Facing The Women's Empathy Gap
March 26, 2017Jennifer Tartavull
As the role and plight of women has come into focus in recent months, we’ve begun to question whether our perceptions of women in the workplace are skewed by our own positive experiences in the research field.
As researchers, we’re constantly monitoring the world around us. As the role and plight of women has come into focus in recent months, we’ve begun to question whether our perceptions of women in the workplace are skewed by our own positive experiences in the research field.
We, two female analysts, are fortunate to work in an office where we feel comfortable sharing our opinions. Our voices are heard and we have equal opportunities to reach the top. Several women within at Kelton have grown from intern to partner, and they inspire and mentor their female colleagues. We personally have been raised surrounded by strong women, and were brought up to believe that a successful career in any industry was always an attainable goal.
Are we naive about the issues that women in other professions face on a daily basis?
But it seems that we’re among the lucky few.
According to a McKinsey study done in partnership with Lean In, only 40% of women are interested in becoming top executives, compared to 56% of men. This seems so at odds with our experiences that we began to wonder: are we naive about the issues that women in other professions face on a daily basis?
We decided to ask a panel of consumers what they thought – we’re quant researchers, after all. As the responses filed in, we realized that others shared our positive outlook. One male respondent said:
“I have worked for a mid-size architecture firm founded and owned by a woman. I understand that this may not be a fair outlook on the topic, but when I hear about these issues in the workplace, it seems hard to believe.”
This perspective made us question how factors like company and industry help shape our perceptions. In general, market research as an industry skews female. Our inherent bias is partially a result of working in a gender-conforming industry. Since we work with many women in a comfortable environment, we don’t have to struggle with the stress or recognition of gender issues in our workplace. Which means that an empathy gap exists – even as members of the same gender.
This perspective made us question how factors like company and industry help shape our perceptions.
Despite our positive experiences, studies have shown that many women are still disadvantaged in multiple ways. They face pushback when they negotiate, they have less access to senior leaders, and they are underrepresented at every level. A woman’s choice is often overlooked and outside influences are blamed rather than looking at the whole picture. As individuals, we tend to be attracted to environments where we can find people we relate to and places we feel comfortable in. This means gravitating towards certain industries, and often our own gender-dominated ones.
If we talked less about female CEOs and more about the everyday experience of a broad range of women in the workplace, we could begin to change the perception that certain industries are reserved for one gender. We lack examples in the media of everyday success stories of women in a wide range of fields. This reaffirms the idea that there are gender-dominated fields, and that’s what we should be leaning in towards. Companies should celebrate women who are leaders in their communities and workplaces – even if they’re not C-Suite level in large, male-dominated companies. This would allow women to break down their own predispositions, think beyond industry lines, and work towards whatever career they choose. It’s one small step, but it might just work.
This blog post was co-authored by Jennifer Tartavull, Senior Analyst.