Find your work people. Download our app.

Diversity & Inclusion

I'm a boss, not a girl boss: Picking your battles at work

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated May 5, 2022
|6 min read

Glassdoor is proud to partner with the incredible storytelling organization The Moth to bring you stories of work, self, and perseverance. The following is one of the stories we will share over the next few weeks that we hope will inspire you to know your worth and reach for what you deserve.

As a college student, Vivian Huang dreamed of working with Doctors Without Borders. After years of medical school and residency, her dream came true. It wasn’t a glamorous life. Vivian was treating patients out of a makeshift hospital housed in a former chicken farm in Northern Syria. War had ravaged the area, the healthcare system had collapsed, and people were dying. 

Vivian recalled trying to help a man in pain who continuously refused her care until she covered her hair, a common practice and expectation for women in Syria. He didn’t care that she was a doctor trying to manage his pain; he only saw a female doctor with exposed hair. In  “Triage on a Syrian Chicken Farm” a story she shared on  The Moth’ stage, Vivian described the frustration she felt. 

Despite the sweltering heat, she was already covered from the neck down. Still, she had to make a choice: Would she further concede to this man's request and cover her hair just so she could help him? Vivian Huang was not a female doctor. She was a doctor. But at that moment, her gender played a part in her ability to perform her job. 

I thought being a doctor, I could level the playing field a bit. That being a doctor, I wouldn't have to face sexism or gender inequality. But I think that was a bit naive.

Most women in the workplace can relate to this on some level. How many times have women flinched at being criticized as shrill? How many times have gender biases kept capable women out of leadership roles? How do you choose when to fight and when to let it go? After weighing all of her choices and assessing what each path meant for her as a doctor and a woman, Vivian ultimately decided to care for the man. Her story shows that learning how to choose our battles at work can be a necessary — and even daily — practice.

The wage and leadership gap

Women have made considerable headway toward workplace equality. According to the Pew Research Center, 25- to 34-year-old women in 1980 earned 33 cents less than their male counterparts on average. In 2020, women ages 25 to 34 earned 93 cents for every dollar a man in the same age group earned on average. While the numbers are trending positively, that's still an estimated 16-cent gender pay gap.

The number of women in leadership roles at Fortune 500 companies is also increasing, though it still remains low. According to a 2021 report from the Women Business Collaborative, 8.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. (Less than 1% are women of color.) The share of women sitting on the boards of Fortune 500 companies has been gradually increasing for decades, rising from 9.6% in 1995 to 27% in 2019.

Yes, there’s progress, but the numbers still show that women — who make up 50.8% of the U.S. population, are underrepresented in leadership and generally underpaid.

Choosing your battles

In 2016, Michelin-starred Chef Dominique Crenn was named the “Best Female Chef” by the World’s Best Restaurants list. As CNN reported, Chef Crenn was both honored and outraged by the distinction. 

Crenn chose to speak out against the practice of bestowing awards for “best female chef,” which she believed reinforced gender discrimination in the industry.  “When you give someone an award and you tell them that they are the best female chef in the world, you alienate them from their peers," she told NPR. "It's unbelievable. Since when do we have to do a category for women?" Years later, this practice still hasn’t changed, and Crenn certainly had to know that was a possibility when she spoke out. Regardless, she chose her battle.

His religion brought him there with his suffering. And then I thought about why I was there. It was because I believe so strongly in medicine.

In a perfect world, we could hit a reset button and discrimination in all its forms would cease to exist. In the real world, each step toward progress requires emotionally exhausting work and comes with risks. Will you alienate colleagues and fail or will you succeed in effecting progress? 

Deciding when confrontation is worth the time and effort is a gut-check decision that varies person-to-person. It’s not necessarily about picking the battles you can win, but picking the battles you want to wage. If you feel strongly about a problem and you’re not sure how to approach raising the issue within your company, consider soliciting feedback through Fishbowl, Glassdoor’s online workplace community. 

The company you keep

Gender discrimination and microaggressions in the workplace are frequent themes on Fishbowl. From infantilizing terminology like calling women “girls” to discussions about the obstacles that women in tech face, Fishbowl can be a helpful platform for raising questions about workplace policies and getting ideas for the best ways to address inequities. 

The preferable path, of course, is to find a workplace that prioritizes equity. When you're looking for a new job, tapping into resources like Glassdoor company reviews can help steer you in the right direction. Glassdoor’s platform offers insight into a company’s policies, benefits, interviewing practices, and team dynamics.

Not looking to change jobs? Leaving a review with honest feedback about how your company treats and compensates women is a way you can pay it forward, helping others make more informed decisions. (And, if you’re at a company you love, a good review about those policies can help recruit other talented women.)

Own your choices

There isn’t a single correct path for battling discrimination at work. Whether you choose to fight or walk away, career decisions are personal, and you have to proceed in a way that feels right to you. 

For Dominique Crenn, it was important to use her platform to speak out against the “Best Female Chef” designation, even if it didn’t immediately affect change. Crenn’s decision to fight drew attention to gender discrimination in the restaurant industry and made more people aware of how gender discrimination can occur, even in the context of seemingly positive recognition.

For Vivian Huang, it was important to give her patient the medical attention he needed, even when she knew she was being treated unfairly. 

“I just wanted to walk away... But my conscience wouldn't let me do that,” she said. “I couldn't watch him suffer… For him, religion was like medicine [was] for me. Religion trumped everything; even his suffering, even equality for women. And medicine, for me, is the same in that I didn't need to be treated fairly. And so I met him where he was and I forgave him at that moment.”