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5 Gender Inequity Facts We Don’t Talk About: Uncovering Trauma Ghosts for Women in the Workforce

In looking back, we can see how far we’ve come after making great strides for gender equity in our history. Women’s History Month is also a good time to take stock of where we are now—and where we hope to be in the years to come for women in the workforce.


Women in the workforce, a woman discussing something at a team meeting

If you’ve done any work with me in your organization, then you know that I’m not afraid to talk about our trauma ghosts. Trauma ghosts are those elephants in the room—the kinds of things we share sideways glances over, but rarely discuss out in the open.


Trauma ghosts are the things that we carry with us into every room we walk in. They’re the things that everyone generally knows about, yet no one is brave enough to call out. In my line of work, our trauma ghosts often look like the uncertainty of funding in nonprofits or the ever-present gossip around an ongoing issue.


And, the trauma ghosts from our larger cultural experiences—like gender inequity—can also show up in our agencies and institutions.


Today, we’re going to take a deeper look at 5 gender inequity facts we don’t talk about when it comes to women in the workforce.


Fair warning, this article might make you feel uncomfortable: talking about our trauma ghosts usually does that. But, if we want to solve a problem, we have to take stock of what that problem looks like and how it’s impacting us.




1. There are unspoken double standards for women in the workforce.


Women in the workforce are often subjected to unspoken double standards. They are expected to excel in their professional roles while simultaneously upholding traditional domestic responsibilities, such as raising children and caring for their home (and sometimes partners).


While these expectations are often not spoken outright, the social pressure to succeed in each of these areas of life puts added pressure on women, which can contribute to toxic stress, impact women's overall health and wellbeing, and create barriers for their personal and professional success.



Women in the workforce, a woman discussing something while taking notes

2. Women disproportionately take on the emotional labor.

Emotional labor refers to the management of one's own emotions and the consideration of others' emotions. At home and at work, this role is often disproportionately shouldered by women.


Women tend to find themselves as the office advocates more often than men. They are often the ones expected to smooth over team dynamics, provide emotional support, and maintain a positive work environment.


While many people might chalk this up to women's "natural" ability to be caretakers, I'd argue that women tend to be rescuers in reenactments, defaulting to the appease trauma state at work.



Women in the workforce, a woman working from home, her laptop is on the coffee table and she sits on the couch

3. The motherhood penalty can hold women back.

The "motherhood penalty" is a significant issue in today's workforce where working mothers are perceived as less committed to their jobs and face biases that limit their opportunities, such as promotions and salary increases.


Mothers are also often unfairly penalized in the job market, impacting their career progression and financial stability.


While we might be quick to blame the system for the motherhood penalty, it would serve us more to look inward and reflect on how our own values and beliefs might reflect the toxic structures that enforce the motherhood penalty.



Women in the workforce, a group of people discussing something informally in a hallway in an office/university setting

4. Microaggressions at work for women are real.

Women frequently encounter subtle microaggressions in professional settings, such as being interrupted more often or having their expertise questioned. These microaggressions, although seemingly minor, can accumulate and significantly impact a woman's confidence and career trajectory.


And, these subtle slights and social snubs increase as other marginalized identities intersect.



Women in the workforce, a side by side image of a woman with and without makeup

5. Women battle daily beauty bias.


Pretty privilege is real, and for women, this translates to expectations around their appearance making a real difference at work. Getting ready for work is about more than just looking presentable.


Women are often judged more harshly on their appearance in the workplace, affecting their professional image and opportunities for advancement. The pressure to conform to certain beauty standards can be both mentally and financially taxing. Makeup is not cheap, and the time it takes for women to apply it isn't calculated into their hourly pay.



Women in the workforce, three people sit in a team meeting

Why does understanding gendered trauma ghosts at work matter?


While each of these points could serve as a jumping off topic for a much-needed vent-session for the women at your workplace, this article is intended to bring our uncomfortable trauma ghosts to the surface so we can start to unpack them.


Rather than ruminating on the past, we must seek to unpack it and to move forward with sustained change.


In each of these trauma ghosts, there is little we can do as individuals to change the larger system at play. Instead, our true power lies in what we change in ourselves to address our trauma ghosts and prevent further harm to ourselves and others.


By talking through these trauma ghosts, we can answer questions like: why is this triggering for me? And, what role am I playing in this reenactment? The emotions you feel when discussing trauma ghosts such as these can point you toward the work you still have to do.


Final Thoughts: Moving forward with sustained change


These gender inequities are deeply ingrained in our societal and professional structures, often going unnoticed or unchallenged. By bringing these issues to light and engaging in open discussions, we can begin to address these trauma ghosts and work towards a more equitable and inclusive workplace for all.


Do you have experience with any of these trauma ghosts? What did you do to break the reenactment and move toward empowerment? Leave a comment below to continue to conversation.




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