About a month ago, Sandra asked me to write about being a working woman today, and specifically what it is like in the Asheville market. Little did she know I had been working on that topic for almost a year – engaging women and men in conversation about women in the workplace.
Everyone has an opinion on this subject, and I have found common themes and similarities I will share here.
But first, a heads up – this article is not exactly politically correct. So just in case I offend, alienate, or just plain tick-off any readers, let me make a few disclaimers.
First, I love men. Yes, it is true I do! And I owe so much of my career to the doors they have opened and the network they have shared. However, as a woman, my climb up the ladder was and continues to be different, and I think it is important for both women and men to understand that.
Two – I believe passionately that men and women are different in how we approach work and achieve success. While I respect that some of you may feel that men and women are the same in every way, I just feel differently. I fall more into the camp of equal but very different.
Third – I need to address the elephant in the room. When I started my book, the entire subject of sexual harassment was not something I was entirely sure I was going to address. Now, given the fact that it is front-page news every day, I think it is critical to the discussion.
What Is It Like To Be A Woman In The Workforce Today?
I think there has never been a better time to be a woman in the workplace. Not only are there more opportunities and more acceptance of us in non-traditional roles, this is an economy screaming for our skills.
Success today depends on the ability to be flexible, build relationships, communicate, and collaborate. These skills come naturally to women and are ones where we excel. Our skills are more marketable than they have ever been, and many organizations are recognizing they not only need to hire more women, they need women in leadership roles.
Things are definitely getting better, but there are still challenges – the same challenges women have faced since joining the workforce. The top five most commonly shared in my research are:
1: Work-life balance – women may be fast becoming the major breadwinners, but we still find ourselves in the role of major caretaker of our children, our households, and aging parents.
2: Lack of Leadership – women still struggle to find good role models and mentors that are women, those that understand and are willing to help with challenges unique to women.
3: Harassment – whether it be sexual harassment or gender bias, it still exists and is something women have to navigate when climbing the ladder.
4: Equal Pay – women still earn less than men for doing the same or similar jobs, earning just 79 cents on the dollar compared to what male peers make.
5: Maternity Leave – career positioning, how to take time off to have a child and not be penalized in terms of promotional or career opportunities; or fear you will have another child, have to miss work due to child’s sickness, etc.
In doing the interviews, what I found most interesting and consider as real progress is these challenges were shared by the women and also by the men.
Being A Female Professional In Asheville
This is a pretty great market for women. Asheville has amazing mentors and role models. Look to many of the top leadership positions and you will find a woman. From Mayor to Chamber President to several women CEOs.
In asking questions and doing research, what I found was that both women and men felt Asheville had evolved. This community has moved past having to pro-actively think about putting women into leadership roles. Asheville has become a community where the best and most qualified person for the job just happens to be a woman.
This market also has an amazing support network for women. Laura Webb and the Asheville Chamber’s WomanUp provide education and networking programs, and several professional women’s groups give options and opportunities for women to build community.
While Asheville is a non-traditional community that easily accepts women in non-traditional roles, it is not without its challenges. For younger women even more so, with lack of opportunity for career advancement and gender bias affecting how they are perceived in the workplace.
Yet, this is a great place to be a professional woman. Asheville is a market making great progress, becoming highly conscious about the importance of promoting and supporting women.
What Do Women Need To Do To Up Their Game?
The 4 Strategies:
I think we all, women and men, want to see progress both locally and globally on this issue. However, I think as women we need to lead the charge, and understand that it is up to us to make those changes. No one understands better than women what it takes to succeed, and what we want success to look like.
So while this economy speaks to those skills that come naturally to us, there are strategies that we need to embrace if we want to up our game.
Find Your Voice – this is not a marketplace where hard work and effort alone are going to get you noticed. There is too much white noise and too many distractions. As women, we need to figure out what it is we want and learn to ask for it. We need to own our role in how we can influence how we are paid, what opportunities we have, and how we are treated.
Build Your Network – the stronger your network the stronger your career. No one is going to be more committed to helping you succeed than the people you invest in and those that invest in you. Networks can open doors for you, build your skills, and help you strategize on how to overcome obstacles. Build your network and you will change your life.
Get Over It – let’s just lay it out there: as women we are often judged, overlooked, or underestimated. Is it fair, no! Is it right, no! Is it reality, yes! So we need to get over it. We need to stop focusing on the things we can’t control, so that we can pour our energy into the things we can. The fastest way to change the minds of people is to succeed, because when you succeed you can change the rules.
Band Together – commit to help another woman succeed. As women we are great at putting others first, and the workplace is one environment where we need to tap that skill. I realized early on in my career that the opportunities I have only happened because of the women that came before me. They did what they did knowing that it would not be their career that would progress but the careers of women coming behind them.
So what is it like to be a woman in the workplace today? I would say it is pretty good and getting better!
Named One Of The Top 15 Business Growth Experts To Watch, Meridith Elliott Powell is an award winning author, keynote speaker, and business strategist. She works with clients to share the strategies to succeed no matter what this economy does! For more information, free tools and resources, please visit www.valuespeaker.com.