Assistant professor Amanda G. Flora is an experienced counselor educator and career development consultant. This summer, she’s teaching a course on a topic that interests her on both a personal and professional level: women and work.
In her “Women, Work and Wellness” course, Flora explores the research and data surrounding women and work. While she started developing the course before the #MeToo movement put a national spotlight on the barriers that women face at work, Flora said the current cultural environment highlights how timely these topics are.
We spoke with Flora to learn more about what the landscape of work, leadership and wellness looks like for women in all types of careers. Watch the full interview or read a few highlights below.
On why everyone should study gender in the workplace
Despite the progress that’s been made in the past few decades, Flora said people of all genders should understand that we still have a long way to go to reach true gender equality in the workplace.
“Even though it’s very much the norm right now that women work, they still don’t have most of the power,” she said. ““No matter where you work, you usually don’t have to go far up the chain to find a male making the decisions.”
The remaining barriers are often subtle, making them more difficult to see. Flora said that’s why studying the history of women and work can help shed light on the full context of workplace gender dynamics today.
“There are so many inherent biases and implicit biases and things in the structure and design of workplaces that women face, and they don’t really realize it until they get into the world of work,” she said. “In this course, I try to use data and research to show not only what they are, but also how to address it, individually or as an organization.”
Understanding a problem is the first step to fixing it. “It’s still prevalent in our culture, and I think women need to know what these barriers are so we can overcome them together,” she said.
On how wellness and work intersect
As a counselor, Flora said that the concept of wellness is always top of mind – and work is no exception. “Work and wellness are very much interdependent,” she said. For women in particular, Flora said that the majority of caregiving tasks – at home as well as in the workplace – still tend to fall to women, which can negatively impact their wellness.
“Even though we’ve come so far in becoming leaders and growing in the workplace, there’s still, despite all the progress, a tremendous amount of tasks and responsibilities placed on us,” she said. “Even in the workplace, you will find that women still do things like plan the birthday parties. I hear it from women – we’re still doing the traditional feminine tasks in the workplace and at home. And that impacts your wellness. We’re tired for a reason. It’s a challenge for a lot of women regardless of what their roles are outside of the office.”
Understanding this kind of cultural context, she said, is one way we can continue moving toward equality in all areas of our lives.
On steps that we all can take
Flora gave a few tips for what we can do to improve workplace culture for women and all marginalized groups. At an organizational level, she said it’s important to critically examine structures and processes, like hiring practices and performance reviews, that have traditionally rewarded men. On an individual level, Flora said progress begins with being aware of your own biases so you can actively work against them.
As for how to develop your own career, no matter your gender, Flora said it’s important to set both short-term and long-term goals and lay out a roadmap for your career. “I recommend that everyone take stock of your individual strengths, and have a plan,” she said.
For women in particular, Flora said that actively supporting other women is key. “We’ve got to look out for each other and support each other, and that’s going to help everyone, of any gender,” she said.
Anyone – male or female, in any industry, at any level – can make their space more welcoming by looking for the strengths in their coworkers, students and employees. “It sounds so simple and lofty, but I think people in education really believe it – everyone has strengths,” she said. “Trying to honor those and play upon those strengths helps that person and the organization. I think the folks who go out there and do it as managers, as teachers, as leaders – it really makes the difference for those students and employees.”