Women in the Workplace – Bridging the Wage Gap

April 23, 2016

Julia Smith

Julia Smith, CEM, is senior vice president, national sales at GES (http://www.ges.com/US/home), where she has been collaborating with exhibition clients for more than 23 years.

The IAEE Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF) is just a few days away, and its approach has me looking at some of the lessons I learned (some the hard way) and issues like the wage gap that many woman are still facing today.

Bridging the Gap

I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and had a promising foundation for future career success. In June of 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, which should have signaled the end to gender discrimination in our country.  Title IX gave me access to sports and an understanding of fair competition. 

I had grandparents who were college graduates,and parents who never limited my dreams because I was a girl. I worked from a young age, learning responsibility and gaining independence. The feminist movement created new opportunities for women who were breaking through proverbial glass ceilings.

Yet, here we are more than 50 years later, and women are still making approximately $.79 to every dollar made by a man in the U.S. (often far less if you are a minority woman). In conjunction with International Women’s Day this year, the U.N. recommitted to a deadline of 2030 for gender equality. In 2015, the World Economic Forum projected that gender equality will take another 118 years! To quote a favorite comic character, “Aaaggh!”

I was fortunate to make (or stumble into) some good career choices, and to commit to a company that supports and rewards me. I also married a man who gets me,and my drive and need to achieve. However, it was still a long path to where I am today, and I want to pass along the valuable lessons I learned to younger women:

1.       Know your unique value, and your economic value. Studies show that women are not as effective as men in negotiating on their own behalf. It’s often the “good girl” syndrome; the assumption that if you work hard, you will be paid what you are worth.  Keep a file of all of your accomplishments.  Put time into your annual self-appraisal – give your boss everything she needs to justify the maximum increase possible and collect salary survey data for your field.  Focus on making yourself invaluable.

2.       You don’t have to be a man to MANage. We’ve all met them…the women who think they need to be tougher, meaner, louder than any man to show they are in charge. It’s okay (in fact desirable) to be compassionate, encouraging, a good listener, whether you are a woman or a man. It doesn’t make you any less in charge. Find good role models of either gender, and take note of what makes them good leaders. By the way, many of my best role models, mentors and examples have been men.

3.       Polish your communication skills. I have a liberal arts degree. Not a business degree or an MBA--but the ability to speak and write clearly have fast-tracked me in every position since graduation. There are myriad of ways you can hone your communications skills including: rehearsing in a mirror; having someone videotape you; joining Toastmasters; anything to strengthen your presence. Also, be diligent in practicing written communication that is clear, persuasive, and emoji-free.

4.       Don’t forget to keep yourself, and your career, in perspective. Years ago, I was melting down about something relatively small at show site.  One of our workers, a Vietnam vet, reminded me that “no one is shooting at us.”  We do important work, but it is work, after all, not your whole life. If it is your whole life, you need to get a hobby!

There are so many women who do not have the same support systems that I had, which is why meetings geared towards women are so vital. Events like the WLF provide an opportunity for women in our industry to lift each other up, network, develop new skills, contemplate next steps and make big plans. We get to hear from trailblazers and trendsetters; women who have approached the world undaunted by studies or barriers. The IAEE Women’s Leadership Forum gives me hope that our granddaughters’ granddaughters won’t need to talk about the gender gap.

If you want to join a company that supports the vital role that women play in the workplace, take a look at GES’ careers page here. Originally published on the GES Blog.

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