Upon being accepted to the Women in Business association, I was extremely excited about joining these incredible girls in pursuing women empowerment. I have always been opinionated about matters regarding gender equality and discrimination, therefore WiB seemed like a perfect platform to raise awareness and work on providing women with the same opportunities available to men.
It wasn’t until I enthusiastically informed my friends about my admittance that I realized how misunderstood the feminism has become. -“Oh, wow, congratulations! Do all you- Feminists in Business- sit around a table, burn your bras and talk trash about guys?”. I know sarcasm when I hear it, but it wasn’t the “witty” comments that had me upset, yet the widespread ignorance.
Soon afterwards, I came across a Facebook group named “Women Against Feminism”, so, naturally, I went on a 5-hour stalking spree, going through their posts, researching online and reading related articles. The movement gained relatively large publicity as many news outlets covered the story and posted pictures of women holding papers with lists of reasons they do not need feminism. Some of the most outrageous arguments stated that feminism is unnecessary as “I like when men look at my body” or “My boyfriend treats me right”, but the majority of signs read “…Because I am not a victim” or “…Because I respect men”. These statements are probably as ignorant as the question “Do you have the same sun in Europe, as we do in the US?” I received when I was a foreign exchange student.
When and why did feminism become such a controversial, bad word?
In the recent years, the term has taken upon the burden of radical, irrational, female-driven ideology meant to scrutinize men and victimize women. In other words, it got mistaken for sexism. To make it clear, feminism is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. That is the official Merriam-Webster definition, and there are no mentions of man-eating, bra-burning victims. Declaring to be a feminist shouldn’t imply anything rather than supporting equal rights. It doesn’t sound so bad, right?
As with anything else, there are different types of feminism. My association, Women in Business, deals with giving women equal opportunities in business and access to capital. It has been a hot topic lately, and many regard to it as executive feminism.
Executive feminism raises awareness and fights against the gender wage gap, limited top-level positions and opportunities. This is the reality for women. It takes only a couple of minutes on Google to find confirmative information. According to the European Commission, the average gender pay gap in the EU is 16.3%. Moreover, only 14.2% of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500 are held by women. Eurostat points out that even though women earn more college degrees than men, 9% more in fact, men lead in employment, with a gap of 10% in their favor. Furthermore, a recent Guardian article presents a new study that confirms that female candidate’s chances of being hired are statistically zero if she is the only woman in a pool of 4 finalists. However, her chances dramatically increase if another female candidate is present.
The main issue which gives rise to these gender gaps is the absence of possibilities for women. Studies have shown that managers tend to consider only people similar to themselves for promotion, thus it makes sense that women hit a glass ceiling in their careers when only 21 women are present at the top leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies. In fact, there are more CEOs named John than there are women at S&P 1500 Companies. Moreover, the lower wages have been attributed to women’s lacking bargaining skills, which assumes that women actually know the amount of their colleagues’ pay. However, it is not just due to the principles of integrity and fairness that women should be liberated from gender bias and bounded possibilities. Last year, International Monetary Fund found that countries could increase their gross domestic product by as much as 30 per cent if only they allowed for greater participation of women in the work force.
Therefore, I would like to answer to my friends’ question- “Yes, we are bunch of feminists sitting around a table, burning prejudice and talking about gender gap closing.”
Women in Business_Bocconi Female Students Association