Growing up as a Polish immigrant in Brooklyn in the 90’s, I used to think that feminists were militant women who hated men. As a young man, I sure loved the women in my own life: my mother, my sister, my female friends… But I wasn’t too sure about “feminists.” Were they the women who refused to shave their armpits? Maybe they banned their own daughters from playing with dolls or talking to boys like me? I had no idea, because the truth is, back then I didn’t know any feminists -- or so I thought.
Fast forward a few years: I attended an ultra-liberal college in New England (go Wes!), learned a thing or two about (the theory of) sexism, read a few books on feminism, and one day it just dawned on me: I’m a feminist! Let’s get real here: feminism isn’t anything radical. It’s just a simple notion that all people should be treated fairly, irrespective of their gender. Of course, every person you ask will have a slightly different definition of feminism, but that’s to be expected--celebrated even.
Moving forward another decade, and here I am, a copywriter and career coach who has supported countless women on their professional trajectory. I didn’t “save” any of these women, nor did I coddle them, but I hope I did empower their journeys toward a more fulfilling, better-paying career. Just as I have done with all my male clients, but with a critical difference, which I’ll get to in a moment.
One thing that has often struck me is how few of my female friends describe themselves as feminists. Even in 2016 it’s a word that isn’t thrown around much, even in my circle of highly-intelligent, progressive friends. Maybe some of these women just don’t want to deal with the social stigma, backlash or annoyed eye-rolls people give when they encounter a bona fide “feminist.” Or perhaps my gal pals don’t think they’ve done anything great on behalf of women to deserve the honor of being called a feminist. I don’t really know, so I won’t speak for those women. But I will speak about the many women I’ve supported over the years, whether as a friend or a career coach, and sometimes both.
To be clear, I coach persons of all genders and backgrounds. I have a near-even split between male and female clients. It wouldn’t be such a remarkable thing except for a distressing pattern I’ve noticed: even in 2016, women are under-selling themselves in the professional marketplace. As a career coach, I’ve noticed that an unusually high percentage of my female clients stop short of fully owning their accomplishments and promoting themselves assertively to prospective employers. This is visible not just on their resumes or LinkedIn profiles—it’s also apparent in the reserved way they discuss their career accomplishments with me (whether via phone sessions or during in-person consultations).
Even the type-A, overachieving women-folk who rise quickly within their organizations, who make good money, and who are as smart as a whip still show signs of this phenomenon. Yes, it runs deep.
To clarify, my male clients have challenges with self-confidence and self-promotion, too. But in my experience, it’s more frequent and more pronounced in my female clients. Based on what I’ve heard and seen:
Women are more likely to settle for a lower salary offer.
Women are more likely to avoid negotiating.
Women are more likely to downplay or omit certifications, degrees and skill sets in their resumes.
Women are more likely to under-emphasize career accomplishments.
Women are more likely to leave out numbers/figures/data in their resumes.
Women are more likely to put themselves in the shoes of the employer, to their own detriment.
Women are less likely to ask for raises, title promotions and other perks.
Women are less likely to follow up on networking opportunities and job applications.
Women are more likely to experience some form of discrimination or harassment.
Women are more likely to stay at jobs in which they’re miserable.
Women are less likely to toot their own horn.
Now, please keep in mind that these are facts from my own limited experience only. And I’d be delighted to learn that this doesn’t happen elsewhere. But these realities illustrate the challenges women face every day. Sometimes the reasons are crystal-clear: for example, a single mother cannot be expected to jeopardize her only source of income by asking her arrogant boss for a raise when she’s otherwise content with her job. But the point remains that women end up making less money and earn fewer promotions than their male counterparts. They may also be less likely to switch jobs, which can negatively impact career/life satisfaction and lifetime earnings. I’m curious what the national and global trends are, and how my experience may or may not differ from yours.
So, in light of all these challenges, how have I supported my female clients? As a career strategist and coach, I work hard to ensure that all of my clients achieve their professional goals. As a feminist, sometimes it means that I hold my female clients to a slightly higher standard, because I know they're holding themselves to a lower one. Sometimes it means that I have a tough-but-needed conversation about the realities of sexism in the job marketplace, reminding my female clients that they might have to work a smidgeon harder to get the same results as men (this may not shock you, but it does surprise some of my clients). And other times my clients and I do a deep-dive into the various mental or emotional blocks contributing to their hang-ups and self-doubt. Though we don’t dwell in that space very long. After all, I’m not their shrink, and ultimately it doesn’t matter who or what is responsible. What really matters is that the clients acknowledge their current limitations, consider viable ways to overcome them, and then take clear, consistent steps to move forward with their job search. It's a strategy that works.
Some of my readers might think that me showing a little more love to my female clients is a form of affirmative action -- if that’s the case, let it be! Although, I don’t think “love” is the right word. Kind of a like fitness trainer who knows your limitations and makes you work even harder, I probably inflict a little more “pain” on my female clients, making them work even harder to achieve their professional goals.
At the end of the day, all of my coaching is customized to every individual’s needs and strengths. As it should be. I just hope to see the day when women’s earning power and career growth are not circumscribed by their gender.
Comment below: If you’ve experienced any sexism or self-doubt during your job search and wish to share your experience or any helpful strategies, please do leave a comment. It is greatly appreciated.
David Wiacek is a copywriter and career coach who writes about the complexities of the modern day job search. He uses a blend of industry-proven methods and his own creative approach to help clients find fulfilling, better-paying jobs.
Poly-creative writer, brand marketer and career coach. Bakes a mean eclair and snaps thought-provoking photos, but is best known for helping clients achieve personal and professional growth.