Leveling the Playing Field

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

Is the Society of Woman Geographers anachronistic and sexist because it only admits women? Is it any different than the Los Angeles Adventurers’ Club, which only admits men?

Unlike male explorers and scientists, women have less opportunity to meet women on the job or in the field. In 2018, Accenture surveyed about 2,900 professionals under age thirty who have been working for less than five years. Mary Hamilton reported the findings. “Typically, the story line goes, as women try to advance in their careers they get to the point where they’re hitting the glass ceiling because they are stepping away for families and that is where all the pay gap and promotion challenges are coming in. What we wanted to investigate was how early does this really start for women? Turns out it is a lot earlier than we think.”

Accenture identified four barriers that women face in their careers. During the early years of employment, women make six percent less than men. By age 30, men are “men are 8 percent more likely to have become managers, and 22 percent more likely to have reached senior manager.” In the first three years of employment, 67% of men received raises, compared with 56% of women. Men have more access to mentors and professional development early in their careers. Fifty-five percent of women did not have access to a network. Hamilton believes that this limits their chance to get high-profile assignments. “The onus is being put on the women to go out and find a network, as opposed to creating a culture that supports this. When do you have access to networks and mentors? It’s when you’re engaged in the truly high value activities within your company or organization.” Instead, women are more likely to be assigned to administrative tasks that are low-profile or dead-end. Finally, workplace cultures often do not foster equality and diversity. Women who are treated equally are six times more likely to be promoted to senior management.

Brian Uzzi recently reported on a study that he recently conducted with Yang Yang and Nitesh V. Chawla, which found that networks helped men to get executive leadership jobs if the men are central in a network and connected to a wide group of people. It did not matter whether the circle of contacts was female or male. Equally qualified women also benefited from this type of contact, but to get an executive job, they “also had to have an inner circle of close female contacts.” Uzzi explained:

Women “often face cultural and political hurdles that men typically do not, they benefit from an inner circle of close female contacts that can share private information about things like an organization’s attitudes toward female leaders, which helps strengthen women’s job search, interviewing, and negotiation strategies.”

An inner circle of one to three women was helpful if the women were closely connected with one another but did not have many common contacts. For men, the composition of the inner circle did not make a difference.

Because the Society of Woman Geographers is a widely diverse group of women from disciplines, a woman’s participation in the group, with an inner circle of at least one to three women who have different backgrounds should provide enhanced opportunities for women in male-dominated fields. Until women are as welcome in these fields as men, networks like the Society provide an important role for women.

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