The Hidden Challenge Women Face At Work

women in the workplace

You’ve most likely heard the statistic that women only apply to jobs they are 100% qualified for, while men will apply to a job if they only meet 60% of the qualifications. Even without the hard facts, we know that women approach work differently, and this extends beyond just the hiring process. We also know that there are plenty of challenges women face in the workplace, including sexism and sexual harassment.

We could write a book about these challenges. And in fact, that book already exists many times over. But what if we disrupt the narrative? What happens if we focus on what we can control about our career trajectory, rather than the social and cultural “-isms” that continue to prevent us from achieving our goals?

While this conversation extends far beyond the hiring process, the idea that women don’t apply for jobs unless they are 100% qualified provides a good starting point for examining the “why” behind gender discrepancies in the workplace.

The results of a Harvard Business Review study (right) indicate that women chose to not apply for a job for different reasons than men. Women disproportionately believed that they would not get hired due to not meeting specific qualifications, and that they were “following the guidelines” by not applying.

This points to the larger issue of women valuing the “rules” over other important factors like advocating for oneself or relying on referrals and networking.

Young girls are socialized to be believe that rule-following is the key to success. And for most of their young lives, this is true: girls are currently outperforming boys in every subject, including math and science.

The academic system seems to play into girls’ strengths and reinforce the idea that following rules and making plans will result in success. The problem is that this logic fails us once we enter the workplace, where hard work and diligence are not the only ingredients for career advancement.

Many women find that the skills that got them in the door do not serve them in upward career mobility. Suddenly, the skills of networking, advocacy, and “playing the game” are much more important than simply doing good work.

The hidden challenge that women face in the workplace is that we never learned to play “the game.” Even the idea of the workplace being a game plays right into male strengths and their proclivity for competition. Many women feel they are being untrue to themselves if they operate from a place of “winning” or competing with those around them.

Women have had to overcome many historical and societal challenges in order to gain the right to be present in the workplace in the way we are today. But ultimately, it is up to us to change the narrative that we are beholden to the whims of those in power, waiting for the day when true gender equality exists. It is time we take control of our career trajectories, which often means learning to play the game in new (and sometimes uncomfortable) ways.

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