Women’s history month seems like a good time to address the experience of women in finance careers.
As women, we often hear half-hearted acknowledgment that there’s a problem with how women are treated in the workplace compared to men.
But we’re trying.
But women don’t speak confidently in professional communications.
But women don’t ask for the money they want.
But women have different values and priorities.
Come on. Let’s take off those rose-colored glasses and look at reality.
I stopped using “just” in emails and cut unnecessary words and phrases. I asked for raises. I asked for promotions. I negotiated my salary when I started a new job.
And I still got slighted. Often.
So for those who don’t think gender disparity is still an issue for women in finance in 2023, or if you’re a woman who is wondering if the problem is them–here are four disappointing experiences I personally faced while working in corporate finance.
4 things women in finance still deal with in 2023
While these are my personal experiences, and I can’t speak to what other women may or not may not experience in their own careers, chances are someone you know and love has dealt with or is currently facing one of these issues.
So read with an open mind and check in with the women in your life. They may be more demoralized and burnt out than you know.
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Getting a fair salary is an (exhausting & lifelong) battle
Kicking off with the most researched and discussed discrepancy between the male/female experience in the workplace, let’s talk about salaries and wages.
As recently as 2021, women earned $.82 for $1.00 men earned. This means that over a 40-year career, a woman will make over $400k less than her male counterparts.
This is no surprise to me.
I asked to get promoted a few years ago, but it didn’t go through. Disappointing. But it happens. So I moved on and focused on getting promoted next time.
Shortly after, my boss interviewed a male candidate for the same level as me, only to actively consider giving him a higher title just because he asked for more money than fit within the position’s bracket.
Not because he earned it or had a specific skill set the team needed, but because he asked.
The following year, I got that promotion and was rewarded with a 4% raise, while a male who got promoted to the same level as me received a 15% raise.
It took another year of me calling out the pay gap to get my male counterpart’s pay bump without lifting a finger.
And the response when I first raise the issue? “I wish you guys wouldn’t talk about your salaries.”
My advice: 100% ask your co-workers what they make.
Whatever your gender, likely, performance reviews are not your favorite part of your job.
But in a 2021 study, researchers found that feedback for men tends to focus on the substance of their work. In contrast, women are 22% more likely to receive feedback on their personalities.
Which is basically just the corporate version of telling women to “smile more.”
Here are some examples of empty and/or biased feedback I received repeatedly. Why repeatedly? Because they were largely out of my hands:
- Speak up more in meetings, only to be excluded from meetings and decision-making conversations
- “Soften” emails as they come off as abrasive
- Laughed at (literally) when I asked how a promotion changed my role, and then laughed at again when I failed to meet expectations and asked for advice on how to do so
- Held accountable for the performance of a co-worker that was not my direct report, rather than his (male) manager, the feedback being that I should have “assumed” that it was my responsibility
- Told to be more social, while male counterparts were lauded for their focus on their work
- Try working without your headphones
- Be more social
The good ol’ boy’s club
I considered not including this section to avoid being charged with being a cliche, angry woman. But…I got over that fear real fast.
So here we are.
The good ol’ boy’s club is still very (very) much a thing. And it’s wildly annoying.
Not least because you need backing and support from management to progress in your career within the same company.
So when you see photos posted to the team Slack channel of social events that only the men on the team were invited to or see team management taking only male employees out to lunch – it’s pretty clear who will have an easier time getting a promotion, raise, or bonus.
Even more enjoyable is when you get totally ignored.
For example, I once emailed someone (a man). Instead of responding to me, he responded to another man on the email chain.
Lack of female support systems
Perhaps the most disappointing – and the most important – sad truth I encountered while working in corporate finance was women not supporting women.
I’ve worked for teams managed by all men. And teams managed by all women. And the culture doesn’t change. The same issues curdle.
In fact, half of the experiences I referenced above were perpetuated by female bosses.
Why are we fighting against each other? The better one of us does, the better we all do.
Breaking barriers for women in finance
Despite efforts to speak confidently, ask for fair salaries, and receive unbiased feedback, women still struggle to receive equal treatment in the workplace.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we must acknowledge the work needed to create a more equitable and inclusive workplace for all women. We must continue to have open and honest conversations about the realities of the workplace and work toward meaningful change.
We all have a role in creating a more just and fair society for women in finance and beyond.