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Guest contributor Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, writes weekly about issues in the federal workplace.

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Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.

A culture of ‘mom guilt’

The recent Supreme court case involving the female workers’ suit against Wal-Mart sheds light on the still-present issue of barriers women face in the workplace. The two biggest barriers facing women in the work place are acceptance by other women, and “mom guilt.”

Women have made significant strides up the corporate ladder in recent decades. However, the number of women who make it to the top pales in comparison to the number of men, and I believe critical judgment of women by other women has something to do with this. Women in senior leadership have dedicated their lives to their accomplishments and may be less likely to accept other women as peers unless they have made the same sacrifices. This can create a cycle in which each generation of women will have to outperform the last in order to achieve acceptance.

The second major barrier facing women in the work place is “mom guilt.” Working women inevitably feel pulled in opposing directions when they have children. Unfortunately, any woman trying to juggle work and motherhood is likely to receive judgment on both fronts. We need successful women to accept other qualified women and mentor them. We also need to socially approve of men assuming the role of primary caregiver in the lives of our children. Until then, women are likely to face barriers in the workplace.

- Cadet Kiley Hunkler

As the business world sits on tender hooks to see what the Supreme Court will decide about class-action suits for the Dukes v. Wal-Mart case, the basis of the original suit is not a new story. The different treatment of women and men in the workplace has plagued companies for decades, ever since women began entering the workplace in large numbers. In everything from pay to sick leave, gender occupies the decision-making process. “Equal pay for equal work” has long since been a slogan for any group left with the short straw.

Promotions and pay raises, in an ideal meritocracy, are based on performance--all the time, every time. Absences from work, no matter the reason, provide less face time. Less face time equals a perception of less work, less work equals a perception of lower performance, and so on. Women, as the traditional “go-to” parent, miss more work for child-related issues ranging from school events to illness. No matter how efficient, a working mother missing even one hour more than a male counterpart who is up for the same position provides their supervisor with a “valid” reason to select the man. Until the scales are leveled for perceptions of parenting and family, the workplace will continue to provide greater mobility for workers not tied to other priorities.

Childcare leave, flex-time scheduling, working from home, are all workarounds that should not be tied to gender. Fathers should have equal treatment for these options, and yet in many organizations they are laughed at when asking for paternity leave. Changing our focus from what makes us different to what makes us the same is the only way equality will happen in the workplace. Balance occurs only when equal treatment exists for all. In the meantime, we will still refer to “women in the workplace” rather than simply referring to “the workforce” as a whole.

- Major Katie Matthew

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

West Point Cadets  | Mar 29, 2011 1:32 PM

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