Semiotics of the Modern Working Woman (An A to Z Guide)
We’re ditching the rule book for what the modern working woman should be or do.
By Rachel Bekkerman
All of (US)
When we think about what the modern working woman looks like a mosaic of people, places, ages, and industries appears. She’s not a “type” anymore - relegated to the 50s secretary pool. As women became more serious players in the workforce, the definition of what was or wasn’t appropriate, manageable, or imaginable, expanded in infinite ways. In other words we’ve officially ditched the rule book in favor of an anything-goes philosophy. In 2018 the modern working woman is multifaceted, incredibly nuanced, diverse, and exists across every industry. She’s all of us.
Is any work uniform really complete without a carefully curated blazer rotation? We think not. Whether you’re corporate dress code requires full suit style, or you’re throwing one over a tee and jeans, there’s no doubt that the blazer is a sharp staple that’s as versatile as your resume.
Last year 32 female CEOs topped the Fortune 500 list (a record-breaking year if you can believe it). This year that number dropped to just 24 - about 5% of the total list…. What’s the deal? Well according to the publication, more than a third of the female CEOs resigned in the past year. Some didn’t even last two years at their post. Research shows that female executives are more likely to be put in charge of firms that are already in crisis (cue eyebrow raise), so are they being set up to fail? Is the “glass cliff” to blame? Women are increasingly ascending to senior leadership roles, but because it’s happening at difficult times, their positions are precarious. The answer could lie in policies, or systemic change, but one thing remains certain - a woman’s place is in the C-suite.
Aka fancy presentations. Used in a sentence, “Hey Maggie, awesome deck!”
Understanding the subtle nuances of email speak is a delicate skill set that takes years of experience to perfect. After all, achieving the balanced pettiness that comes with a well timed “per my previous email” isn’t for amateurs. It’s called a professional clap back for a reason.”
It’s been recently reported that “businesses founded by women ultimately deliver higher revenue—more than twice as much per dollar invested—than those founded by men, making women-owned companies better investments for financial backers.” That’s the good news. The not so good news? According to Harvard Business Review, “women-led businesses are the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurship in the U.S., but they comprise a small percentage of the companies funded by venture capital.” We know that some insanely successful companies were founded by women (i.e. Glossier, Away, Rent the Runway, Outdoor Voices, the list goes on and on), but VC funding still tends to go to male founders... Only 3% of venture dollars were invested in solo female founders in Q1 2018. Change on this front has to come from both ends. Arguably, more successful women in founder roles will demonstrate that betting on those businesses isn’t as big of a risk as some might think. At the same time, there should be more female VCs that are leading decisions about where investments are going. As a company founded by two badass women, we’re excited to see the tide start to change in the right direction.
Today, a woman still earns only 8o cents for every dollar a man does, and this discrepancy is even greater for women of color, and surprisingly, plus-size women.
Meant to be broken. Yes, women have made amazing strides in the job market over the course of the 20th century, and into the 21st, but we’re not done yet - not even close.
A place for team bonding, corporate culture, and gossip-inducing acts fueled by alcohol to unfold.
The new BlackBerry. Once the ultimate business gadget, BlackBerrys (or “CrackBerrys” as they were once known at their peak) are effectively history. The elegant swipes and taps of the iPhone have since replaced the feverish thumb tapping that once filled office corridors.
When you’re in the zone, what’s playing on your Spotify playlist? Classical musical is supposed to boost brain power, but are you listening to Mozart or Metallica?
A staple in any office kitchenette. The key is knowing the right amount of capsules to use in order to achieve a coffee shop comparable.
Keep your friends close and your connections closer. You never know when you need a reference… LinkedIn is the modern working woman’s social network of choice. Plus, it’s a great way to stalk your past and current coworkers. Who says Instagram has that market cornered?
Mother + Millennial
OK, maybe we’re cheating, but we just couldn’t pick between these two definitions! From stay-at-home to working mothers at the upper echelons of the corporate and creative industries, the juggle and struggle is beyond real! Balancing and navigating self identity, ambitions, financial obligations, and life generally, with arguably the most important job of all - raising other humans to not be assholes - can only be described as a monumental juggling act worthy of Cirque du Soleil. Now onto the millennials… Inc. says that millennial women are “dominating the job market.” For decades this title has been strongly held by young men, but as close to 60% of all college students are women (key to getting those higher-paying jobs), they’re quickly surpassing their male counterparts. Millennial women are doing better than any females of previous generations - making more money, starting and heading more companies, traveling more, becoming more educated, and becoming more socially conscious - all while having more choices than ever before. Millennials are the most powerful, empowered females of generations, and the best news? There’s still so far to go.
Yes, women have made amazing strides in the job market over the course of the 20th century, and into the 21st, but we’re not done yet - not even close.
Nine to Five
An incredible movie, an even better song, and a totally unrealistic time frame for the modern work day. In the U.S. reported working hours have steadily creeped up to an average of 9 and then 10 hours a day. That number is even higher in uber-competitive industries and with smartphones, email, slack, and text, we tend to be available always in all ways.
Out of office. Please forward all messages to spam.
Still a thing. The Equal Pay Act was signed into law in 1963 (that’s over 50 years ago!) and yet there’s still a pay gap between the sexes. Today, a woman still earns only 8o cents for every dollar a man does, and this discrepancy is even greater for women of color, and surprisingly, plus-size women. Tsk tsk.
Iconic in every way, but making a special appearance on our list for reframing the narrative around strong, assertive women with the now infamous statement, “I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.” Plus, doesn’t everyone blast Run the World (Girls) before big meetings and presentations? Or just US…?
We’ve already covered the gender pay gap, but let’s dig into “why.” So far it’s been assumed that women have been the culprits - if we don’t ask, we don’t get. But maybe we’re asking and not getting... That’s what a recent Harvard study found. Research revealed that “holding background factors constant, women ask for a raise just as often as men, but men are more likely to be successful. Women who asked obtained a raise 15% of the time, while men obtained a pay increase 20% of the time.” Harvard also disproved the idea that women aren’t as aggressive in their ask - worrying that they’ll disrupt the relationship with their employer. Apparently men are guilty of the same thing. So it’s not a matter of “leaning in” like Sheryl Sandberg says.
Remember these bad boys? Or are you actively trying to forget? A staple of the 80s silhouette, shoulder pads were key to creating the strong look reflective of male counterparts. Did big shoulders equal big competencies? Think Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. She proved that a woman could be just as successful and smart as any man in business. Tess McGill was brilliant, bold, beautiful, and went after what she wanted. Plus she showed that women don’t have to lose their sexuality to be taken seriously. Who could forget her famous line, “I have a head for business and a body for sin.” Note, we wouldn’t recommend dishing this one out in your next interview…
Unless you’re a mortician, you probably work within a larger team that’s imperative to your success. Building teamwork and camaraderie is so important to your day-to-day happiness. They don’t say “team work makes the dream work” for no reason, right? After all, you most likely spend the majority of your time with the people you work with. Why not make it fun?
Women supporting other women is a great way to propel all of US forward together.
Women supporting other women is a great way to propel all of US forward together. An article from the Atlantic lays out two dominant cultural ideas about the roles women play in helping other women in the workplace: the “Righteous Woman” vs. the “Queen Bee.” The Righteous Woman is an ideal, a belief that women have a distinct moral obligation to have one another’s backs. Meanwhile the Queen Bee argues that in reality women just can’t get along - a belief that rests on the idea that there is something inherent to the female sex that causes women to undermine each other. We’re on the side of the Righteous Woman...
Leaders that don’t see things as they are, but how they could be.
When you need to download on what happened last night on The Bachelor, the guy in accounting you have a crush on, or your weekend plans gone wrong, turn to the work wife. Coworkers you can brainstorm with, commiserate with, laugh with, and cry with can become your closest allies in the office and your closest friends outside of it.
Xtra Desk Shoes
Stilettos are not for the faint of heart, but sometimes you need to strut it out. Strapping them on and maneuvering the streets, however, can be a perilous act. Luckily, women have outsmarted the system with extra desk shoes - a tradition dating back to the days of clunky 90s sneakers that has been passed down from generation to generation. Now you can safely swap your stylish shoes for the Crocs you wouldn’t dare wear in public.
You know her, but you don’t love her...
We know sleep is important, but how much sleep is the right amount? Individuals who get a good night’s sleep tend to be healthier. Plus, sleep is imperative for optimal brain function, including cognition, concentration, productivity and overall performance. So how many hours is the sweet sleep spot? The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 - 9.