Young Women In The Workplace: A Story
Imagine for a moment that you’re a 22 year old woman, freshly graduated from a top university, and you’re eager to start your new job. You’re excited to use your knowledge and enthusiasm to add value at your new workplace and to grow in your career.
Reality hits hard. Those brains you have? Nah, no one is too interested in hearing what you have to say. You’re a young woman, and you’re expected to act a certain way. Stay in line. Don’t say too much. Be nice, smile, be polite, don’t rock the boat.
If you step out of line? Patriarchal office culture is ready to hit back hard. Got an opinion on something? You’re young, and you’re female. What you have to say can’t be too important. At best you’ll be ignored, at worst you’ll be targeted.
Those older guys in charge? At best they see you as a potential blow to their fragile male egos with your brains, ideas, and enthusiasm. At worst, they see you as a sexual object, easy to gain power over because of your position in the workplace, your age, and your gender. Either way, they’re not likely to take you too seriously.
Women? Some want to help, but a lot of the time they’d like to keep you down too. They worked hard to get where they are, and they don’t want someone young taking what’s rightfully there. So get in line.
This is the reality of corporate culture for many young women. This is the system that seems antiquated in the 21st century but is still the prevailing system. This is the system that forces women to act a certain way, be a certain way, or face drastic consequences. And it’s even more damning for women of color. Not a pretty picture.
This system needs to change. Young women should be allowed to speak up and share their opinions without facing repercussions. They should be valued for their brains, not their appearance and sexual value. Their leadership skills and “aggressiveness” should be encouraged just as much as it is for young men.
The fact of the matter is that the future is female, and this scares the men who are mostly in power these days. There are more women graduating from college. Female leaders possess the right skills to succeed in the 21st century, with their ability to build consensus and cooperation and their high emotional intelligence. Corporate culture should be ushering in the new era of women with open arms.
Call me cynical, but I don’t see it. I’ve been a huge supporter and mentor of young female professionals in the workplace for many years. The obstacles that they face are myriad, as I’ve outlined above. I can only do so much.
I don’t know how to change the system that exists beyond calling out what I see and acting as a role model as a good leader who is gender blind (or to be more honest, I lean more heavily toward believing women are better workers. Just being honest).
I’m calling for other leaders to recognize that we need to do better to allow these young women to flourish. Join me on my crusade, and watch corporate performance skyrocket. This isn’t just the right thing to do, but the profitable thing.
Let’s make sure that women are encouraged to succeed rather than placing so many barriers in their way.