Are We There Yet? Persistent Gender Differences In Careers And Money

Are We There Yet? Persistent Gender Differences In Careers And Money

We achieved gender equality when women could vote and work, so we no longer need feminism. Right?

Looking into the history of women and money in Canada, and many other countries, it’s easy to feel like we’ve come a long way – and we have. Legislation requiring equal pay and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex has improved women’s lives dramatically. It can sometimes seem like we’ve done all the work needed, and that if things are better than they were before (or better than they are in other countries) that means we don’t have to continue to improve.

There’s only one problem: changing the law is never enough to fully change socialized behaviour, and thinking that it is leaves us at a greater disadvantage because we believe the issue is resolved.

It’s hubris to think that humans can change deeply ingrained social norms that have held for much of our history in a mere generation. Socialization and implicit biases linger decades and even centuries later, and ignoring them does us all a great disservice.

Girls Are Still Socialized Differently Than Boys

Unsurprisingly, socialization begins practically from birth – and everything from how we play to how we speak to the toys we give can impact a child’s developing view of the world.

Even a baby’s cries can receive different responses based on caregiver biases. Low-pitched cries are more likely to be attributed to boys and are perceived as more masculine, despite pitch having no measurable sex differences in babies. Adult men also assume that boy babies are in more discomfort than girl babies with the same pitch.

We tend to play with girls and boys in different ways. In a BBC study, adults chose gendered toys and played with young children in a gendered way. Marnie, dressed in a blue plaid shirt and referred to as ‘Oliver,’ was given a robot and a car and played with in a more physical manner. Edward, dressed in a floral dress and referred to as ‘Sophie,’ was given pink dolls and stuffed animals and treated more gently. Our behaviour changes with a child’s apparent gender, and both men and women in the study showed these biases.

The types of toys children play with can significantly affect their cognitive and social development. Spacial recognition, a skill required for careers in engineering and science, is developed by play with construction-based toys and some types of video games. The gender differences in this skill disappeared when researchers accounted for differences in early childhood play – women who played with construction-based toys as children performed equally well as men. Often gender-based marketing and toy selection limits the availability or desirability of toys to either girls or boys. Toys with a technology focus were three times as likely to be targeted at boys. These early experiences can have lasting effects on education and career choices.

The way children are perceived and taught in can impacts their future in the workplace. Researchers found that teachers perceived male students as being their best students – more logical, competitive, interested in math, and possessing greater scientific skills.

Gender composition of the workforce can be another factor in children’s occupational aspirations. If we grew up regularly seeing female nurses and male doctors, for example, these interactions can influence our own career aspirations in the medical field.

Gender norms may be evolving, but we’ve raised and educated children with implicit biases for decades after the laws changed to prohibit discrimination based on sex.

We Still Judge Women Disproportionately On Physical Appearance

Being conventionally attractive can be an advantage in the workplace in some circumstances. Women who conform to beauty standards – makeup, hairstyles, manicures – earned more than women who don’t. Note that grooming accounted for all of the attractiveness ratings for women, but only half for men. However, attractiveness in women is considered a disadvantage in many professions – particularly in traditionally male jobs like mechanical engineer or director of finance.

Workplace norms are also implicitly masculine when it comes to body image, so women’s bodies can be seen as different, sexual, or disruptiveIn one study, 25% of women were cautioned about their appearance while just 9% of men were. Managers deemed female employees a ‘distraction’ in 35% of responses.

Here are just a handful of the ways in which women’s bodies are criticized and sexualized in educational and workplace contexts.

These socialized biases reinforce the image of women as sexual objects, and distract from their more important qualities in the workplace like intelligence and competence.

We Still Speak To Women Differently About Money

The way we continue to speak to women and men about money reinforces the gender divide.

The language that we use very much signals the importance (or unimportance) of certain activities to certain genders.

We Still Pay Women Less

There are a number of factors involved in the difference between wages earned by men and women. Regardless of how the data is manipulated, women in Canada earn less than men.

After controlling for industry, occupation, education, age, job tenure, province of residence, marital status, and union status, Canadians were still left with an 8% wage gap which researchers suggest could be explained by bias.

Socialized bias is key in understanding the persistent wage gap. Here are some examples of disproportionate treatment of women likely explained by bias.

One of the more insidious arguments about the gender gap is that it’s due to women’s choice of careers and child care arrangements. Research found that women who have their first child before 25 or after 35 close the salary divide, but the years in between (prime years for both child rearing and career-building) seem to be the problem. Taking on child care and other household responsibilities often translates to being passed up for career opportunities, while giving male partners more support to succeed in their own careers.

Part of the ongoing frustration with the gender wage gap is the fact that women spend so much time doing unpaid work – about 4.5 hours per day on average, according to the OECD. That’s more than twice the amount of time that men spend on unpaid work – 2 hours per day on average. The discrepancy of pay reflects larger issues about how we as a society define ‘work’ and productivity.

Housework is not work. Sex work is not work. Emotional work is not work. Why? Because they don’t take effort? No, because women are supposed to provide them uncompensated, out of the goodness of our hearts. – Jess Zimmerman

The wage gap only widens for women of colour, Indigenous women, those with disabilities, and the LGBT community.

How Do We Move Forward?

It’s imperative that we recognize that our work on gender is not even close to complete. If women are still sexualized at school and work, still talked down to in the media, and still paid less.. how can we possibly be equal?

Our society harms women and men, and we need to keep pushing the boundaries of gender to improve life for everyone. To bring systemic changes, we need systemic interventions – things like affordable child care, flexible work environments, and decreased socialization along polarized gender norms. These systemic changes need to include a shift in attitudes. It’s vital to listen and give deference to the lived experiences of individuals most affected.

Listen to women. Believe women. Pay women. Elect women.

Gender is a difficult topic, but a little understanding can go a long way.

Additional Resources

Here are some of my favourite lists, articles, documentaries, and podcasts on women and money:

Female Personal Finance Blogs – Women Who Money

Meet The Women Of The Financial Independence Movement – Tread Lightly, Retire Early

Here’s to Strong Women: The End of the Damsel in Financial Distress – She Picks Up Pennies

One Reason Women Make Less Money? They’re Afraid of Being Raped and Killed. – BitchesGetRiches

Let Men Be Free From The Shackles, Or Why The Gender Pay Gap Matters To Both Sexes – Ms ZiYou

The Intersection of “Me too” and Money – Broke Millennial

Emotional Labor – The Fairer Cents

The Financial Harm of Beauty Standards – Dumpster Dog Blog

Phrases to Boost Girls’ Self-Esteem – Other Than ‘You’re So Pretty’ – Motherly

Miss Representation – Netflix

Obviously, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Please share your comments and articles below!

12 thoughts on “Are We There Yet? Persistent Gender Differences In Careers And Money”

  • All of your points are so important but it especially irks me is the speaking to women about money differently. I hate the assumption that women need to be ‘protected’ from making the hard decisions. I know in my relationship I’m way better at this than my partner! We are just as capable at managing our money, and not wasting it on frivolous purchases. It feels like there’s a shift coming in the PF community, and I’m excited about it!

    • Yes! It is so frustrating to be the person bringing up concerns and have someone then turn to your male partner to answer them.

  • I 100% agree, that we are just at the tip of the iceberg for true equality between the genders.

    And my interpretation is that is it a societal problem, starting from when we are born and we treat people according to their gender. Even people who identify as feminists treat children differently, making comments such as – you know what boys are like.

    And Yes, we need to : Listen to women. Believe women. Pay women. Elect women.

    • It is definitely a societal problem, and you’re right it’s a problem for women too (even feminists).

  • I thought this was a great read! You are absolutely right in the fact that we are just not “there” yet. I am currently studying accounting and have spend the last two months interviewing for summer internships. This one firm I went to had a bit of a reputation for being a “boys club” and let me tell you, I could not wait to get out there fast enough . There was a total of about 7 girls (including myself) to maybe 14 guys. Anyway, what really spooked me out is the way they deiced to specifically split out the women and place them strategically at each table, as if we were just filling some quota. Throughout the whole recruitment day, the girls were kinda segregated and the partners (all male) showed no interest in engaging in conversation. Yeah, weird experience. I was glad they didn’t call me back!

    In saying that, there are companies out there that are making constant efforts to do better. There was a lovely firm that left me pretty shocked – the men were actually in a minority in the interview! Then, when we met the rest of the team, the men made only half of the staff. I was great to see so much diversity and so many women in deserving positions.

    • Thank you! Ugh I remember interviewing at firms like that. One particularly cringe-worthy quote: ‘what’s a nice small town girl like you doing interviewing for this job?’

      It’s always amazing to see companies who are doing it right!

  • I’m lucky enough that I grew up in a family where we didn’t get pushed into gendered roles early on (a lot of my childhood was catching bugs and snakes and frogs and playing with leftover construction scraps from Jon sites). Unfortunately this meant I was in for a seriously rude awakening post college when I realized it didn’t matter how much I knew I was just as good as the guys, the bias was still out there in the real world.


    • My family was mixed. Racist, sexist, homophobic.. but I was still encouraged to pursue my interests and go on to university.

      I included your list in my post! Is it not showing up for you? My site has been a bit glitchy lately.

  • Really intelligent, well-written article with a lot of thoughtful points made. I enjoyed reading it.
    I’m lucky I guess, in that I work in a government school where the pay is equal for everyone – it’s all in how much time you’ve been in the job that determines your pay. Our principal is a woman and many of the third tier jobs are taken by women. (Out 3 AP jobs are all male.) However, just dealing with adolescents on a daily basis is enough to show you that yes, although things are changing, there’s still a way to go. It may take a village it raise a child; it also takes a village constantly reinforcing the values we need to see to go even a little way to effect real change.

    • Thank you! Being around adolescents and children really does open your eyes to how much of our behaviour is learned through socialization. Love what you said about a village reinforcing values!

  • I’m kind of late to the party on this post because I’ve been trying to catch up on my blog reading but this is spot on. I like how you offer a “how do we move forward” because only that’s all we can do. Make incremental progress on just those basic things that you outlined. And while we shouldn’t have to consciously consider those solutions (as this whole post outlines, essentially we should be equal period), they are imperative to bringing about change. Sometimes the most viable and practical solutions are stare us in the face, we just choice to continue to normalize and look past what’s “too easy” or “too good” to be true. Thank you for this.

    • Thank you Carmen! It’s easy to feel like we’ve done enough, but we still have a long way to go and together we can get there.

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