Have Our Roles as Women in the Workplace Really Changed Since Mad Men?

February 13, 2013

Women in the Workplace: Have Things Really Changed Since Mad Men?

I decided to take a break from writing about candidate experience and hiring best practices to focus on something that deserves some attention: the role of women in the workplace.
In a recent article for the Huffington Post, Christina Huffington points out that according to the US Census, the most common job for women today remains the same as it was 50 years ago — secretary. The terms we use now may be more professional and all- encompassing, but at the root of it, the role is the same.
As I think of the role of women in today’s workplace, names like Marissa Meyer and Sheryl Sandberg come to mind, but they are clearly the aberration, not the norm. The fact that the number one position for women is actually still a secretary certainly doesn’t mesh with my idea of women’s role in the workplace, but there it is. Suddenly, those episodes of Mad Men don’t seem quite so dated.
So, what does this have to do with my role recruiting for expansion-stage companies? I see disparities between the number of male and female applicants and hires first-hand, daily. Here are a few of my observations:

Maybe the sky isn’t the limit, after all?

In hiring for high-level roles that require excessive travel I have found that the majority of applicants and interested candidates are male. Now why could this be? It certainly is not for lack of talent and bright women capable of doing the job.
One potential explanation could be that many women at the director-stage of their careers are also juggling the time and responsibilities of having young families. For some women, it may be important to have a level of flexibility in their schedule so that they can be available to their children. Perhaps even in some modern families the onus is still on the woman to be home with the children and work. This is of course just broad speculation, but something is certainly causing a major discrepancy between qualified female candidates and interested applicants.

Certain professions are still incredibly male dominated

Software engineering, for example, is still very much a boys club. Why? Let’s save that for another blog post. I will point out, though, that the lack of diversity in engineering departments is a big problem at many companies — and they know it. There are in fact a number of organizations that are actively working to get more women into the field. You can visit sites like girldevelopit.com to learn more.
According to an article for NBC news citing federal statistics, less than 20 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in computer science go to women. The problem is not that women don’t have the skills or ability to succeed in these degree programs and roles, it is that they are not actively pursuing them. Again, that is an issue needs to be examined.
It can often be very difficult to be the first woman hired to an all-male team, or to be in the clear minority at a company, but these are barriers that need to be addressed and broken down.

Employers are wary of the resume “gap”

I have seen this happen in previous jobs, as well — a hiring manager will discount a woman who took a few years off to raise her kids, citing that her skills may not be relevant anymore.
This seems to perpetuate the notion that women can’t “have it all” — both the career and the family. Say a woman takes three years off to raise her family, and then applies back into the workforce. To some recruiters and companies she is a ruined woman because she has a “gap” on her resume and they assume her skills won’t be as sharp (this is not always the case, but it happens more often than it should). This kind of discrimination and way of thinking is something we have to move past.
It is clear to me that there may be some reasons why “secretary” is still the most popular profession for women. It used to be that this was one of a few jobs that was available to women, but even now it seems that in many ways the odds are still stacked against women in terms of branching out. Perhaps the workforce needs to take another gander at why there are fewer women at the top of their organization, and perhaps it’s time to make the adjustments required to see real change.

Do you think the role of women in the workplace is stuck in past? What changes do we need to make to see real advancement?

Senior Corporate Recruiter

<strong>Lindsey Gurian</strong> is the Senior Corporate Recruiter at <a href="http://www.acquia.com">Acquia</a>. She was previously a Senior Talent Specialist at Sonian, responsible for recruiting initiatives at both the firm and its portfolio companies.