Do women in leadership roles have a responsibility to other women?

"Recently I viewed a video – a roundtable discussion with a few influential women, celebrating International Women’s Day. As part of the discussions, it was suggested that there should be criticism of women who are in a position to, but do not necessarily offer jobs to other women. That this is somewhat a responsibility of women in leadership roles. The discussion has since sat uncomfortably with me. Of course I am all for women supporting other women. I think amazing things can be achieved when women support each other, whether that be through offering jobs or numerous other means such as this site. I also believe it vital to the goal of worldwide parity. At the same time however, I can’t help but feel it is unfair for these woman to be criticized. Surely it is the responsibility of all people in leadership roles to support women and treat everyone equally? Possibly what makes me most uncomfortable however, is that we are essentially laying judgment on these women based on how many jobs they offer to other women. To me that form of judgment does not seem very supportive. I’m really interested as to what other people’s opinions are on this matter. Do other people agree with this criticism?" -Alex

 

Jenna: Awesome question, Alex. I think there's some grey area here. Supporting and empowering women is so important - but so is supporting men as well. I think that what really matters is for women in these positions to make an effort to offer jobs to a diverse set of people and to empower those around them. Women criticizing other women isn't necessarily "wrong", just like men criticizing other men, or women criticizing other men - you get the point :). Sometimes criticism is necessary to be heard, especially if someone or some group is being treated unfairly. I'm all about being supportive to those who make a conscious effort to be fair.

Claire: This is such a tough question for all women, working or otherwise. People often confuse "feminism" with favoring women, not advocating for rights and equality - which seems to be what happened in this video. In our everyday lives, women should be encouraged to support other women, and the work force is no different. But is the hiring process the best place to do this?

There is an argument for a realist and for an idealist, but I think we can find a happy middle ground.

The idealist in me thinks that women do not need to be handled with kid gloves. Do I really want a job offer because the hiring woman thinks I may not otherwise get a job unless she does me a favor or feels she has a responsibility to do so? I may just faint.

The realist in me says that women truly are at a disadvantage in the workplace already, and if we want more women to be in that hiring position one day, we have to hire more women into the roles that they deserve.

Personally, I know that I would want to be hired due to my experience, compatibility, knowledge, and confidence, and not only be evaluated based on whether I am or am not a woman. In some industries, though, I may not even be given the chance to show my credibility as a candidate for the job.

Let's take a step back and look at where we are now. Yale University conducted a study* on the discrepancies in the perception of competency based on gender. They did this by providing science faculty members nearly identical resumes with the only difference being the name on the resume ("John" vs "Jennifer"). The result of this study was that, despite the same qualifications, the male resume was chosen more often AND was offered a higher salary.

Knowing this (and countless other studies and data points proving gender inequality in the workplace), it is hard to argue that women aren't at a disadvantage in the hiring process. All this judgement happened before the candidate was even afforded the opportunity to have an in-person meeting and prove competency and skill set.

So what does this mean for where we are going?

The future is so bright for women in the workplace, but we are still in an uphill battle and will not get there unless we continue to advocate for equality. Women being given the same opportunity to interview as their male counterparts - that is equality. Again, in an ideal world, these women interviewing would also be judged solely on their merit, which isn't always the case.

One of my favorite scenes in the show Silicon Valley is when a female character is hired as an engineer and they mention the fact that they would love to hire a woman for the position. To this, she states "I'm not a 'woman engineer', I'm just an engineer." This is a very real experience for women in the workplace.

Now, is it realistic to completely take gender out of the equation when it comes hiring? Absolutely not. In fact, we should celebrate our differences in the workplace, teach young girls about strong, leading women in the workplace, and continue these kinds of conversations. I just think that there are better ways to support the progression of women in the workforce than forcing the expectation that women have a responsibility to hire other women.

With that in mind, I think that it would be irresponsible to choose a candidate that was either 1. not qualified or 2. not a good fit, but chosen just because of their gender. This goes for both men and women.

Yes, hiring qualified women is obviously a great thing, but there are ways to help a larger number of women expand their knowledge base, stay competitive, and get a job they deserve.

So what can women do?

Long story short: I do not think it is fair to blindly say that a woman is wrong for not hiring other women, but women should absolutely support other women and girls whenever possible.

We can't just put the responsibility to hire women on other women - it is a responsibility of humankind to make a shift in our mindset about women in the workplace. The issue of gender dependencies begin much earlier than the hiring process but there are man ways to support women in building their careers while we wait for society to catch up. Education, training, informational interviews, introductions, mentoring, speaking engagements - all of these things can help fellow women set the foundation of a successful career. Even just putting yourself out there as a woman in a leadership position can jump start a younger generation of strong and empowered working women.

This is such a hard topic to answer because every situation is different, and every step, from education to job promotions, has a ripple effect, making an impact on how future women are treated in the workplace. The hiring process is just a ripple, but we're ready to make waves.

Want to watch that scene from Silicon Valley? It is extremely relevant to this question and I highly recommend it: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dek5HtNdIHY

*Yale University Study: http://www.aauw.org/2015/06/11/john-or-jennifer/


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