The Fix | Michelle P. King

Summary of: The Fix: Overcome the Invisible Barriers That Are Holding Women Back at Work
By: Michelle P. King


In ‘The Fix: Overcome the Invisible Barriers That Are Holding Women Back at Work’, author Michelle P. King delves into the centuries-old patriarchal norms that permeate the workplace and the invisible barriers that hinder women from reaching their full potential. Through an in-depth analysis of gender roles, unconscious expectations, and the flaws of the workplace, King calls for a radical shift in organizational culture, leadership, and policies to foster a more inclusive work environment. This book summary highlights the challenges women face in their careers, reveals six invisible barriers during the ‘achievement phase’, emphasizes the need for men to become allies, and outlines the leadership skills necessary to build an egalitarian workplace.

Unconscious Gender Expectations

The belief that women are inferior to men is ingrained in society, stemming from the hierarchical division of labor during the Agricultural Revolution. Gender roles are accepted without question and lead to unconscious expectations. Society attributes value to men’s work but not home and child care, associating leadership and power with masculinity. Companies implement diversity and anti-harassment training, flexible work arrangements, and parental leave, but these only provide temporary solutions. Women are excellent leaders, and the workplace needs to change, not the women.

Inequality in Ideal Workers

The book highlights the portrayal of an ideal worker in the TV show Mad Men, who is characterized by traits such as ambition, decisiveness and competitiveness, but is only suited for a white man without a family. The author argues that women who choose to be themselves at work are often undervalued and underappreciated. The book emphasizes the need to address this inequality and not leave it for women to solve alone, as it is a systematic issue that affects various groups in the workplace.

Modern Sexism and Racism

The book looks at how modern sexism and racism manifest in our society. People tend to trust others who are like them, while denying the existence of inequality and discrimination against women and people of color. Modern sexism is rooted in the belief that biological differences cause gender segregation in the workplace. Women face both “visible barriers” like discriminatory policies and “invisible barriers” such as undervaluing their leadership style. Diversity programs can be threatening to some male white workers. Gender parity can be achieved in cultures that promote equality.

Women at Work

The workplace is still male-dominated and favors stereotypical masculinity. Women must navigate the aggressive and competitive office politics which prioritize individual pursuits over company goals. Building informal work relationships with male colleagues is challenging. Women can’t be too masculine without being seen as pushy and neither can they be too feminine without inviting harassment. Men tend to promote other men because they build informal relationships with them. Women and men have different experiences advancing at work, and workplaces were not designed to accommodate this fact.

Invisible Barriers Women Face in their Careers

Women encounter six invisible obstacles in the achievement phase of their careers, including conditioning, standards of success, gender roles, confidence, performance inequality, and gender biases. These barriers can impede women’s progress, damage their confidence, and limit their success. Leaders unconsciously prefer male applicants, and women must act more assertive and warm, rather than dominant, to establish competence. Women must also exceed expectations to demonstrate their abilities, which can lead to performance and pay inequality. Gender biases, like assuming female success is due to luck, can wear women down and cause them to internalize these barriers. To overcome these obstacles, women must identify them and connect with other women who share similar experiences. Managers should also provide opportunities that demonstrate women’s competence.

Gender Inequality in the Workplace

Although more women are entering the workforce, only 39% of managers are women. Women face various challenges, including negative gender norms, role conflict, the part-time penalty, the motherhood tax, and carrying both the mental and emotional load.

Despite equal entry rates into the workforce, only 39% of managers are women. Women face numerous barriers in the middle phase of their career, including negative gender norms, role conflict, the part-time penalty, the motherhood tax, and carrying the mental and emotional load.

Negative gender norms refer to situations when bosses make gendered jokes that undermine women’s credibility. These moments of inequality occur daily and can bake gender inequality into a firm’s culture if not checked. Role conflict arises when women encounter the perceived conflict between being an “ideal worker” versus an “ideal mother.” To support working mothers, employers should understand and accommodate their needs, including flexible working arrangements.

Working part-time is often the option for mothers, and firms that value equality should embrace working women and men who will likely become parents. The motherhood tax means that pregnant women must work hard to prove their competence, and mothers work even harder to overcome the bias that they won’t work devotedly. However, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that mothers outperform childless women at every career stage, with women with two children having the highest productivity.

Finally, working mothers carry the mental and emotional load of being both an ideal mother and an ideal worker, leading to a no-win situation. Fathers and mothers need to manage career and home responsibilities equally to ensure working mothers’ well-being. With these changes, women can overcome the challenges in the middle phase of their career and reach senior leadership positions.

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