Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Is the glass ceiling self-imposed?

One blogger has theorized that the glass ceiling and the disparity in pay between men and women is self-imposed by women who prioritize motherhood over their careers. Tracy Coenen, on her Fraud Flies Blog, writes that workplace discrimination against women is largely a myth:

The problem here is clear, and it’s not a case of discrimination. It’s that women make choices which put them behind on the career path. I don’t begrudge any woman her right or her choice to have children. However, if she’s going to leave the workforce or reduce her role at work after having children, she can’t expect to keep up with her peer group.

Many say the choices women must make are difficult, as most don’t have a husband who is willing to stay home and perform the traditional role that a “housewife” used to in order that his wife may focus completely on her career. I don’t doubt that’s the case, but women still must be accountable for their own choices in partners, careers, and family life.

These false cries of “discrimination” upset me because when there are legitimate cases of discrimination, I think they are likely to be viewed more skeptically. Let’s use the word discrimination only when it’s really appropriate.

And for women in corporate America, let’s just acknowledge that not being paid as much as men or not attaining as many high-level positions as many is really related to career and family choices. I think our market is efficient, and works well to award pay at a level that is earned by the employee, regardless of gender.

I have to admit, It's an interesting theory, albeit one without any hard data to back it up. I'd like to think that in 2008, we have gotten beyond stereotyping women, minorities, the disabled, etc., and that all employment decisions are based on ability. Of course, that perception would be hopelessly naive. There are still lots of examples of women being passed over because of the family choices they have made.

Employees, regardless of gender, have the right to have a career and a family and not be punished for it. The balance for employers is not to confuse ability with dedication to job over all else. It's when businesses begin to equate performance deficiencies with an employee's family life that the specter of family responsibility discrimination begins to raise its troublesome head.