In Honor of Women’s History Month

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Barriers Women Face in a Job Search:

As a female career advisor with a Minor in Women’s Studies, I often work with women job seekers on ways to overcome barriers in their job search,both at Becker College and in the Job Search Club in which I run.  Women face disability, race and unemployment discrimination, on top of gender discrimination, compounding the problem.  As this week is the start of Women’s History Month, I thought I would focus on barriers based on gender.

As women are the child bearers, and are responsible for most of the caretaking roles for their children and, often, their elderly parents, they are subject to a significant disadvantage on the job, as well as during the job search. The need for family life balance is held against them in hiring and promotion decisions. If they leave the workforce for extended times to bear and take care of their children, they find reentry difficult as employers are looking to hire people with current experience and set of skills.

Although gender discrimination is illegal in the interviewing and hiring process, and questions about family status are prohibited, hiring managers find ways to ask candidates roundabout questions to get them to share family information.  For example, in Cynthia Shapiro’s book, What Does Somebody Have to do to Get a Job Around Here? 44 Insider Secrets That Will Get You Hired,  she describes ways that hiring managers get candidates to reveal such info:

Interviewer: Sorry I’m late; I had to pick up my daughter from soccer practice.  Aren’t kids great? [Long pause, waiting for reciprocation]

Candidate: Yes, they are; how old is your daughter?  What position does she play?

In this exchange, the interviewer is looking for the natural reaction of most mothers to say “Yes, I know the story; I have three kids, and am always stuck with transporting them to their activities.”  With this admission, you would have voluntarily just given the interviewer knowledge of your children, something that they cannot ask you about directly.  Why do they want to know if you have children?  Statically, women are the ones who transport their kids to activities and stay home with them when they are sick, and employers do not want to deal with employees who they view at risk of being absent and needing flex time.

In Ms. Shapiro book, she states that, by sharing your status as a mother, you are at risk of losing potential job offers and making on average $11,000 less per year.  I highly recommend her book as a way to prepare for these kinds of questions, to be sure that you do not unnecessarily reveal private information in an interview.

Another problem women face is in the pay they receive once they get a job offer.  Women currently earn 79 cents on every dollar compared to men, and black women earn 89 cents on every dollar that black men earn, who in turn earn 75 cents on every dollar compared to white men.  Translation? Women overall make less than men, and black women make significantly less than men or white women. Additionally, women make up less than 4% of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies.

In Ms. Shapiro’s book, she asserts that is partly due to women not asking for more, and, by default, settling for less.  She advises that every woman should negotiate pay and benefits after a job offer, and that by not doing so, she risks more than additional money.  Employers expect you to negotiate and will respect you more if you do.  In a book by Linda Bobcock, called “Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation–and Positive Strategies for Change,” she reveals how 46% of men always negotiate following a job offer, and only 30% of women do.  In a recent article in Fast Company, it was stated that by not negotiating pay, over a career, it could cost women up to $500,000 each, on average.  If you are not comfortable with negotiating pay, I would recommend working with a career coach, as well as reading these books and articles on the subject.

There are many more barriers women face in the job market, which is why they are protected under the Affirmative Action of US labor law.  I hope this blog helps my fellow women, both job seekers and career changers.  Please share with me your personal stories of barriers you faced in your job search, as well as in your career.

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About Rachelle Lappinen

​Rachelle Lappinen is a Career and Academic Consultant and a Green Energy Ambassador. Currently, Rachelle serves as an education advocate for MassEdco working with high school students on college and career navigation. Rachelle also consults working with MIT on a research program, researching the effects of long-term unemployment on the middle class and developing best practices to help this population. Rachelle has worked at Mount Wachusett Community College, the YWCA and Becker College as a Career Development Counselor. Before becoming entering the field of workforce development, Rachelle spent over 10 years working as an insurance underwriter. Throughout her coaching and volunteer experiences, Rachelle has been noted for her determination and persistence to help those in need of career guidance. As a volunteer, Rachelle is actively involved with the non-profit organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Leominster and Fitchburg and the Center for Women and Enterprises. Prior to entering the coaching world, Rachelle was a senior group insurance underwriter for Unum, and sales representative for Prudential Financial. She actively involved with the Career Counselors Consortium and is a member of the Career Resource Rachelle M. Lappinen, MBA, GCDF, CPRW
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