The gender gap is a real thing. Men are paid more for the same job that women do in the business world. What’s more pressing is that men are more likely to be managers and CEOs than their women counterparts—even if they have the same qualification. You don’t see a lot of girls sitting in executive office chairs. In fact, you are more likely to see Donna Paulsen’s to a Harvey Specter than a Jessica Pearson from Suits—women are usually just secretaries of important people than actual bosses themselves. The business world remains male-dominated.
Why Aren’t Women Seen as Business-savvy?
This a result of many factors—one of the major ones is the difference in the upbringing of boys and girls. Mary’s were taught to play with dolls and dress them up, how to be nice to other people, and how to share. Joe’s were encouraged to engage in sports, compete with other people, lead and take charge, and set and meet goals. This is one of the reasons why men can easily assert themselves in the corporate world—they were trained to be competitive and they were trained to lead.
This is why men and women have different thought processes. Men are team players and are more likely to view colleagues as competitors rather than as allies. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to be conflict-averse, valuing relationships more. They weren’t predisposed to asserting themselves.
The stereotypes about the two sexes have reinforced themselves in this cycle that even if there are women who deviate from this template has a hard time getting noticed. There are women who have broken the glass ceiling like Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, and Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany (public service being a male-dominated space as well), and the late Margaret Thatcher, the first woman British Prime Minister—but they remain a minority.
So How Can Women Compete With Men in the Workplace?
In the process of transitioning to a more gender-equal workplace (hopefully, through long-lasting reforms), women can also do something as individuals: they can assert themselves more in the workplace through body language.
An insightful TED talk by Amy Cuddy discussed how posture projected power. Body language reflected how powerful people felt. Cuddy’s observations in MBA school showed how men were more likely to be confident than women. They were more likely to occupy space in the room with a spread out stance while women chronically felt less powerful, staying seated on the chair and making themselves tiny. Because they were not as participative, their grades were also lower compared to male classmates. Their participation in class depended on how powerful they felt.
Cuddy suggested that bodies could change minds just as how our minds can change our body’s movements. Women can learn to feel more confident by adjusting their posture and practicing some power poses to boost their confidence. This is especially important in communicating with people in the workplace—whether it’s your colleagues, human resources, or your boss. In conferences, and in expressing ideas, sitting and standing straight with arms slightly open helps you cement your presence in the room. As Cuddy notes, “It’s not about the content of the speech. It’s about the presence that [you’re] bringing to the speech.”
Improving your posture is a gradual process, of course. You may need to practice in the bathroom a couple minutes before your presentation or at home, just to make sure you look like a leader in the room, someone who deserves a way more comfortable office chair in your own space than a sloppy one in a shared desk. Discipline is key. If you need to buy chairs for posture support just to remind you to sit straight, it’s a worthy investment. Women deserve to have their ideas heard. Women deserve to lead.