• Fern Lee

The truth about women in the workplace

Updated: Jan 2

The truth about women in the workplace starts off as a heartbreaking story but I don't believe that it has to end badly. I believe we can determine our ending and make it a happy one.

Why is it heartbreaking?

As young girls, we start out full of hope. Not only that, we are given that hope, by the adults in our lives - parents, schoolteachers, journalists and writers. We are told that we can be whoever it is that we want to be. We are equal to the boys, we can do as much as they can, nay, more and much, much better.

We are smart and studious. We work hard. We think merit will help us excel and propel us forward. We believe that we are judged on our strengths and our results we produce when in fact we are sized up by our looks and our gender.

Evidence has shown that more women graduate each year than men. It's a fact. McKinsey & Co, together with LeanIn.Org, has carried out one of the most comprehensive studies which reveals this startling but unsurprising fact. (See the entire report here)

Yet, after graduation, fewer women are hired than men.

Why is that? What do you think causes that difference?

The percentage isn't small by any means, but when it comes to getting promoted later on in their careers, even fewer women get that promotion. In addition to natural attrition rate due to raising kids (women are still the primary caregivers) and changes in careers, women just don't get to the top.

So men end up ruling the world.

By careful social (or professional) engineering, a frat party, a boys' club that protects its own - whatever you want to call it, you have men who run the world, who push women out. Systematically, organically. However, you want to label it. The fact is still the same. Women are second class citizens. We still get the short end of the stick.

I think if we don't speak this truth, we won't get past it. We then can't find solutions in the short term (before things get better in the long term) to get around this.

Whether you need to work or not isn't quite the point. I want to be accepted and appreciated for my efforts wherever I go. I want to contribute. I want to belong. I want to use my talents and my brain. I want an intellectual pursuit because I am worthy of it (I have the degree to prove it, don't I?) But I am dissed and ignored because of my gender. Because I don't fit a stereotype. Because I don't fit into the old boys' network. Because I am female.

So what can we do?

Well, first of all, we have to tell it as it is. We tell our young girls that they are smart and clever and can do whatever they want. That is true.

But we also have to tell them that they face this monumental task that might (or might not) change when they start work. The discrimination is real, very real. One that they shouldn't take lightly. One that they should be prepared for.

Then let's tell them what they are likely to face. That any lucrative industry that they enter will be male-dominated and there they will likely face discrimination, that they will be ignored, dissed, seen as a doormat or a witch (or both), not credible, simply because your voice is too high pitched and that you are female or something totally unrelated to your

What then?

Arm yourself with your rights, facts, figures about your industry, your company, their culture, what marketing material they put out, whether they support women, flexible working hours, what's their diversity policy, what's the percentage of women to men, what's the majority race there etc, and know what to expect. That is your armor.

Know what your values are and what you are willing to stand up for. Knowing who you are and what you stand for goes a long way in shielding you from the daily barrage of diatribe you might face. That is your shield.

Build your tribe! Find your champions! Make sure that you have people inside and outside of work who can help you, listen to you, give you sound advice and champion you and your work. The sistahood is important! Even if it includes men (and all the better too)! That is your community.

Get assertive! Know how to stand up for yourself. Work on your body language, the pitch of your voice, your confidence levels. Find ways to stay confident even when your ego has taken a hit.

Pick your battles. Not all battles have to be fought. You need to know when the right time is. Sometimes you need to push; other times, you need to let slide.

Be good at what you do. We have to work twice as hard to get half the recognition men do. We aren't allowed to put a foot wrong unfortunately and if you are good at what you do, keep it up.

The higher up you go the harder it gets. I remember thinking that this inequality thing wasn't so bad. Surely they are mistaken? I had the same opportunities as the men. But realized the older I got, when I got married, had kids, things changed around me. Suddenly I was perceived in a different light, even though I knew I was better, sharper, smarter and more time-efficient.

Even though the situation might sound dire, I believe that there are tools and techniques we can employ to help our own situation. Isn't in the interest of the majority of men to help our situation. You might think that having daughters would change their perspective, but I have found that is not always the case. Some, but definitely not always. And less than I think it is. Men are very good at compartmentalizing and discriminating against a female employee doesn't translate at all to how their daughters will be treated in the future. So arm yourself with facts and your rights, be street smart about your career path, make connections and grow your community and work hard. And don't forget to lift each other up. We are all that we have.

If you need to talk about your situation at work, your career progression or a change in career, do contact me at fern@fernleecoaching.com and I would be happy to speak to you. I offer a first-time complimentary coaching session to help you, no strings attached.

Have a wonderful day,




#selfacceptance #lifestyle #personaldevelopment #feminism #womensrights #discrimination #equality #equalpay


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