At Fairygodboss, we are often forced to generalize about women. We find ourselves saying things like:
“Women care about X. Women experience Y”.
I say that we are “forced” to generalize but nobody’s holding a gun to our head. We generalize and make broad statements because its incredibly tedious and ridiculous to communicate with all the necessary qualifying phrases and caveats you need to accurately depict what we really mean. What we really would say if we could say it with a straight face (and remember all the words):
“Women — who are human beings that share XX chromosomes and who may also share common qualities that develop through a complex web of nature-and-nurture and socio-economic-political environmental forces but are at the end of the day, individuals — commonly care/think/feel differently than men about X. We also commonly experience Y.”
That’s why I found it interesting that the Washington Post blog recently broke down what women care about at work based on their political leanings.
The chart above appears to show that “liberal” women tend to care more things related to compensation (i.e. salary and compensation-in-kind in the form of maternity leave and paid time off) whereas “conservative” women cared more about job security (in the form of average employee tenure) and workplace flexibility options.
Its hard to know whether ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ correlate with income and education levels (and even employer) but its probably not crazy to think that they might be related to all of those things. Political views may also correlate with other things like marriage rates and traditional family values. We could tell almost any story we want with this data. For example:
- Conservative women are likely to be lower income women with religious and traditional values so they think its important that a company is a stable place for them to work, offering healthcare benefits for their family members who they also want to care for with flexible work schedules.
- Liberal women are likely to be younger, highly educated and to pursue career success at the expense of family. They therefore care more about pay and pay-in-kind benefits. They also may consider themselves feminists or at least are sensitive about issues of equality which is why they care that a CEO not out-earn the typical employee by excessive amounts.
The problem with drawing conclusions like these is that they’re completely made up. There’s just not enough data here to draw those conclusions. Moreover, we’ve talked to women for whom those stories just aren’t true. Some women in the Fairygodboss community fit a conservative political profile but care very much about their pay and not an ounce about work flexibility. We also have spoken to liberal women in the Fairygodboss community who care very much about their healthcare packages (which can have just as much a financial impact on their households as their company’s maternity leave policy) but not very much about supervisor’s gender.
The point is this: its dangerous to generalize about women. We do it all the time because its sometimes true and always too easy. But a woman is undeniably an individual and while there may be commonalities (e.g. we are the only ones capable of giving birth), we should let individuals speak for themselves. We try to do that at Fairygodboss by refraining from questions in our company review process that are leading or assume we know what women want at work. Fortunately, many of our members also recognize that women want different things. They even give advice to other women in their reviews by saying things like:
There are some good benefits to working here…for me, the best benefit is being able to work from home. Otherwise, I’m been very disappointed in the career opportunities…Nevertheless, my co-workers are nice and the work environment is pleasant. Bottom-line, if you’re a lady who is a go-getter with big dreams, this may not be the place to be. [Review of Cisco]
Women, as individuals, may want different things depending on our life circumstances and why we are working in the first place. Not every one works for financial security, not everyone is a mother, and not everyone wants to become CEO. That’s why we feel incredibly fortunate that the women in our community recognize that they can’t give one-size-fits-all advice.