Gender bias can be subtle and difficult to understand. At the beginning of my women’s leadership programs, many women cannot see it and eventually discover that it is so much a part of their daily lives, they have become numb to it. The following are some recently published examples of gender bias from the media, finance and biopharma, economics, and Wall Street that silence women’s voices and create barriers to women’s participation in shaping our world.
Women are breaking barriers and forging new pathways. Michael Tackett of the New York Times reports that because they are dismayed by the direction the country is going and energized by the Women’s March in 2017 after Trump’s inauguration, women are running for office in record numbers. Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List, the largest national organization devoted to electing female candidates, reports that more women than ever before have contacted Emily’s List about running for office. Schriock notes that about a thousand women contacted Emily’s List in the year before the 2016 election, but in the twelve months since the election, twenty-two thousand women have contacted the organization. Here’s what we know at this point:
One of the patterns emerging in recent sexual harassment cases brought to light by the #MeToo movement is the failure of human resources (HR) departments in many organizations to respond to sexual harassment complaints from employees. In fact, we’ve heard example after example of HR enabling retaliation against accusers, protecting powerful men who are accused, or simply dismissing complaints with only cursory investigations or none at all. Noam Scheiber and Julie Creswell of the New York Times explain that although employees are told to report mistreatment to HR, HR is often not the right place to go. The authors explain that there are various inherent conflicts in HR’s role:
New research by Alex Krumer of the University of St. Gallen, as reported in the Harvard Business Review, finds that women respond better to pressure in competitive sports than men do. Krumer and his colleagues analyzed more than 8,200 games from high-stakes Grand Slam tennis matches. They chose to include only the first matches of Grand Slams to control for the fatigue factor. They also chose Grand Slam tennis matches because performance was easy to measure, the monetary incentives and ranking points were the largest out of all the tournaments, and men and women received the same prize money. Krumer and his colleagues found that the men’s performance in unbroken serves deteriorated more than the women’s when the game was at a critical juncture, such as a 4-4 tie. Krumer said, “Among women, we saw barely any difference between pre- and post-tie performance.”
A coaching client recently shared with me that while still a college student she was sexually assaulted by an important person at her school. When she told her guidance counselor about it, he advised her to say nothing to protect the reputation of the school. She said nothing. Now, many years later, and thanks to the #MeToo movement and some professional development work she’s engaged in, she has become aware that some of her physical and emotional problems are probably related to the buried trauma from her sexual assault. For the first time, she is starting to talk about what happened to her, which is so important for the healing process. Untreated trauma from sexual assault can cost victims their health, marriages, careers, and their lives if it is not addressed.
Two years ago, my niece, an engineer in her twenties with solid work experience, started a new job about which she was very excited. She was one of very few women in this engineering company, which was not unusual. When she returned from maternity leave about six months ago, after having her first child, she was treated so badly by her male manager that she eventually resigned. After her return from maternity leave, her manager took away her meaningful projects and gave her boring work that no one in the company cared about. He denied her requests for flex time, for permission to occasionally work remotely, and for permission to leave early on days when she had medical appointments. He made disparaging remarks about her needing breaks to pump and made comments that implied she was useless to him because she would probably have more babies. She complained to HR who said nothing could be done. She could not thrive there. With every day that passed, she felt worse about the company and began to doubt herself. She left.
Have you ever wished you could have more of an impact on making the world a better place? Do you ever feel you are not doing enough to make a difference? I have thought and felt all these things, and I was truly inspired by the story of one young entrepreneur’s business plan to fight gender inequality in the coffee industry, reported by Dan Hyman of the New York Times.
The outpouring since October 2017 of previously untold stories of sexual harassment and assault in the United States, known as the #MeToo movement, has been both shocking and exhilarating as brave women have been able to finally tell their painful stories and be heard and believed. With new revelations appearing in the US media daily about inappropriate behavior by both high- and low-profile men in the workplace, on college campuses, and in public spaces, it would be easy to miss the equally powerful stories coming out, often from surprising corners of the globe, about similar experiences. It would also be easy to get caught up in our outrage about these individual stories and to lose sight of the reason for this global phenomenon: patriarchal systems that are structurally set up against women. Here are some global examples:
Many industries in the United States are engaged in a fierce competition for talent. Because millennials value paid parental leave for both fathers and mothers more so than did previous generations, Ronald Alsop of the New York Times explains that “an arms race to provide the best parental leave benefits for fathers as well as mothers” has begun in the United States.
Women in Physics and Medicine: Closing the Gender Pay Gap, Increasing Respect, and Decreasing Burnout
New studies on women in physics and medicine find continuing disparities in pay and promotions. Audrey Williams June, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, reports the results of a new study by the Statistical Research Center at the American Institute of Physics showing a gender pay gap of 6 percent for female faculty members in physics. The study also found that men are overrepresented in senior faculty roles and that women receive fewer grants for research and lab space.
For women in medicine, the issues can be severe. Dhruv Khullar of the New York Times reports that female physicians