Women in the Workplace: 4 Takeaways

The following is a collaborative piece between Angles and the Center for Community Capital.

UNC’s Center for Community Capital (CCC) works with seven female Graduate Student Fellows from DCRP. In anticipation of our transition into the workforce, we met with researchers and analysts at the CCC to reflect on women’s roles in the fields of research and planning. We discussed how gender intersects with our career decisions with work-life balance, compensation and negotiation, communication, and personal growth. Here are four takeaways from our discussion:

1. Sexism can be subtle and obvious in the workplace. It should be corrected as soon as it occurs, whether it is overt or covert. Sexism can show up in less obvious ways, such as who absorbs extra, unpaid tasks. Women might, for instance, take on the “emotional labor” of the spaces we occupy and the maintenance of important workplace relationships. Emotional labor can take the form of women acquiring duties such as maintaining and improving the aesthetic of the workplace, taking responsibility for first impressions and hospitality with clients or partners, and being the ones to absorb extra responsibilities when someone leaves a position.

2. Obligations, such as family care, may influence promotion and productivity. Outside-of-work activities and obligations like exercise, community commitments, friendships and partnerships, vacations, child- or elder-care, and general down-time are important aspects of life that can affect productivity at work. And, as The New York Times noted last year, many of these care obligations fall disproportionately on women—women in the United States perform an average of 4.1 hours of unpaid work per day. Whatever you prioritize, you will likely succeed in, and these decisions come with trade-offs. For example, putting in the time to be promoted may require sacrificing some of the things that keep you grounded. Having a family is also time-consuming, but it is up to each individual and their partner, if they have one, to communicate priorities and needs when balancing work and family.

3. Effective communication is key. Women can sometimes be drowned out by louder voices, interrupted, or talked over. If you recognize this happening to one of your colleagues, speak up and direct the conversation back to what she was trying to say. Verbally affirming each other’s voices will not only build solidarity but can also support women’s voices in the workplace. Also, taking detailed meeting minutes and notes that you can refer back to if there is any misunderstanding or need for reiteration can be a helpful tool if and when responsibilities become unclear.

4. Negotiate compensation. When it comes to negotiations of salary and pay, it is essential to be prepared with labor data and to negotiate the first salary offer. Use the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics website to find your industry and job title and look up the average, minimum, and maximum pay for that position considering your work experience. Take into account the unique skills you can leverage. If you are a rare asset, the demand for your labor will be higher and may put you in a higher pay range. Also, consider the cost of living where you are applying for a job and adjust for additional expenses. 

As students we are used to living with minimal costs, paycheck to paycheck, and it is easy to be blown away by an initial offer because of its comparison to what we had been living off of in graduate school. Resist this temptation and do your research. If the employer won’t increase your salary, negotiate for additional vacation days, paid time off, relocation costs, and other workplace benefits.

For online applications that request a desired starting salary with no example range, consider auction theory as a guide: If you under-bid, you will be paid less than you like. If you over-bid, you are less likely to get the job. Bid your reservation wage – the least amount of money you will accept that will meet your needs and quality of life goals. Looking up average pay for your sector and experience is also helpful with these applications.  In the long run, negotiating your first salary is crucial to addressing the income gap between men and women. Often, your subsequent salaries will be based off of your previous salary, so negotiating at the outset is especially important.

The knowledge and experience of the women at CCC was insightful and gave us perspective on how to make decisions about priorities, to support each other in the workplace, and to stand for what we deserve as equals in the workforce.

Featured photo: 2016-17 Center for Community Capital Fellows. Photo Credit: Julia Barnard. 

About the authors: Julia Barnard is a Research Associate at the Center for Community Capital where she assists with the center’s work in consumer financial services, affordable housing, communications, and outreach. She is also the facilitator of the Center’s Fellowship Program for graduate students. Julia obtained her Master’s degree from UNC’s Department of City and Regional Planning, and served as an Editor for the Carolina Planning Journal. 

Colleen Durfee hails from Ohio as a first year master’s candidate for City and Regional Planning at UNC Chapel Hill. Prior to UNC, she received her bachelors from The Ohio State University where she studied economic and political geography. She is interested in the impact planners can have on land use decisions in disaster recovery and how residents confront post-disaster challenges. Outside of coursework, she enjoys playing pick-up basketball, procrastination via cooking, and exploring unfamiliar cities.