Women Making Their Mark

By Alycia Angle

It’s no secret that gender inequality in the workplace is becoming a fast trending topic that’s more easily discussed in recent years. Thanks to many advocates, both men and women, gender equality in several arenas of the workplace including economics, power and position is more prevalent and acknowledged in modern society. Organizations and employers are taking action to decrease the gap between men, women and transgender employees in the workplace to create a fairer working environment in the United States.

I too have experienced my bouts with the gender economic gap in the workplace. Being a 20-something female and just beginning my career, a few years ago I was unaware of using my voice to speak up and advocate for fair treatment and compensation for the value I was bringing to an organization. Like many women, we don’t want to rock the boat. We value our positions in organizations and want to continue to prove ourselves in order to reach and successfully surpass the hurdles bestowed upon us. Unfortunately for me, I was taken advantage of for too long and had to fight tooth and nail to finally earn a fair wage. The problem with this mentality for employers is they lose qualified, motivated workers. In my personal opinion (that has a lot of statistics and data supporting it), I don’t think I would have been treated this way if I had been born with a biological difference.

I sat down with three professional women who live and work in the Shreveport-Bossier City area to gain a better understanding of their viewpoints on gender inequality in the workplace. The panel consisted of Judy Williams, Sandra “Sam” Darby and Amy Hollister. All three women are successful in their respective fields and have a voice of expertise they portray to the community.

 “As a little girl I was called “bossy” because I was a leader. Regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, being direct and clear towards your employees is the fairest approach to take for everyone.”

Background information on the panel:

Sandra “Sam” Darby is the vice president of the Bossier Parish School Board District 10. She is currently serving her second term.

Judy Williams is the president of Williams Creative Group, which is a full-service marketing/public relations firm in Shreveport.

Amy Hollister is a financial advisor and partner with Edward Jones. Amy has been working for Edward Jones since 2006.

SB: Do you consider yourself a feminist of modern time and what is feminism to you?

Sam: I believe that women should be treated equal by the same social and economic rights. In the past, women were not treated fairly when they tried to make a change in their job or community. It’s time that women are given the opportunity to modify this. We need to change with the times and give women equal opportunity as men. People look at the biological aspect what a man or woman can or cannot do. What we can do is treat them differently but still treat them right. If a woman can do a man’s job, she should get equal pay. If she’s placed in a particular position, give a woman flexibility to take care of what they need to take care of but treat them fairly.

Judy: I’ve always considered myself a feminist, and today it’s easier for women to say that. When I was growing up it was not as popular to be vocal about feminism. The definition [of feminism] to me is someone who advocates for equal gender treatment whether that’s pay, socially or psychologically. The way we treat and raise little girls is a good place to start change. For example, we call little girls “bossy” when they are simply showing leadership qualities.

Amy: I look at the definition of feminism and say, “yes.” I consider myself a feminist. According to the definition, I think women should be treated equal to men but I’m not sure why anyone would not agree to equal treatment. What we can do to help reach out and reduce the gap in gender differences is to have women speak up. Don’t sit back and complain about your role in the workplace; ask for another role. If we think we should have a leadership position, ladies should make a voice for themselves and say it. There are different volunteer opportunities available at Edward Jones, and I asked to be on the leadership team. This has proven to be an opportunity to discover different positions in the company and gain more responsibility.

SB: Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, explains in her book Lean In that a dominant woman in a high-powered position is viewed as a negative expletive while a man in a similar position is considered a fearless leader. What is your view and experience of male versus female dominance in the workplace?

Sam: In a leadership role where giving orders, I consider myself as aggressive or assertive, but for men I’m looked at totally differently. I always try to be respectful but direct when trying to get the job done. However, I have been viewed negatively when simply being assertive in the position I was hired to do.

Judy: There is a frightening statistic about men and women who do not want to work for women but the higher statistic is women who do not want to work for other women. It’s really sad to see, and I hope it’s changing today. From Lean In, I adopted the term “speaking while female.” I have experienced this my whole life and unfortunately it still happens in 2015. “Speaking while female” means [for example] a situation where you’re in a business meeting and a woman speaks up to say something to silence and 10 minutes later a man says the exact same thing and people around the table express what a great idea it is.

Sam: I have experienced this on the school board when trying to pass a vote. A man said the same thing I had just articulated, but after he spoke the group celebrated the idea. As an advocate and voice for the community and children, I put on a hard shell when my opinion or proposal is disregarded. It further drives me to step up even more. The most important part for me is that vote is passed.

Amy: I’ve seen more females give other females a hard time more so than males do. It’s sad whenever this happens.

Judy: I have learned over the years from men and women who have worked for me to be more direct, clear and fair when communicating with my employees. As a little girl I was called “bossy” because I was a leader. Regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, being direct and clear towards your employees is the fairest approach to take for everyone.

SB: Women tend to be over sexualized or portrayed as objects in the media today. What is your opinion of women in the media and how is this helping or hurting our progression as strong women in the workplace?

Judy: The E! Network has a regular person on their broadcasting channel that clearly has an eating disorder. To have her on the forefront of a popular channel that’s primarily marketed towards women and young girls sends the wrong message about body image. We have girls who are eight-years-old concerned that they are too fat. It’s gone too far. I’ve actually emailed the E! Network to say this lady needs helps and shouldn’t be portrayed as the forerunner in front of an impressionable target audience.

Amy: As women, we need to learn how to not give and feed into this image of beauty. If we do not allow ourselves to be in these commercials, we would not have a problem. Males do the same type of advertisements. We need different feedback on what is beautiful. Advertising and media would probably do just fine if they didn’t have a woman in a bathing suit. If I were to choose something to be passionate about, I would rather go towards women in the workplace.

Judy: It’s demeaning because it makes the assumption that we would all respond to this over sexualized portrayal of women. There’s a whole conversation about body image, but we are all beautiful in the fact that we are all beings on this earth.

SB: Have you experienced unequal pay or economic gaps in a position you’ve held or in an organization during your career?

Sam: I have a double whammy; I am a female and I am a black female, and I deal with inequality in pay all the time. I hold a Master’s of Science in Administration and once when I did all the legwork and started a whole new program, my supervisor showed me what the budget dictated my salary should be. When the project was completed my supervisor who happened to be male, enjoyed all the credit for my work while his salary increased and mine did not. I would not want anyone to experience this. I hope my niece does not have to go through what I have gone through to get a minimum of equal pay of what a man receives. Regardless of my education, I have had to work harder to get even minimum of what a man has.

Judy: I’ve worked most of life for myself so I believe I’ve paid myself fairly. Also, I have not paid anyone unequally based on gender. What concerns me is in addition to male-female inequality is a pan equity based on socioeconomic status. I’m empowered to speak up, so if I interview and someone offers me a job but the pay is unfair, I can just go elsewhere. However, if you are, for instance, a single mom with several kids and have a minimum wage job and you’re paying more for childcare than you take in, you don’t have the luxury of going elsewhere because you need that job. Although the pay inequity between men and women is obvious, I also see the gap based on socioeconomic status between people who can’t afford to speak up.

Amy: I have not experienced this gap in my position because I’m blessed where I work that I am a partner but also work in a firm that is 50 percent women. The glass ceiling does not exist for me because the harder I work for my clients, I see a direct result from my efforts. At work, we have a specific area that’s dedicated to women and leadership women forums that focus on women and diversity. During my first year as a financial advisor, I talked to a male about his finances and he said, “I’m not going to let a woman tell me what to do with my money.” I use incidents like this to flip my approach and found a niche market of women and men who want to take care of their wives if and when they are gone. I talk to people about money and their life goals and find an approach that works best for them.

SB: Have you experienced any struggle with your personal relationships regarding your position or career?

Amy: When I accepted my job, my husband and I went to dinner and talked about the new chapter we were approaching. I said I was going to dedicate a lot of time to this position and asked for his support in helping with other traditional roles that women have been expected to upkeep such as chores around the house. He’s been very supportive and thrilled that I take care of the finances. Since I own a business and run everything, it is different than most relationships, and it is constant work but it works for us.

Judy: Luckily, I have a husband who is very secure in whom he is and that allows me to be everything I want to be. We have a division of labor based on what we like. For example, I hate vacuuming but love cooking and that works for us.

Sam: I’m single so I haven’t experienced relationship struggles in that way. But I have six brothers and sisters, and I’m the primary caretaker for our parents. Since I haven’t married, I was silently chosen to be the primary caregiver for our aging parents in addition to my personal and professional life.

SB: What advice do you have for young women starting their career?

Sam: My mom showed me leadership at a very young age; she owned a business and managed the whole household. My dad was a minister so he was gone a lot of the time. I learned from my mother that you can do anything you put your mind to if you work hard. There are endless opportunities out there, you just have to work hard and do it. The sky is the limit literally. We have astronauts who are female, and we have women who are ministers. You can do anything you want to do.

Judy: Even in 2015 I still think it’s harder for women. My advice is to find a female mentor. Someone in your particularly industry who can guide you to navigate some of the pitfalls. Learn to speak up very early.

Amy: I’m a mentor at Edward Jones and give the same advice to females as I do to the males. Advice for women is don’t discount yourself. Don’t automatically think that being a woman is a handicap. Speak up if you want something, write your goals down and go for it.