What Does Your Company Do to Keep Both Male and Female Employees Happy?

Are the things that keep female employees happy the same that keep male employees happy? That question came to mind as I was reading “6 Workplace Issues That Make Women Unhappy in Their Careers,” by Jennifer Post, a Business News Daily contributor.

The elements that lead to workplace unhappiness for women seem like they may be universal triggers for unhappiness. But maybe women experience these triggers more than men, or are more affected by them than men are.

The first, money, has been discussed extensively in the media. Women, statistics show, make less than men in the same positions. People disagree about the cause of this inequality. Some say women make less because they simply are discriminated against, while others say they make less because many leave the workplace for years to take care of children. That equals less experience in their career, which results in less money. I’ve also heard it said that women often aren’t as forceful about asking for more money.

I suspect it’s all those reasons wrapped together—discrimination, with management having a cultural bias against seeing women as self-earners or breadwinners for whom salary is important. Many may still reflexively see women as working mostly for their own fulfillment, as if it’s a pastime rather than a serious, financial necessity. With that cultural bias sometimes in place, a woman would have to be even more aggressive than the average man in asking for promotions and pay increases. That can be hard when the person sitting across the table from you doesn’t take you as seriously as your male colleagues. I’ve felt this dismissive attitude repeatedly, and still do in my current job, so I know it exists.

The question is whether companies should note the disparity between male and female salary, and the tendency for salary conversations to be more difficult for women, and to proactively seek out these conversations with female employees. In other words, to note that salary issues tend to be more challenging for women than for men, and then to make an additional effort with female employees to make sure in annual reviews that they think their current salary level is fair, and if not, to give them a platform to make a case about why they should be paid more. Another approach is to have an across-the-board policy, for both men and women employees, for managers to proactively ask every employee about his or her salary during annual reviews, and then to give each person a chance to fight for a higher salary. What do you think the best approach would be?

Harassment, the next element the article says causes unhappiness in women, traditionally has been a female concern, with women in the workplace often rebuffing unwelcome “romantic” propositions. The joke has always been that most men could never suffer from sexual harassment because all such invitations, regardless of whom the invitations came from, would be welcome. Do you think men are just as likely to suffer from sexual harassment as women are? What forms of harassment could men be even more prone than women to experience? Employees at most companies already have to undergo sexual harassment training. Is there anything else that can be done?

Age also can be an issue for women more than men. I’ll never forget when my boss brought over his high-definition hand-held video camera to test it out on me. He said I “passed the high-definition test.” He had told me possibly more than once that high-definition cameras are not kind to “women of a certain age.” I’m not sure if he considered me, in my late 30s at the time, to be “of a certain age,” but I wouldn’t be surprised. He’s 21 years older than me, and has never mentioned how he himself fared on the “high-definition test.” He would sometimes not use videos made with female subjects because he felt they looked bad in them, and that they would be upset if we used the videos. I pointed out that he tended to only take that kind of care when the video featured a woman, and he said he felt women generally cared more about their appearance than men, and would be more upset than a man at a video featured on our Website in which they didn’t look their best. He told the story once of how awful it was for one of our contributors, who he thought of as an attractive woman, when she had a deeply unflattering picture of herself flash up on a large screen at a conference just before she was set to speak. He said you could almost hear people gasp in horror or sympathy.

In addition to the appearance concerns that hamper women more than men, aging also is easier for men who have left the workforce. My boss left the workforce for 20 years to live as a freelancing house-husband while his wife supported the family. Lo and behold, after 20 years, he waltzed back into the workforce into a high-paying, management position like he had never left. He was in his early 50s at the time. How many 50ish women, who left the workforce for years to care for children, would like to do that?

Indecision and fear is another factor on the article’s list of unhappiness triggers. I’ve written before about the anxiety an employee experiences when she doesn’t know if she has a path beyond her current position, and that may be equally true of men. It may work like the money issue, though, in which male career paths and planning still tend to be taken more seriously by management. If it’s a young woman, there may still be a conscious, or subconscious, feeling that she can only take her career so seriously because within the next 10 to 15 years, she’ll want to marry and have children, and those elements will become the center of her life. But with more women deciding to stay single much longer (maybe forever; myself included), that old mindset is nothing but damaging. How does the career planning your company offers guard against preconceived assumptions by managers and executives on the career paths desired by each employee?

Unpreparedness is yet another unhappiness generator on the list. The article notes the unhappiness a woman can feel when she’s unprepared for a job interview. I bet everyone, both men and women, feel unhappy going into a job interview, or a meeting, unprepared. The greater hurdle that may exist for women, however, is less confidence and self-love. The men I’ve known in the workplace generally have been more masterful at breezing into meetings knowing very little and still coming across as confident. Meetings in which participants systematically take turns around the table speaking, rather than leaving it up to everyone to shout over each other and fight for attention, can even the playing field between those who are prepared and those who are extremely confident and happy with themselves, but little else.

Entrepreneurial dreams is the last factor called attention to in the article as a source of unhappiness. Many women may want to be business owners themselves, and are unhappy at having to work for someone else. That, of course, can be true of both sexes. I still think, however, that there is a cultural bias toward thinking of men as being more likely to be entrepreneurs than women. What do you think? Sometimes the bias comes from women ourselves. An accomplished professional woman I regularly interview for the health trade publication, where I am the managing editor, once told me she felt women often didn’t own health-care practices because they tended to be lazier and less proactive than men. This professional is a woman I have a good rapport with, and respect, so I was troubled to hear her say that. Then I remembered that she’s probably close to 70. Despite her own accomplishments, it’s possible she still is burdened by the conventional image and expectations for women. Are your company and its managers still burdened by this image?

Is it harder for women employees to be happy at your company? What does your company do, if anything, to ensure men and women are both given what they need to be happy?

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