Camila Morishita, undergraduate student at FGV-EAESP and winner of the CSR article competition 2019, shares her thoughts on how we can put an end to violence against women and the role that corporates can play in the emancipation of modern women.
Women in the Workforce: Breaking free from the doll’s house by Camila Porishita.
Stay home and look pretty
It’s no breaking news that women have it harder when it comes to entering – and staying – in the labour market. Up until the 19th century, women’s role in society was to stay at home, and take care of their children and cook meals for their husbands. Not only were they not allowed to work, they were also considered intellectually inferior. Many scientists actually believed that the female mind was dictated mostly by emotions in lieu of rational thoughts.
Even during critical times, such as the Great Depression of 1929, the importance of incorporating females in the workforce was ignored. The universal attitude was to discourage women from seeking jobs, with a general warning to “stay away from a man’s place”. It wasn’t until World War II, when millions of men were away in the call of duty and wartime production was booming, that employers really started to recruit women. This, however, was not the end of this deep-rooted problem. Even though women were allowed to get a job, their work conditions were far from ideal. Women were often paid less, never occupied any positions of power and were constantly subject to sexual harassment in the workplace.
Fast-forward to 2019, and we cannot say that a lot has changed over the years. Although women have certainly conquered many rights, they are still perceived as inferior. This happens because the problems females face in the labour force are reflections of society. Yes, some laws may have changed in favour of equality but the general mentality remains the same. The fact that women are really as capable as men is still a very bitter pill to swallow for many. As a consequence of this mindset, women are more prone to be victims of rape, human trafficking and domestic violence. What these three felonies have in common is the motivation: they are all, directly or indirectly, statements of power. The American Psychoanalytic Association believes that men violate and kill women because they view the opposite sex as weak.
Women in the Workplace: The doll theory
“One is not born a woman, but becomes one” is the central theme of The Second Sex, the most famous book written by the existentialist philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir. She argues that femininity is nothing but a social construct, and that girls are often taught to behave like their dolls. This means that, in the same way as dolls are supposed to be “waiting” at home – all prettied up – for their “owners” to come back from school, women are trained to objectify themselves and wait patiently at home for their husbands to come back from work. They are not expected to have any thoughts or voice of their own, as if they were just an accessory, a living doll. In order to break free from this scenario, women need to realise that they are not obligated to comply with the status quo. But how can they understand that if there is no representation for them? How can they dream of being a leader when there are barely a handful of examples of female leadership in the world?
Women who get trapped in feelings of worthlessness become vulnerable to psychological manipulation. According to a few studies conducted by UN Women, 70% of women have been in an abusive relationship and almost 40% of murders of females are committed by an intimate, male partner. One factor that further exacerbates the situation is the fact that many people who suffer domestic violence are not even aware of it. This is because for many, the concept of abuse is limited to physical violence whereas in reality it encompasses psychological, sexual, financial and emotional abuse. Because of this misconception, the victims often do not know how to seek out help, and even worse, they sometimes begin to blame themselves for their situation.
Female unemployment is a key factor that fuels the occurrence of domestic violence. An article published by Professors Anderberg, Rainer et al argues that “an increase in risk of male unemployment decreases the incidence of intimate partner violence, while a rising risk of female unemployment increases domestic abuse”. This happens because when a man who is predisposed to violent behavior faces difficulties in finding a job, he conceals his true nature for fear of losing his partner. On the other hand, when a woman can’t find a job, she becomes financially dependent on her husband and, therefore, the man assumes the position of the provider and believes that even if he is aggressive, his wife won’t leave him.
Company culture is key
Some companies are already aware of the power they hold over equality issues and are creating new policies to guarantee a more balanced work environment. Goldman Sachs, for instance, is focused on hiring more women and minorities, and aims to have a 50% female representation among incoming analysts by 2021.
Just hiring more women, however, is not enough. While it’s a start, nothing will change unless people stop perceiving women as weaker and inferior. If businesses only focus on getting more females inside firms but do little to change the general mindset, they will continue to be underpaid and to suffer harassment and discrimination at every step in their career path. At Accenture, executives have realised this and are thus now more focused on highlighting their philosophy of “belonging” to attract and retain more female employees.
Besides having a more inviting culture, it is crucial that businesses develop campaigns both inside and outside the company to increase awareness of gender gaps. One way in which they could do this is by developing partnerships with NGOs that strive to encourage women to become more independent and powerful. The Brazilian firm Magazine Luiza, for example, is constantly creating advertisements that bring attention to inequality issues and its president, Luiza Trajano, frequently gives speeches about the difficulties of being a female leader.
Companies should also have a very strict policy towards sexual harassment and violence. Anyone who tries to diminish a person based on their gender should be immediately fired, regardless of the position they hold within the firm. While doing the standard background check, human resources employees should also be instructed to turn down anyone with a history of domestic violence or aggression, especially towards women.
A win-win scenario
Some people might wonder, why would a business go through the trouble of making so many changes? Why should they care about diversity if their ultimate goal is to maximise stakeholders’ profit? The answer to these questions is rather simple, and can be based on an economic concept: open competition is good because it allows the use of resources in the most efficient way. Translating that into the gender gap scenario, it is possible to say that the labour market currently does not operate under open competition because men sustain an unfair advantage over women and, therefore, it is not using its resources (in this case, employees) efficiently. The lack of diversity directly translates into biased points of view, lack of richness in insight and creativity, and missing out from some knowledge that can only come from what women experience.
The future starts now
Before we can take any corrective measures, it is essential for us to acknowledge that women have always been marginalised and underestimated. For a long time, females were thought to be guided by emotions alone, and to be less competent than men. Even though much has changed and feminists have conquered many rights, the general mentality that women are weaker still hovers over our society. The feelings of being powerless make women more susceptible to domestic violence and other forms of aggression. Companies have the very important responsibility to ensure adequate female representation in the workforce and to inspire women to pursue leadership positions. By doing this, businesses will also profit because the diverse environment can serve as a source of competitive advantage.
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- Read a related article: Creating a positive and nurturing environment for women at work.
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