Single Women in Today’s Workplace
By Paula Santonocito
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Women in general face numerous career challenges.
Yes, today women run multinational corporations, state and local governments, and of course run for president. But, even though Hillary Clinton says the glass ceiling now has 18 million cracks in it, the glass ceiling still exists.
For example, the ratio of women’s to men’s weekly earnings was 79.9 in 2008, which is the third consecutive year of decline since reaching a height of 81.0 percent in 2005. In other words, when it comes to equal pay, things aren’t getting better.
And career opportunities aren’t as plentiful as might be believed either, particularly when climbing the upper rungs of the corporate ladder.
Research from Catalyst, a leading nonprofit membership organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business, finds that in 2008 women held only 15.7 percent of corporate officer positions; a mere 6.2 percent of top earner positions; and only 15.2 percent of board director positions.
Although in many ways the workplace has dramatically improved for women in comparison to decades past, career-minded women clearly face more challenges than their male colleagues.
Single women may find that on top of these challenges there may be others unique to their marital status, particularly if a single woman has no children.
Company benefits offerings, for example, tend to favor married employees and employees with children. Maternity and paternity leave are common, as is subsidized childcare.
In a similar vein, it is generally acceptable for employees with children and spouses to take time off from work to accommodate family responsibilities. This often leaves single employees, both women and men, to pick up the slack.
It also assumed that single employees are available to work extra hours, travel for business, and generally dedicate themselves more to the job. After all, they have no other obligations or interests, right?
For single women, these expectations may actually compromise career success. Women, who tend to accommodate others, may be reluctant to speak up. As a result, a single woman may find herself working longer hours and traveling more frequently than she’d like. In effect, she may find herself in a role that isn’t right for her.
There are also subtleties of the employment experience that affect a single woman’s work life.
Business travel as a single woman, for example, can present situations that a married woman is less likely to face. Company parties that include spouses or partners can also be difficult to navigate solo.
The good news is forward-thinking employers, like those recognized as SMW Certified, have begun to recognize the need for policies and practices that accommodate all members of the workforce, including single women.
One reason motivating employers to move in this direction is that single women make up the majority of female workers. That’s right: Single women represent 54 percent of all women in the workforce, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.
Smart employers also know to craft policies and implement practices that consider single mothers, as many single women also share this status. A report released last summer by the Democratic staff of the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress finds one-quarter of all children are raised by single mothers.
Ultimately, each single woman seeking a career opportunity must weigh company offerings, culture, and compromises in the context of her individual circumstances. Going forward, however, as more employers become enlightened, fewer compromises should be required.
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