Sharon Meers

Myth: Women and men are equal in the workplace

We wish it were already true — but it’s not. Women top out at around 15 percent of leadership in almost every profession and the pay gap persists.

Studies show that progress has stalled for over a decade.

People think employers and the government can fix these problems. When we wait for top-down solutions, we overlook simple steps. Like ending the “Girl Scout Tax:” The cost of being too accommodating in the workplace. Research says that women are expected to look after others at work, if humanly possible. The good thing about this kind of tax: It’s in your power to give yourself a tax break. Practice saying “no” to requests that your male colleague would decline.
 
Myth: Men are more ambitious than women

Researchers find that women are at least as aggressive as men — but only when we are anonymous. We are less likely to say out loud that we want to be CEOs. The fear of being disliked is cultivated in women in a way it’s not in men. We are told, in one way or another, no one likes an ambitious woman.

Columbia psychologist Anna Fels says that’s another problem we can correct. Women who succeed get quiet nods of approval while men get roaring applause. We can each make things better in our personal lives by surrounding ourselves with men and women who embrace female success with the same vigor and excitement as the male kind.
 
Myth: When women become mothers, they don’t want to work as much

It’s a convenient refrain because it means no one is unhappy with the way things are — women are OK with giving up good jobs when they become mothers. The best way to toss this myth out for good is for those moms to succeed as great employees and as great parents.

We don’t tell men it’s their “choice” to work, that they can rely on someone else to make the money. Let’s tell women just what we tell men, that work is the way we build skills and create economic security. Striving for the best job we can get is healthy for all of us. Even mothers.
 
Myth: Children of stay-at-home mothers do better than the children of working moms

People assume that it must be better for kids if the mother stays home. Where are the studies showing that kids with working mothers do worse? Do they drop out of high school more frequently? Are they more likely to use drugs?

The largest research on child development says kids do equally well whether moms work or not. In fact, studies say that female employment leads to good things for kids — more involved dads see themselves as equal parents. In the U.S., more than 70 percent of people under 30 think marriage is best when both men and women have jobs and care for kids.
 
Myth: The more hours you work, the more successful you will be

Research from places like Harvard Business School increasingly shows this isn’t true. Focused, structured teamwork matters more than hours at your desk. We build better, more productive teams when women are half the room. And if we want more satisfied clients, employees and shareholders, we need to retain our stars — who are often working parents.

Sharon Meers is co-author of “Getting to 50/50,” now out in paperback. She is the current head of Magento Enterprise Strategy, part of eBay Inc. Meers is a former managing director at Goldman Sachs. For more information, visit www.gettingto5050.com.

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