Is Washington DC Actually Not A Great Place To Be A Working Woman?

According to new research, it was found that Washington DC is the number one metro area for women in terms of well-being and opportunity. However, according to Elspeth Reeve and Rebecca Greenfield of The Atlantic things down in the capital may not be as great for women as they seem. We decided to talk to some real DC women to find out the deal.

Women in Washington D.C. earn the most money (median personal earnings: $37,700), and have the highest levels of education. Greenfield argued that other pluses for this city include  not as much pressure to be stylish (unlike New York where you have to compete with actual models and actresses), a better social scene for singles and a cleaner city in general.

However, Reeve believes that “Washington is a terrible place that can barely sustain human life, but it’s particularly terrible for female human life.” First of all, that pressure to be less stylish may sound better except Reeve argues that if you don’t look perfectly serious you can be easily criticized. She points out former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers being criticized for being too fancy at a state dinner.

Being very formal can be quite exhausting and DC is a very formal place when it comes to women. We have written about tough dress codes for female lawyers in women in finance but we have not tackled the tough field of being a working woman in DC. According to Reeve, though the ”lipstick-and-skirt dress code” ended in 2002, there had been a dispute that summer over open-toed shoes, and women were still required to wear jackets over their blouses to be allowed on the Senate floor. And panty-hose are still an absolute must, even for Hillary Clinton (she got ridiculed for wearing a pantsuit to her swearing in ceremony.)

She then went on to cite problems with the social scene which aren’t as important if were looking strictly at the professional lives of women, though it is nice to be able to let loose in your off time. This may be difficult when bars close at 2:30 am. But one of Reeve’s strongest points was the fact that any intern working in DC always has to live under the shadow of Monica Lewinsky. The horror. And now they may also have to deal with the Mimi Alford scandal. Basically being a female intern in government in DC carries a lot of stigma with it.

Plus who can forget about the reports about the Obama White House being a hostile place for women to work. And though the average woman may make more money CEOs of female CEOs of Washington lobbyist groups see a huge income gap.

But another big problem with DC is the atmosphere of power. On the new show VEEP starring Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as Vice President Selena Meyer, we see in the first ten minutes of the pilot  that it is all about power plays. She has to suck up to a Senator who tells her, the Vice President of the U.S., that she has no power!

A woman, who chose to remain anonymous, worked in DC for an agency for many years. She told The Grindstone:

“DC is one of those power trip places. It thrives on big egos. I have encountered more bullying and discrimination during my four years here than I have anywhere else.

I think that is the issue here. It isn’t about men or women, really. It is about how thick your skin is and how cutthroat you can be. I am not cutthroat and I don’t really care much about the “DC prestige.”

You have to be ready to deal with some of the most obnoxious personalities you have ever encountered, people who will do anything to get ahead – even if it means endangering your job. Women are more likely targets, it seems to me – based on what I have seen.”

You may just want to consider some of these things before you decide to take a job in our nation’s capital.


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    • K

      I wouldn’t say all of DC is like that. I’ve been here 5 years, working at a high stress job, and I disagree that the city can barely sustain human life.

    • Eileen

      I really liked living in DC, but it is absolutely true that you cannot dress the way you would in other cities. In pretty much anything government-related, if you’re not wearing a jacket, you’re dressed down. If you’re not wearing stockings, you’re a slightly hopeless intern.

    • A.

      I’m considering a move to DC for personal reasons. What industries were surveyed for this? Was it all finance? Government?