Women’s choices are hard to make
WOMEN are still being treated unfairly at work and at home, even though the topic should have reached maturity. And the underlying issue of power is the main driving force behind structural inequality.
Women are eager to work and have as much aspiration as men to advance. It seems strange that organisations are so stubborn to adapt in order to recognise the patterns of unequal power relations and to acknowledge the societal impediments that women face.
Once organisations take the realities of women seriously, women and men will be able to participate at work bringing their full selves and talents to bear. When employees make it known that they feel that they are being treated unfairly, it takes a thoughtful manager to stop and listen.
The perception of fairness depends on the delicate interplay of socialised norms, cultural values, psychological predisposition and religious convictions. This interplay is couched in power relations, a power that presents itself as subtle and covert. They manifest in inequitable practices that are passed off as “the reality” or “the way things work”.
Women are caught up in this power play as they cannot always articulate a different way of being and acting. The way their choices are presented to them seem fixed and unchangeable. A woman may be stuck in merely voicing her dissatisfaction or bearing it.
The socialisation of girls to be good mothers and wives, which in general is laudable, is probably the most influential, and is in direct conflict with workplace requirements.
A woman, with or without children, is measured as either a good mother/wife or an ideal worker – seldom both.
In addition, workers are spending more time at work and in a demanding competitive culture, overwork has become virtuous.
While organisations may reap the financial benefits of allowing overwork cultures, employees are often caught on a treadmill of ever-increasing demands that eventually consume their lives.
As women carry the burden of unequal distribution of home and childcare, keeping up with the overwork culture becomes exhausting and may lead to to opting out of paid work. The argument that they willingly choose to leave is therefore a half-truth – they are often forced out.
Since women do not want to fragment their families by relying on parents and other family members to assist in shouldering the responsibility of care and nurture for their children, they may stop pursuing their careers with vigour.
These “choices” are hard ones to make and leave women feeling disillusioned and weak. To add insult to injury the inequality between men and women with similar credentials, education and abilities is attributed to a lack of talent, effort or desire on the part of women.
To shift societal norms that penetrate workplace logic, organisations should re-examine workplace structures, recruitment, selection, performance management and promotion to eliminate bias.
Also, women should be coached on how to negotiate improved sharing of house and childcare with their partners and they should continue to voice their concerns about fairness, and should perhaps be invited to openly discuss their experiences with managers.
Managers in turn, should understand the full life context of their employees and be realistic about performance targets and workplace outputs.
The overwork culture… may lead to opting out of paid work
University of Stellenbosch Business School