Changing Gender Roles Within the Workplace

genderFifty-six year old Betty-Ann Heggie, principal at the Stilletto Chick, has a lot to teach. Not only is she a nationally known author, speaker, and motivating lecturer, but also she is living proof of how gender roles within the workplace are not always what they seem, or what people think they "should" be. This is her story.

The Stilletto Chick

Betty-Ann grew up in large family in Saskatchewan and graduated from the University of Saskatchewan. She had plans to pursue a career as a teacher, but was sidetracked by a job offer to be the first female beer rep in Saskatchewan. That was Betty-Ann's first experience as a working woman -- and she was hooked.

From there, Betty-Ann entered the agribusiness world at Potash Corp., the world's largest, publicly-traded fertilizer company, based in Canada. Agribusiness is a "generic term for the various businesses involved in food production, including farming and contract farming, seed supply, agrichemicals, farm machinery, wholesale and distribution, processing, marketing, and retail sales," according to Wikipedia.

At Potash, Betty-Ann served as senior VP of investor relations for 26 years. Her role as a key leader, or "Stiletto Chick," in a male-dominated business and company not only made her stick out, but it also greatly affected her role at home and within her marriage. Betty-Ann was a woman among men in her professional life, and her husband was a man among women in their personal life -- both unusual circumstances.

No Girls Allowed -- An Old-Boys Club

"When I was working at Potash there were no women occupying a higher position in the organization than mine," she recalls. "In fact, the only other women within the company were in the secretarial pool." Her only choice among mentors were males -- so she looked for mentors who had wives or daughters trying to succeed in business, because she felt these men would be more sensitive to her experiences and trials as a female executive. She found several mentors over the years who had a lot to teach and were willing to give her the opportunity to "show what she could do."

But, Betty-Ann still faced systematic blockages within the organization. For example, the CEO belonged to a male-only golf club where he often took investors and clients golfing, but Betty-Ann could never join the party. She resented being excluded from these outings just for her gender, though the CEO never understood why she cared so much.

Mr. Mom

While Betty-Ann was facing challenges at work, her husband was also experiencing changes in gender roles, but in a different way. A bad Canadian economy and new government policies hurt his business, forcing the family to rely on Betty-Ann as the primary income earner. She was also required to travel extensively for the job, therefore forcing a complete gender role-reversal in her family. It was her husband who volunteered at the co-operative preschool; who did the laundry and the cooking; who did the grocery shopping, and who took the kids to their after-school activities.

These unconventional gender roles worked for the Heggie family because it made the most sense financially, and also because they had the same expectations of the marriage. Kristy Archuleta and Sonya Britt, therapists at Kansas State University's Financial Therapy Clinic, say this is imperative: "If men and women have the expectation that its OK for a spouse to earn more, it's not going to affect their relationship like it would if they go into the marriage with the expectation that the husband will have the job that pays more," Archuleta said.

Couples should also always consider what is financially best. "It doesn't really make sense for the wife to take off an afternoon of work for a sick child if she's the one making more money," said Britt, adding that the husband should take off in that case -- "even if that's not the way it's been in the past."

Spreading the Word

After 26 years in the corporate world, Betty-Ann started a career as a speaker, motivator and lecturer. She has not forgotten all that she learned as a woman in a male business culture; in fact, she has parlayed her experience into a brand -- The Stiletto Chick -- that teaches audiences how to leverage both masculine and feminine energies for personal fulfillment and professional growth and success, a concept called "gender physics."

When Betty-Ann is not blogging ( or speaking to audiences nationwide, she is working on her first book: The Fat Chick Wore Stillettos: Finding Fulfillment By Balancing Masculine and Feminine Energy.

Bread Makers and Bread Winners

As uncommon as it was in the 1980s for a woman like Betty-Ann to be the breadwinner instead of the bread maker, it is a trend that is gaining momentum each decade. A Pew Research Center study released in January showed that 22 percent of men made less money in 2007 than their wives (in 1970, only 4 percent of husbands made less money than their wives), and that the 2007 recession would only increase the number of women out-earning their husbands.

And, a recent online poll at asked: How would you feel about a wife being the breadwinner and the man being the stay-at-home dad? Of the thousands of respondents, 33 percent felt great about the idea, 56 percent agreed that they could make it work for their family, and 11 percent said it would be OK for other families, but not theirs.

The SHE-conomy

CitiBank-owned Woman & Co. conducted a recent research study titled "Women and Affluence 2010: The Era of Financial Responsibility, and declared: "In today's SHE-conomy, women are applying their growing financial knowledge and influence to crack the taboo of talking about money and usher in a new era of financial responsibility."

The study showed that instead of just spending and budgeting the family money, women are now taking on the tasks of planning and investing. Sixty-six percent of women say that they are the CFO (chief financial officer)s of their household, up from 63 percent in 2008.

What these studies tell us is that women and men are both experiencing the effects of changing gender roles within society. No one has been left untouched by this recession -- and as a result, everyone, both males and females, have had to adjust in some way. That means that as the circumstances continue to change, so will the definitions of what is a normal role for men and women within the workplace.

Next:10 Ways to Use Your Female Advantage in Business >>

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