The Power of the Purse

Money. Power. Women.

It’s late at night here in Seoul. It has been a long day at work, which so far has been exciting. As I get established on the first rung of the job ladder, I’m learning new things everyday with hopes and dreams for where my future will take me.

Last week, I got my first paycheck. The feeling of euphoria when checking my bank account and seeing compensation for my hard work has been worthwhile. The money I have earned gives me power not to rely on my parents. It gives me the power to go on a shopping spree at Uniqlo or think about signing up for a Korean language course. It gives me the power to indulge in nice gelatos. And all subsequent paychecks that I earn will give me the chance to use the power of the purse to get what I want.

However, there are constant news items that make me suspect that there are limits to its influence. I might have earnt it, but I have come to understand that my power, at least economically speaking, is severely curtailed on the basis that I am a woman.

As I write this, I cannot help but think about two things that have dropped recently with regards to women’s relationship with ‘the power of the purse’: first, the McKinsey and Lean In “Women in the workplace”  2016 report, and second, how much the advice of Venture Capitalist John Greathouse to women has backfired.

‘Leaning In’ is not enough

The “Women in the Workplace” report revealed what many women (especially women of color) have known for a long time: women in the workplace ask for feedback or for raises just as men do, but are consistently ignored, their concerns and interests brushed aside like annoying flies. We ask women to ‘Lean In’ but the reality is that the glass ceiling is fierce, and cracking it requires more than simply “asking for more.” It requires others to genuinely change their mindset and give women the chance to do well.

Time and time again it has been established that diversity is good for business. Why would anyone stop the advancement of half of the population in the workplace on the basis of implicit and explicit bias when it’s been proven to be bad for business?

Does this mean that ten years down the line I will have to contend with a potential employer who is not interested in paying me the same as  my male colleagues for the same job? Does it mean that if I were to have children, I would be considered as no longer fully dedicated to work and thus dispensable?

We’ve all heard the horror stories of women being forced to accept a lower level position when they return to work after maternity leave, or of women in Italy signing resignation letters in advance when getting a new job to make the exit from their existent job immediately effective if they decide to start a family.

Will these issues still persist ten, fifteen or thirty years from now?

VC John Greathouse Shows that Success is Male

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Mr Greathouse decided to give some grand advice to women about how to best make it in the tech world: use your initials online. His advice made me pause for a moment. It made me think. Women are oftentimes – if not always – given the same advice about self-advancement: be more like a man.

I will admit that I am not entirely sure what is meant by this. Is this a request for women to be more like the stereotypical male?  

Nevertheless, what I find really confusing is the narrow definition of success that is propounded here. The yardstick of this success is male, middle class and white.

Mr Greathouse suggested that women in tech should refer to themselves only by their initials in order to hide their gender online. He basically asked women to ignore and suppress who they are to fit in, to assimilate to what is considered the norm, instead of breaking the barrier to make the “norm” more inclusive.

The guy has since apologised (and I am sincerely hoping that it was sincere). But he is not the only one to give such advice. Saddeningly, that advice has been repeated time and time again. It is reinforced every time we ask women to stop being themselves if they want to be successful. It is reinforced every time we coach women to act like guys in order to get that investment, or that job. It is reinforced every time we ask women to let some things slide at work, to stay silent when they are given office housework or are not included in meetings. It is reinforced through the micro-aggressions and through the comments and advice given to women everyday.

It is reinforced when we tell women that the only way to make it is to play by the rules and affect change when you’re at the top. It is evident in the way women know that they get paid less for doing the same job men  do and there is nothing that can be done.

That “it” is a sign of resignation. That “it” is the “I’m sorry love that things are so bad but there is nothing we can do to change them. Deal with it.”

And when I think about all this, I am always reminded about something someone said to me at my first ever internship. It had been organized by my school and lasted only a week. I was told I came across as “matter of fact”. I was advised that I needed to be careful because people thought I expressed a “this is not up for discussion” tone, and it could  ‘rub them the wrong way’.

I’m sure this advice was trying to be helpful and had my best interest at heart. But it didn’t stop me from sitting in my bed thinking about that conversation over and over and asking myself what it meant, and what was wrong, with being too “matter of fact”.

Now I’m older, and possibly wiser, and l I wonder whether the same thing would have been said to a man. Whether his tone would have been perceived too unaccommodating, or just accepted as confidence.

We ask women continuously to change who they are. That is a product of power used upon women. It is power that should redirected towards changing the way business is run to make women part of the norm, instead of actively encouraging and forcing them to be something they will never be – in their eyes, or those of others: men.



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