Posted by: aclcoburn | October 19, 2016

Women’s Role(s) in Society

As we continue to delve into the topic of women in leadership, I am now getting caught on the idea of second generation gender bias. At first, I had a hard time thinking of examples that I had experienced firsthand. Much like mitigating language, I wasn’t aware of how often and how common it is in my life until I became aware of what exactly it is.

As a soon to be college graduate, people are constantly asking me, “So, what is it that you want to do?” Truthfully, I have no idea. But somewhere in the midst of figuring out my life I would like to start a career and have a family. Before, I didn’t think much of this. Why would this be such an oddity, to simultaneously have a career and a family? People do it all the time. But then I started thinking more about these plans and how to begin actually planning them. So, naturally, I started looking around to see how other people manage to have both. Then I realized- it’s not mostly people who have both, it’s mostly men. The families around me largely consist of a working husband who works a regular 9-5 job and a wife who is either a stay-at-home mom (which, for the record, I consider to be a very prestigious job title) or works part-time. Many of these women once had prestigious careers of their own; one was the district HR manager of the Hard Rock Cafe and Casino Las Vegas, another was the regional vice president of a corporate real estate company. Now, the first is a part-time event planner/bar tender for a local wedding venue and the second is a part-time sales associate for Ryan Homes. Granted, I realize that the socio-economic factor of the people around me plays a large role in the luxury of allowing a stay-at-home parent and a part-time employee. I also realize that the Hard Rock Cafe and Casino is not in Richmond, VA. But I’m now becoming more skeptical. Could these women have returned to their high job rankings after coming back from their maternity leave/ their career break? Is the reason they never reclaimed higher job positions because of their own choice, that they don’t want full-time jobs? Or is it because re-entering the workplace with families don’t easily accommodate this? Naturally women have a bigger role in the families’ home lives. This is if you believe that women are, by nature, more caring and nurturing. This is a role that is traditionally assumed, but many women are also currently happy to claim. If I am to be honest, this is a role that I would happily claim. If I were to be extremely brutally honest, I’m still holding on to the slight shred of hope that I will be a trophy wife and just take care of my kids, divulge myself in hobbies, and post my glamorous life on my hugely followed blog. But, there is still a large part of me that wants to be successful in the traditional corporate world, AS WELL AS the traditional woman’s world. If I choose to take time off of my career while my children are little, I should be able to re-enter the workplace at relatively the same spot. I should also be accredited with my past accomplishments and be considered for promotions. I should be recruited for my abilities and experiences, regardless of my gender identity, marital status, or how many kids I now have the privilege to raise. When will a woman who wants to have every role available to her, at whatever rank (part-time or boss) not be discriminated against by these silent, invisible, cultural and societal standards that I now know to be called second generation gender biases?


  1. I agree with your thoughts on how a lot of second generation gender bias comes from ingrained gender norms and gendered expectation. One think that I don’t think gets enough attention that is directly related to this is the role of the father in the family. Men are not expected to need leave when their children are born, or be a primary or even active caregiver. While it definitely hurts women that we have the expectation of motherhood, and all the stigma that comes with it (less availability to work, not keeping a job once we “inevitably” become mothers etc), I think it is unfair to men, and doesn’t help the general situation that we don’t attribute parenthood to men. If it became more acceptable and expected for men to play an active role in parenting, it would help balance out the discrimination women face from the other side of the scale.

    While not related to my comment, I also wanted to share this clip from the Big Bang Theory, where Bernadette expresses her fears about people at work finding out about her pregnancy. I thought it was interesting and relevant to our class when I watched it.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently too. I think we talk a lot in this class about how women need to be empowered to become high ranking leaders in organizations, and that is important for sure. But I think it’s equally important for women to want to be stay-at-home moms. It’s up to the individual woman to choose which path she wants to take, or to take both paths if that’s what she desires. We as a society need to accept that all three options are equally valid in order to become a society where they’re equally accessible. And to do this, we do need to get rid of the gender biases. But, of course, this is so much easier said than done.

  3. I have noticed this working or non working mom dynamic as well. Something that has stood out to me is this “second shift” theory. The second shift being that though moms are now more able to have jobs, they are still expected to do the house work. Thus creating the second shift, they come home from work and have a “second shift” of housework such as, cooking dinner, laundry and cleaning. Moms’ role aren’t shifting, they are adding. Women are expected to do it all, be a successful working woman and a doting mom, while men’s roles aren’t changing nearly as much. There are more stay at home dads than in the past, but not as many as women who are now in the workforce and moms. This also ties into the double bind. Having just enough masculinity to be a successful employee, and the right amount of femininity to cook good dinners and take care of kids. It’s, an odd dynamic. I makes it feel like a lose lose because if moms want to go to work, their plates double, and that seems exponentially more difficult. Is it possible for a woman to have it all? How does she navigate children, a job, a social life, relaxation and so much more?

  4. Ironically I’m currently doing my theory paper on maternity leave. In my research,I found that the reason most women do not return back to their job has to do with the type of leave they are given. If they are given unpaid leave they are less likely to return to the workplace but if they do they take a shorter amount of time off since they need to go back to earning money. But if they are given paid leave they will spend more time out with the kids and are more likely to return back to their job. But women often lose out on social capital in the time they are gone which makes it harder for them to rise back up in their job and this puts them at a lower pay grade compared to their husbands for example who do not lose out on pay. The combination of time spent away from work, pay loss and the distancing from the company leads women to be more likely to quit their job after having a child. I think it’s interesting that we maternity leave but not paternity leave like a lot of European countries. The companies reinforce the idea that women should take care of the kids and therefore it is not as much of a shock and people are less likely to convince them to stay than with men. I even read a statement from a male boss that said he got suspicious when men tried to take paternity leave because he thought they were trying to skip out on work and would actually check to see that his wife was pregnant.

  5. I know a lot of women who have both successful careers and families of their own. The first few years of the youngsters lives it was more difficult then when they were in school, but they have all managed it. When looking at all these women, they all have strong Type A types. They have balanced a lot of things since they were young, and they are just used to efficient time management and planning ahead. Their husbands also have successful careers, sometimes they had to drop the kids off at their grandparents house, or the kids had to have extended sleep overs on school nights but they didn’t mind that at all. You can have a successful career, you can return after having more than one child, it is possible, crazy but possible.

  6. The second generation gender bias is a problem, but one that can only be eliminated or improved by awareness. If men subconsciously perform these actions that prevent women from advancing in society and often stem from cultural expectations how are they to know what the problem is. This problem can be seen in everyday life, but especially in the demographics of the call. A 1 to 27 ratio is not something that can create change if only 3% of the men show up to the discussion. In talking with a prominent woman academic leader she signified that it was a human issue, and even helped develop a class around it in a business school in Canada. Their way of getting more men involved in the discussion was to change the name of the course to be less focused on the gender title despite it being a significant topic of the class. While the likelihood of men taking the class would increase, it is necessarily a final solution. Women and men make up roughly 50% of American society so this humanitarian issue can only be solved by both parties. Thus, the ideas in the class can be discussed with others easily enough to spread the understanding.

  7. This brings up a very good question: what about the woman who wants to have the best of both worlds? I also want to be successful in whatever career I choose, but also be a mom and be invested in my family. I think it’s definitely doable, but not without backlash. I’ve seen my mom work 50 hour work weeks for the federal government- she’s relatively successful for her job and has never wanted to give it up. I’ve also seen her drive me to countless soccer games and birthday parties. I feel very fortunate to have a mother who did both- she showed me that I could do whatever I wanted to do in my life. Of course, others always asked her, “don’t you wish you were home more? don’t you feel like you’re missing out?” But I never saw it that way. I saw my mother as an intelligent woman who was successful in and out of the home.

  8. I think that the theme of “stay-at-home mom or part time working mother while the dad brings home the bacon” is a concept much more evident in our parents generation, but one that I genuinely believe will begin to dissipate as we grow up and enter the work force. Most businesses these days are actually pretty overwhelmingly willing to meet the needs of the working mother, whether its catering to child care needs or providing paid maternity leave. It’s become much more rare for a mother to be discriminated against, especially when you consider societal standards fifty years ago. I have a lot of hope that the work force will be a family-friendly environment so to speak in the coming decades, and as for second generation gender bias, I most often recognize that in older generations as well. And if it ever happens to me, its usually a comment or situation coming from someone over the age of forty. I think that very soon these things will not be such a hindrance to us, and I already see evidence of that now in my daily life.

  9. I am in the same situation and it drives me crazy. I really want a family when I am older and I also really want a nice job. I do realize it is hard to have both and it does take some work. One thing that kinda gets under my skin is my boyfriend and his job (I mean it’s a boys job to do irritate you anyway..). He has an internship lined up for this summer that will most likely turn into his job when he graduates. I am struggling to figure out what I even want to do when I graduate. He always says, “well, at least you have me and my job pays well! You can just live off of that!” He says it joking around more than anything, so I don’t take it too much to heart. But the only thing I am certain about when I graduate is that I want a family. I will run into having a family and having a job. I don’t even think that having to give up work for a family has crossed his mind. Sometimes being a woman is hard…

  10. This is definitely something that I too struggle with. Often times I think it would just be easier, and maybe I’d enjoy life a little more, if I was a stay-at-home mom. Now I know in reality there is nothing easy about being a stay-at-home, but having a career and having a good home and family seems like a lot of work! At the same time, part of me wants to prove that I can have it all. How cool do those moms appear when they have a flourishing career and they’re on the PTA?! But does society let us do this? I think it really is quite difficult for women to come back to their jobs after they’ve had a child. In a fast paced company, they’re trying to accomplish things quickly, so people get replaced and the company moves on. In careers like teaching, however, it’s a lot easier for a woman to come back to her job. Schools are set up in a way that they almost expect women to go on maternity leave, and all that needs to be done for the students is to hire a substitute. And in the next school year, that teacher will have all new students and it’s like she never even left for several months. However, in big companies, a woman not being around could greatly affect a project within the company and may impact the companies well being in a year. I don’t know what the solution is, but I think there needs to be a more fair system that encourages both men and women in leadership positions to start families, and come back to their job after their maternity/paternity leave.

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