What do you do when you see a speed bump in the road? You slow down, right? If you don't slow down, you're likely to do damage to some unseen part of your car. What you don't do is STOP driving. You see the impediment, but you don't give it power to deter you from your destination. It's especially helpful if you've been on the road before and know to look for it or if the bump is made distinctly visible.
This metaphor has been on my mind lately when I reflect on young women in the workforce and hit me again as I read this Newsweek article, Are We There Yet?. It's written by young women of Newsweek who look back at the struggle for women's equality at the venerable mag and realize that while things have improved - no, we aren't there yet.
So, what has that to do with speed bumps? Well, if you don't know to look for one and speed right over it, something bad can happen...and that's what I see happening to young women in the workforce today. They have no idea to be on the lookout for the inevitable and insidious sexism in today's workplace.
"Douglas describes those mixed messages as "enlightened sexism": the idea that because of all the gains women have made, biases that once would have been deemed sexist now get brushed off. Young women, consequently, are left in a bind: they worry they'll never be taken as seriously as the guys, yet when they're given the opportunity to run the show, they balk. A recent Girl Scouts study revealed that young women avoid leadership roles for fear they'll be labeled "bossy"; another survey found they are four times less likely than men to negotiate a first salary. As it turns out, that's for good reason: a Harvard study found that women who demand higher starting salaries are perceived as "less nice," and thus less likely to be hired. "This generation has had it ingrained in them that they must thrive within a 'yes, but' framework: Yes, be a go-getter, but don't come on too strong. Yes, accomplish, but don't brag about it," says Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl. "The result is that young women hold themselves back, saying, 'I shouldn't say this, ask for this, do this—it will make me unlikable, a bitch, or an outcast.'These women (Jessica Bennett, Jesse Ellison and Sarah Ball) deserve a round of applause and a wide audience among their peers. Alerting a new generation to the speed bumps doesn't mean giving them power to stop a career trajectory, but it sure makes it possible to slow down and figure out what to do about the "fog of subtle gender discrimination" (and sometimes the razor sharp edge of it as well) that surrounds us all.
"Somewhere along the road to equality, young women like us lost their voices. So when we marched into the workforce and the fog of subtle gender discrimination, it was baffling and alien. Without a movement behind us, we had neither the language to describe it nor the confidence to call it what it was."
They've written a great article! Take a look. And, if you're a young woman in the workforce, find your own version of the Women's Exchange, talk over lunch and listen to each other. Equality is still a myth - knowing this creates the conditions where you can tap the power of collaboration for career success. Recognize the speed bumps, but don't give them power!
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women and author of No Ceiling, No Walls. She blogs on networking for PINK Magazine. Follow her on Twitter.