It's not just working mothers versus stay-at-home mothers anymore. Women are – in true mean girl fashion – turning on each other in lots of creative new ways. Office workers think telecommuters are slackers, telecommuters say they're just jealous. High-pressure corporate women look down on fields they consider less demanding, like education. It can seem like infighting is getting in the way of fighting the wage gap and securing more benefits for women.
One HR Director at a non-profit community hospital in the West Philadelphia area admits she can make some snap judgements based on stereotypes when she's not feeling her most rational.
"Teachers are just in it for the summers off … state/federal employees just want good benefits, lots of time off, and a guarentee that now matter how bad you screw up, you won't be fired … [when it comes to] pharmaceutical sales reps (and probably many sales jobs) the primary function of the role is to be 'hot' enough that people don't notice your entire job is a scam that drives up consumer cost," she ticked off. At the same time, she recognizes these judgements are based on stereotypes that are often false.
"I've actually met (and lived with) women who are teachers and work more at home than they do at school as far as grading papers and creating interesting projects and assignments; that ‘overtime’ pales in comparison to the time that they actually have off in the summer. I've also seen that they do work in the summer too," she said. For her own part, she often feels judged for lifestyle decisions.
"I would definitely say that I feel judged more often about the fact that I am unmarried and don't have children than I do about the hours that I put in at work," she said. "I have to admit, I keep a picture of [my sister's] kids in my office not only because I love them but also because it gives me a softer image when I have kids to talk about."
While politics between coworkers are probably most destructive to the advancement of women within a particular field or company, the judgements don't stop there. Courtney Conigliaro, a mid-Atlantic region public relations assistant, works full time "and more" in a combination of on-site and telecommuting hours.
"The PR world is always under scrutiny. [People] believe it's 100% glamorous or a field filled with beautiful people who drink champagne. I would say it's 10% glamorous and 90% sweat and tears," she said. "I work overtime hours both at night and on weekends [without overtime pay]. You have to be very intelligent and able to think on your feet. There's no room for errors in the PR world. Even though I might get to mingle with celebs, I'm not drinking champagne. I might work my butt off to make one night, or even just 20 minutes, go 100% smoothly. My job is always on the line."
Courtney doesn't feel too much judgment about her telecommuting flexibility because she feels it's becoming more the norm, or what many professionals aspire to. But it's not other professionals who frustrate UK freelance writer Emma Cossey of The Freelance Lifestyle Blog with their snap judgements.
"Generally, my family and friends don't understand what I do," she said. "They're supportive of me doing something I enjoy, but I'm sure there is a perception that working online isn't real work. In fact, a recent conversation with my family revealed that they all felt they worked much harder than I do, because I work from home. Regardless of hours worked or work done. As if the commute to work indicates the difficulty of the job."
She also feels these assumptions fall along gender lines. “I've noticed male freelancers, especially writers, are often viewed to be driven and in control of their career, while female freelancers are viewed as taking the easy option or fitting work around their family. Like freelancing is a compromise, or a way of jumping out of the fast lane. I've found the opposite – I work far more hours and far harder than I ever did in an office job," Emma said. "Additionally, I've found that a lot of people have assumed that my partner supports me financially, because there's 'no way I can support myself as a freelancer.' I've even been told, 'You're lucky to have a boyfriend who pays the bills while you faff around on the internet.' [It was] extremely frustrating, rude and not true at all. I live in a 50/50 household. Would anyone assume the same of a male freelancer?"
One manager at a Fortune 500 company in the mid-Atlantic region acknowledged women's flaws while offering advice for keeping judgements out of the workplace. "Women are more critical of other women. They are also vindictive," she said. "Stick to the issue, not the behaviors. Take diversity into consideration. Take time to network, if you’re good at your profession and confident, other women judging you shouldn’t matter."