Maddie Dai’s Cartoon Unveils the Miserable State of Women at Work

gender inequality in the workplace feature

We have various reports talking about women’s status in the corporate world and a whole lot of discussion and debate over various pertinent issues. While this does spread awareness, A the New Yorker cartoon highlights key struggles many women face at work in a creative manner.


Maddie Dai is a Kiwi illustrator, designer, and animator who is currently working with Purpose, where she uses visual storytelling and strategic creative content to tackle the world’s toughest challenges. While there is a myriad of “women in workplace” topics that need our attention and deliberation, many tend to slide away due to the enormous amount of other news stories that grab our eyeballs.

Women’s lives are a game of choice, often where women must choose between family and work, seeming confident and likeable, seeming presentable and overtly presentable, dressing aptly and striking an impression, the whole game is trickier than even the Game of Thrones.

The reason for this comes down to prescriptive stereotypes, where women are punished socially when they directly or seemingly violate how people think they should act.

With a never-ending list of socially manufactured do’s and don’ts for women it can be hard to keep track of all the different expectations and assumptions people have about women and expect them to abide by it.

Luckily, Maddie Dai compiled some of them into a handy cartoon for The New Yorker to help us keep track: To say women are not happy in the workplace would be an understatement.

Maddie Dai

Maddie Dai, Twitter

As Dai tinted in her cartoon, every day, women make compromises between seeming smart, confident, and assertive and appearing warm and likeable.

The reason women are held to entirely different and much more critical standards as men come down to gender bias and stereotypes present in our society.

As reported in the Business Insider, according to research conducted by NYU psychology professor Madeline Heilman, women’s career advancements are often impeded by two kinds of gender stereotypes:

  • Descriptive stereotypes attribute certain characteristics to women, like “caring,” “warm,” “modest,” and “emotional.” This creates problems, Heilman says, when there’s a disconnect between what women are perceived to be like and what attributes are necessary to successfully perform in male gender-typed roles.
  • Prescriptive gender stereotypes designate what women and men should be like. With this kind of stereotyping, women are disapproved of and punished socially when they directly or seemingly violate the prescribed ways they should act.

We are all aware of the disturbing role prescriptive gender stereotypes play in the workplace. In India, stringent dress codes are prevalent in various working sectors only for women. For example, in the teaching sector in South India, most of the schools prescribe only saree for women teachers.

Prescriptive gender stereotypes are not watertight just to the workplace but rather accentuates it importance right from the birth of a child. This particular gender stereotype is passed on and evolved during one’s growth.

Another study conducted by Heilman shows that successful women working in “male domains” are penalized when they are perceived to be less nurturing or sensitive since they violate gender-stereotypical prescriptions.

Women who violate prescriptions of modesty by promoting themselves at work are considered to be less “hireable” in a Rutgers University study, and a study conducted by Harvard’s Hannah Riley Bowles showed women were penalized by evaluators more often than men for initiating negotiations, thus violating the prescription that women be passive.

This is true as to how women’s opinions are generally considered last or worse, never considered. In the movie, “Zero Dark Thirty”, there is a scene where Jessica Chastain comes up with possible solutions but sits quietly until the end and then finally finds a gap and then puts forth her point.

This is the actual situation in most of the offices wherein women are probably made to sit for representational purposes and are hardly given a chance to speak.

Also according to research by McKinsey & Co. and Lean In, which surveyed 132 companies employing more than 4.6 million people, women actually negotiate for promotions and raises more often than men do, but they’re far less likely to receive them. Again, the issue is that, when women negotiate, people like them less for it. The study found that women who negotiate are 30% more likely than men who negotiate to receive feedback that they are “intimidating,” “too aggressive,” or “bossy” – and they are 67% more likely than women who don’t negotiate at all to receive the same negative feedback.

This case holds true for the recent case in Bangalore when women sanitation workers demanded that they get their three-month pending salary but unfortunately became victims of casteist slurs, sexual harassment and physical abuse.

The cartoon is self-explanatory in a way that it mentions pointers which are nothing but an honest representation of women’s position in the workplace. While we all know these unsaid truths, what we all desperately need to know is that this deserves a permanent solution. The creative depiction of bleak truth is necessary for the creation of a space to at least talk about it but that would not suffice to put an end to this issue. We need more of collective action to bring about a change.

This bold cartoon has paved the line to begin a conversation about the problems, it’s reminder to everyone, especially women to speak up rather than having eight blank pages on which they could write about what they had wished. This cartoon is a powerful statement to ignite our souls to break the façade that we leave behind.

Also Read: Sweden to Organise Crowd-funded Women-only “Statement Festival”

Reshma Ganeshbabu is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed in this column are author’s own.