Defining what it means to be a woman in the workplace isn’t easy. It wasn’t that long ago that the treatment of working women was similar to what we saw in shows like AMC’s Mad Men. Most modern workplaces may no longer be like it was in the fictional Sterling-Cooper offices.

Those dark days are gone, though as the Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer scandals have shown us, not gone completely. While the lives of working women have changed for the better, there are still challenges which women face that men don’t.

Better but Not Perfect

We are seeing a growing number of women filling management roles in companies than ever before. There are also more women in leadership positions, including CEOs and other corporate officers. This is a positive step forward since it shows that there are more opportunities for young women now entering the job market. There are paths for advancement that didn’t exist years ago, including vital roles to play in a company’s operation instead of token positions showcasing a business’s pseudo-diversity.

One major problem is that fewer people are retiring and plan on working on into their 70s or longer. The result is affecting all younger workers from those in entry-level positions to middle management. Women who qualify for a higher position and would otherwise get promoted find themselves stuck in their current spot. The reason is the person they would typically replace isn’t retiring.

Gender Roles and Society

Women in the workplace are still, in the eyes of many people, still expected to have a family. A woman’s decision whether to have a family is her own business. Regardless, if she chooses to have one, it will impact her professional career.

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Pop-culture has created unrealistic expectations for working moms. Many think a woman must be some sort of super-mom who can work 60 hours a week while still making it home to cook dinner each night and never missing a game or recital. Some continue to believe that a woman shouldn’t work at all if she has children.

Neither view is realistic or fair. No one can burn the candle at both ends and not get burnout, and workers’ compensation doesn’t cover burnout. Being a stay at home mom isn’t always possible or necessary.

There is no cookie-cutter answer to what the right work-life balance is for a working woman. No matter how that balance between family and career takes shape, the attitudes of the company a woman chooses to work for will play a huge role. This means women may have to change jobs to find the right fit.

It Depends on the Company

Anti-discrimination and sexual harassment laws are great, but they only go so far. A company’s culture plays a significant role in how women are treated. A corporation can technically observe every law and regulation on ensuring workplace equality without truly implementing it. Some companies are better for women to work for than others.

No laws are ever broken, but the fact that there are few to no women on the board of directors or in c-suite offices tells you all you need to know. The broken rungs and glass ceilings are still in place, and the people in charge know how to protect their exclusive little club.

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However, change can come even if it does take time. Companies with a less diverse workforce or upper management might be working to change that. The desire and willingness to change can open excellent opportunities for a woman looking to make her mark on the world. Take advantage of it, but also keep in mind that banging one’s head against a brick wall only results in a headache.

The Future

In terms of society, women can look to a brighter future in the workforce. The idea of women in leadership positions and even CEOs is no longer the rare exception. While true parity hasn’t been achieved, the numbers of women in leadership positions have been trending upward for a few years now. The greater awareness of the #metoo movement brought to sexual harassment and predatory behavior has made the workplace safer for many.

If there is a shadow to cast over the good news, it would be automation. The jobs women are most likely to work in are also some of the jobs most threatened by automation. It isn’t a case of robots taking over, like with many factories. Women still fill most of the back-office administration jobs, service work, and as secretaries. Many of these jobs are being streamlined out of existence by technology like apps and advances in administrative computer systems.

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