. They have sometimes been told by supervisors that they are “too emotional.” When I ask why they think they should stuff down their tears, they have many answers:

  • They will be seen as weak if they shed tears.
  • They will make their male colleagues and bosses uncomfortable.
  • They will be seen as irrational and out of control.
  • They have been told that you can’t be a leader and cry.
These reasons have never made sense to me. Expressing a full range of emotions is part of effective communication and authentic leadership. When women (and men) have to choke off their tears, they are choking off their ability to fully and authentically express themselves and they are suppressing their voices. Here are some ideas for what to do when your emotions and your eyes well up at work.
  • Keep breathing, rather than trying to choke your tears down by holding your breath. You will probably find that if you keep breathing you can continue to talk.
  • Explain to your coworkers that you are fine and that your tears do not mean you cannot participate in the conversation or meeting. Explain what you’re feeling (frustration, joy, or whatever) right now; these feelings are probably very relevant to what is going on. Just keep talking if you can.
  • Excuse yourself and step out if you need a break because your emotions are really strong; then come back when you are ready. Explain your actions and pick up where you left off, thereby demonstrating that people can cry and not become dysfunctional.
Being authentic makes you a stronger leader, not a weaker one. When you are authentic, people will trust you more and become more comfortable with emotions—maybe even with their own. We are, after all, all human. Where do you stand on this issue? Write to me and let me know.]]>