WOMEN’S JOB SATISFACTION has become a hot topic in the business world, thanks to a recent study from Fairygodboss. The website for career women revealed that women are more satisfied when they work for employers who display a commitment to gender equality and family values. Employers who regularly hired and promoted women, and those who offered more flexibility for workers with families, were more likely to have female employees who were happy in their careers.
There is a downside to this, however, as there almost always is. Another recent study — this one conducted by researcher Meghan FitzGerald and published in the Harvard Business Review — shows that earning more has a negative effect on a woman’s sense of well-being. According to Forbes, although “it’s impossible to say whether the wealthier and more educated women were actually in better health than those with less money and education,” it’s obvious that high-earning women felt less physically and mentally fit than their lesser-earning counterparts.
Fairygodboss doesn’t mince words: “Women who posted high job satisfaction observed many women throughout the management ranks above them, indicating both opportunity and support for their careers.” But if the women they see in the upper management echelons are secretly ill, what does that mean for women in the workplace? To put it bluntly, what do we do with this data?
It’s important to note that the Harvard Business Review study does not compare women’s health to that of their male counterparts. Although the National Bureau of Economic Research links wealth and higher education to quality of life and longevity, we simply do not know whether higher academic and career achievements are linked to poorer self-assessments of health across the board, or if this is an issue that is only faced by women.
That isn’t the only thing the study neglects to account for, however. Work-life balance and the availability of maternity leave get no mention in the Harvard Business Review study, and the “369 North American professional women” the researcher interviewed were not asked how many women their companies employed. While it’s unlikely that all of the negative implications in FitzGerald’s findings may be chalked up to sh**ty, sexist work environments, it’s possible that a different trend could emerge if the raw data was organized according to Fairygodboss’ guidelines for women’s job satisfaction.
Although I do think that women should bear in mind the possible negative effects of higher earning, I do not believe that this research should be used as a means of discouraging women from pursuing promotions. While I don’t dispute FitzGerald’s methods or data, I do see gaps: ones that she plans to address, and those she may not. There simply isn’t enough research into the subject to say that women should avoid career advancement for the sake of their health.
Quite the contrary, in fact. High-ranking female employees are in a unique position to increase job satisfaction for their fellow women. We know, thanks to Fairygodboss’ statisticians, that women who work with, and under, other women report higher levels of job satisfaction. We can also surmise, given the entrenched sexism of the American workplace, that family-friendly changes to employer culture — such as paid maternity leave, paternity leave, and general flexibility — won’t come without women’s participation in policymaking.
In an article for Slate, Nora Caplan-Bricker writes: “figuring out the factors that contribute to women’s satisfaction at work isn’t the same as devising policies to make workplaces more equitable and enable women’s success.” That’s true, but what the writer doesn’t acknowledge — or rather, does, but in a sideways, not-too-positive fashion — is that we know the changes we need to make. Granted, we’ve known many of them for some time now, but knowing the thing and doing it — as Caplan-Bricker points out — are two different matters entirely.
Companies may rail against paid parental leave, contraceptive access, and breastfeeding legislation, but they do so at their own peril. We know that there is a definite, positive correlation between job satisfaction and productivity. A happy worker is a productive worker, and is therefore a boon to her employer. At a time when the 58.6 percent of women who work make up nearly half of the labor force and will account for more than half of its growth, companies cannot afford to risk their own success by clinging to backward, boys’ club policies.
That doesn’t mean that progress will come without a fight. It never has. But we know what, specifically, we’re fighting for. “Gender equality in the workplace” is accurate, but nebulous. “Paid maternity leave” is not.
While we wait to hash out the facts behind promotions’ potential negative effects for women, we can focus our efforts on increasing women’s job satisfaction across the board. We have our starting point and our final destination — now we just have to make it there.