Women leaders discuss status of equality in workplace
Despite advancements in gender quality in the workplace, women still earn an income equivalent to 77 cents on every man’s dollar, said Teresa Boyer, executive director of the Center for Women and Work.
The Douglass Residential College hosted the “Victoria Dabrowski Schmidt ‘42 Career Conference for Douglass Women” Saturday at the Douglass Campus Center. The event featured DRC alumnae as well as local and University women who gave advice to students about succeeding in the workforce.
Boyer advised students to follow a more non-traditional path in the workplace.
She said the conventional pattern of climbing the career ladder has become invalid in today’s workforce. Most careers follow the path of a lightening bolt, traveling along a lattice that can move sideways or diagonally, she said.
“It’s a lot more fluid and dynamic,” she said. “There are times for stepping back, changing careers in a way that’s very different than the traditional concept.”
She acknowledged the progress of women in the modern era, who now compose 47 percent of the workforce and slightly above half of upper-level managerial positions.
They also form the majority of students earning degrees, she said, which has allowed them to break into law and medicine.
Other factors continue to hold women back. She said one important factor is occupational segregation, where more than half of women work in a place that is 80 percent female.
“It’s there for both men and women, but the negative effects are more frequent for women,” she said. “It leads to lower compensation and less opportunity of advancement.”
Women have difficulties breaking in to the highest level of positions. Boyer said women form approximately 17 percent of Congressional representatives, partners in law firms and professors.
They often take jobs that do not lead directly to top positions, such as Human Relations positions, said Boyer, an assistant professor.
“You have to ask yourself, what’s the pathway to advancement?” she said.
Boyer, a mother of two young children, discussed the issue of work-life balance, which she said affects women highly. Most corporations still do not provide paternity or maternity leave.
When considering employers, women should inspect their policies on paid leave and see whether they have programs to help women advance. When it comes to gender discrimination, where the person works matters more than what they do, she said.
After they accept an offer, they need to be assertive with their demands. Women often earn less than men because they opportunities slip by
“Do your research and know the salary in your field,” she said. “Even if you only start with … $1,000 less than your male colleague … every time you both get a raise, that is compounded.”
She told students to keep following their dreams, but never to stop looking and thinking critically about what they want.
“Have a career check-back. Set a date, maybe every March 15, where you ask yourself, ‘am I really where I want to be?” she said.
Karen Alexander, dean of Junior and Senior Year Programs at the DRC, said the event, while not new, was recently expanded with an endowment from Victoria Schmidt, a Rutgers graduate of the class of 1942.
She said the DRC hoped to expand on the program continuously with the funds.
After Boyer’s speech, the conference divided into a series of workshops, from “Job Searching Using Social Media” to “What can I do with a career in Bio Sciences?”
In “What Not to Wear: Dress-for-Success Tips for Professional Women,” Cheryl Wilson, the associate director of multicultural student involvement, advised students with appropriate attire for the workplace.
She began the seminar by having students analyze her blazer-and-pencil-skirt duo for its professionalism. After hearing feedback, she removed the blazer and skirt to reveal a T-shirt and tight black pants.
Wilson, a 1989 DRC alumna, said women aiming for the executive suite should dress modestly and pay attention to details.
“You don’t want to divert attention from your professional expertise,” she said.
In the “Careers in Education and the Non-Profit Sector,” DRC alumnae Elaine Hewins, Patricia Teffenhart and Mary Curran, associate dean for Local-Global Partnerships in the Graduate School of Education, addressed students on the benefits and hardships of working in their fields.
Curran said teaching jobs had the benefit of being flexible and easy to find.
The school offers special programs for students interested in branching out with their teaching degree. Students can apply to work in urban areas or host conversation trees for foreign-language teaching.
“We offer cafes in the community so immigrants can practice speaking English,” she said.
Hewins, who works for Domesic Violence Education and Awareness at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, said she worked for Middlesex County’s Women Aware and as a legal advocate for victims of domestic violence.
“In the 1990s, many people were out on the ground doing social work… later a certification was created and things have changed,” she said.
Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said a professor in the DRC discovered her learning goals and ambitions.
“She helped shape the rest of my coursework,” she said.