Tomboy: A New Book about Gender

I got the message early in life that it was better to be a boy than a girl. I heard my parents talk about my father’s disappointment that I, his firstborn child, was a girl when he wanted a boy. I tried to be his son. I played sports with the boys in the neighborhood, and my father was proud. I climbed trees and did rough-and-tumble boy activities, and my mother was horrified. She sent me to take ballet lessons so I would be more graceful like a girl should be. I got the message but rebelled against it. I joined the neighborhood boys in throwing rocks at the boring neighborhood girls. I was called a “tomboy.”

Mary Katharine Tramontana, writing for the New York Times, interviewed Lisa Selin Davis, the author of a new book entitled Tomboy. Davis suggests that gender norms are still rigidly enforced in the United States and children learn and internalize these stereotypes by the age of six. These messages are designed to make sure that kids are straight and conform to gender norms that result in different skill sets. I remember trying to buy Lego and erector sets for the daughters of friends to encourage their development of special skills. The toys in stores were segregated by gender. The construction sets for girls were packaged in pink boxes and consisted of materials to build simple houses and castles—basically dollhouses. The sets for boys were coded blue and contained complex materials to build motorized trucks, robots, and war machines. In other words, Davis notes that gendered toys are designed to develop interpersonal relationship skills for girls and the skills of spatial relationships, problem solving, and independence for boys.

Not much has changed since the word tomboy was coined in 1556 to divide childhood into skills and traits defined as masculine and feminine. Davis tells us that historically, “girls being less ‘girly’ are historically ‘acceptable,’ if not celebrated,” as long as they become feminine by puberty to prepare for being wives and mothers. Davis notes, though, that the opposite is not true for boys. The tomboy’s counterpart for boys is the “sissy,” which “carries the homophobic and misogynistic warning to boys: Don’t be like a girl.”
The acceptable coding for gender has not always been the same. For example, Davis and Tramontana agree that for decades in the United States, pink was a boy’s color and in the nineteenth century, most boys played with dolls.

Tramontana cites Davis’s book as arguing that “American childhood is more gendered now than in recent generations.” Davis explains that in the 1970s, “U.S. feminism permeated consumer culture, and masculine styles were marketed to girls.” The reverse was never marketed to boys, however, to ensure that boys were straight. The antifeminist backlash of the Reagan era created social pressure to return to traditional gendered values.

In her book, Davis discusses ways that parents and educators can resist gendering childhood to ensure the healthy psychological development of children. One suggestion is to allow ambiguity for children’s explorations and expressions. Treat little boys who wear dresses and want nail polish as just boys wearing dresses and not as a problem. The same for girls who don’t want to wear dresses. Davis states, “It’s incredibly important for children to see ‘masculine’ girls and women and ‘feminine’ boys and men, and  to know that qualities we’ve labeled that way are not rooted in sex.”

Governments and corporations can take important steps too. For example, in Britain, advertisements cannot include gendered stereotypes, according to new rules issued by the Advertising Standards Authority. And Target no longer has gender-segregated toy aisles.

Davis states that if we embrace ambiguity, children and parents will experience a lot less distress.


Photo courtesy of Janet McKnight (CC BY 2.0)

Women on the Outside: New Global Research on Influence

An important new study conducted for the Brookings Institute by Tuugi Chuluun and Kevin L. Young provides a novel view of women’s representation in organizations around the globe. The authors, by using a new network analysis technique, note that the lack of representation of women in leadership positions in the United States is well documented: thirty-seven Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs, and only three of these CEOs are women of color.

They note that globally, many initiatives exist that promote more women to leadership and increase diversity in boardrooms and in government. “However,” Chuluun and Young state, “women, and especially women of color, remain dramatically underrepresented, and the coronavirus pandemic threatens progress we have made on this front because of gender inequality in the division of housework.”

This new study seeks to gain a more complete picture of women’s representation beyond counting the numbers of women in leadership and on boards. These authors posit that greater numbers of minority individuals, including women, in leadership may not mean greater influence in organizations and society because minority leaders may be marginalized from elite networks where influence on organizations and society is leveraged. They suggest that power and influence comes from these elite networks, where trust, cooperation, and information is shared. Their analysis identifies the group of organizational leaders within the network who are more connected to one another at the center of the analysis and compares them to the peripheral nodes that are loosely interconnected.

Why do networks matter? The authors explain that “a woman who is on the board of a powerful organization with global reach . . . is not likely to be as powerful as the woman who is on the board of several organizations, all of which are densely connected to yet more powerful people.” These densely connected people are the global elite. The authors examined the dynamics of board ties across organizations to study interrelationships among elites and how an individual’s connections and position in the elite network relate to their gender and race. Their study analyzed 1,600 individuals who serve as board members in nearly one hundred globally prominent organizations, including the largest corporations, think tanks, and NGOs like the World Health Organization and the International Monetary Fund.


The authors’ report shows that women of all racial groups are marginalized at the periphery of these power networks and are not part of the “inner circles” where greater power and influence reside. They note, “Women—and non-white women in particular—are proportionately more confined to peripheral positions within the network.” In fact,

  • Representation of white males increases when moving from the periphery to the core
  • For women, their representation declines when moving toward the core

The authors conclude that as this is true for women of all racial groups, it appears that gender is the most significant determinant of who is in the “core” of the elite networks. Even though being white offers significant advantages in professional settings, representation for white women declines precipitously at the core of elite networks.

Why does women’s inclusion or exclusion from elite networks matter? The authors suggest that

  • Decisions are impacted by backgrounds and cognitive biases
  • Gender is a pervasive social institution that informs the way people process information and make decisions
  • The lack of women’s influence in the decision-making of elite circles has global implications for policy, mobilization of resources, and power that affect societies
  • Diversity among leadership affects the financial performance of organizations

As long as women remain on the periphery of elite networks, their power and influence on organizations and society remain limited. We need women to finally be integrated into the inner circles of power. Studies like this one shine light into the dark corners of power and open possibilities for change.


Photo courtesy of Michigan Municipal League (CC BY-ND 2.0)

More Cracks in the Glass Ceiling and Some Rising Stars

It is always exciting when new barriers are broken by women. Kim Ng and Erika James recently became the first Asian American and woman of color, respectively, appointed in their roles, and Abby Phillip and Savannah Guthrie are being recognized as rising stars. What follows is some information about their accomplishments.

For the first time ever, a woman, Kim Ng, has ascended to the role of full-time general manager of a major league men’s baseball team, the Miami Marlins. Tyler Kepner and James Wagner of the New York Times report that Ng is only the second person of Asian descent, after Farhan Zaidi of the San Francisco Giants, to lead a baseball operations department. Her parents were both United States citizens of Chinese descent.

Kepner and Wagner note that Ng’s inspirations were Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. Ng admires that King fought for equality, and Navratilova “changed the idea of what it looked like to be a female athlete.” Ng intends to continue setting an example for other minorities and women. She notes, “You can’t be it if you can’t see it.”

The next trailblazer is Erika James, the first woman and the first person of color to be appointed dean of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in the school’s 139 year history. As a change in direction, Wharton hired James to integrate diversity and inclusion, inequality, climate change, immigration, and the role of business in society into the curriculum of the business school. David Gelles, writing for the New York Times cites James as saying, “The conversations in the classrooms are changing because the students are asking for it. Their expectation is that . . . we’re going to have coursework and reading material and discussions on corporate social responsibility.” Gelles explains that as the nation’s oldest business school, the Wharton School has an outsize influence on shaping the culture of corporate America. James is leading a much needed change in the shaping of corporate culture.

Abby Phillip is a rising star at CNN. As a reporter for the Washington Post until 2017, she was a national political reporter covering the White House. After leaving the Post, she became a CNN political correspondent covering the 2020 election where her intellect, courage, and interviewing skills came into public view. Katherine Rosman writes that Phillip, like many female reporters of color, “suffered particular public ridicule” by President Trump, who told her during a press conference that she asked “a lot of stupid questions.” Phillip never lost her focus on asking the hard questions that needed to be asked, including when she moderated a debate between Democratic presidential candidates where she challenged Senator Bernie Sanders for saying that Senator Elizabeth Warren could not win the election because she was a woman. “Why did you say that?” she asked. On November 6, while anchoring the election returns with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, both senior correspondents for CNN, Phillip, age thirty-one, announced that the vote tallies coming in from Georgia and Pennsylvania in favor of Joe Biden were because of Black women. “Black women did that,” she announced. Bash reflected that in that moment, she knew a star was being born as Phillip’s intellect and style were on full display.

Savannah Guthrie also gained prominence during the presidential election. Already an established television host of a popular news program, the Today Show, she gained wider recognition by conducting a last-minute interview with President Trump when he cancelled the second presidential debate with Joe Biden. Sridhar Pappu of the New York Times writes that Guthrie did what many thought impossible: she “humbled, even humiliated, a man who had steamrolled his way to power, belittling journalists along the way.” Guthrie relentlessly pursued Trump with well-informed follow-up questions that challenged his lies and demanded to know why he was retweeting conspiracy theories. Most famously she said to him, “You’re the president. You’re not like someone’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.” It seems that NBC is taking new notice of her toughness and skill.

Let us wish these female trailblazers luck as they take on new roles and challenges. And let’s support them whenever we can.


Photo courtesy of Anthony Quintano (CC BY 2.0)

Christine Lagarde: How Women in Leadership Make a Difference

Christine Lagarde, who became the first female president of the European Central Bank (ECB) in 2019, is already demonstrating the difference that women leaders can make. In an interview conducted by Alison Smale and Jack Ewing of the New York Times, Lagarde lays out her vision for the European Central Bank, which represents a significant departure from past ECB presidents, who were traditionally focused on managing European economic and monetary policy. Lagarde’s vision is broad:

  • Fight climate change
  • Encourage global cooperation
  • Strengthen the credibility of international institutions

Lagarde also articulates what she thinks women leaders bring to leadership that is value added. The authors note that “one year into her eight-year term at the bank, Ms. Lagarde, 64, hopes to use her experience not only as an international lawyer, former French finance minister and head of the International Monetary Fund but as a woman to accelerate change, with a particular focus on saving the planet.”

Lagarde and Janet Yellen agree that women bring a different focus and different priorities to leadership than do men. In an earlier post, Yellen, the former first female chair of the Federal Reserve and Biden’s nomination for the first female secretary of the Treasury, explains that women bring a sense of fairness about economic inequities that is underrepresented in the field of economics. Smale and Ewing note that Lagarde, specifically in reference to combatting climate change, states that because she is a woman, she brings a sense of urgency and determination. She notes that women bring different powers to the table, such as

  • The power of life. Lagarde states, “I think that actually giving birth gives you a sense of prosperity, heritage. . . . I think maternity is central to making sure that our children inherit something that is sustainable” for themselves and future generations to live in.
  • The power of the purse. She notes that often women are the decision-makers when it comes to consuming.
  • The power of resilience in the face of change. Lagarde notes that numerous studies show the importance of resilience in leading change, which research shows is a leadership strength for women.

Lagarde also notes other strengths she has observed in women leaders:

  • Women are more inclusive than mercurial.
  • Women are more patient than impatient.
  • Women are more respectful than abrasive.

As a case in point, she notes that her working relationships with the other two women in executive leadership in Europe, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, are particularly good. She notes that the three of them know each other quite well, which facilitates a rapid exchange of communication without protocol. Strong relationships produce easy communication. She also notes that none of the three women really care about who gets credit relative to each other. In other words, less ego and vanity results in easier collaboration. These two points track well with other research showing women leaders to be more relational and collaborative in their leadership styles as strengths.

Smale and Wing also cite Lagarde noting that the pandemic is revealing the importance of multinational cooperation, which requires leaders to be open and honest about what is wrong and willing to work together. It is good that a few more women are now at the international decision-making table. We need them now more than ever—and we need even more of them.


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New Research on the Wage Gap for African American Women: The “Double Gap”

The Roosevelt Institute and John Jay College of Criminal Justice published a new study that reveals important information about the wage gap for highly educated African American women in the workforce. Much has been written about the gender wage gap for women in general in the United States. Michelle Holder, the author of this study and assistant professor of economics at John Jay, points out that corporate profits have increased over the last few decades while wages in general in the United States have stagnated. In 2018, domestic corporate profits totaled $2 trillion while full-time workers’ (median) annual salary sat at $46,800. Holder notes that among the factors contributing to stagnant wages over the past few decades are globalization, technology, and decreasing bargaining power of labor unions.

The author reports that the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women in general experienced a gender wage gap in 2018 of 81.6 percent of men’s wages, while Black women working full time earned sixty-one cents for every dollar that white men earned. These simple numbers mask complex factors that play a role, such as occupational crowding based on sex, gender socialization, employer bias, historical exclusionary practices on the part of unions, and the “motherhood penalty.” Holder notes that African American women experience both a gender wage gap and a racial wage gap, which she names the “double gap.” She explains that the impact of the combination of these two types of discrimination on wages are probably not just additive but multiplicative for African American women. The purpose of this research is to quantify the double gap for highly educated African American women.

“African American women have held a uniquely entrenched yet peculiar place in the American labor force,” explains Holder, “since the first enslaved African woman” was brought to the United States to provide involuntary, unpaid labor within and outside of white households. After emancipation, African American women continued to labor as primarily agricultural or domestic workers.  These occupations were the only ones open to them—occupations excluded from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies establishing Social Security and other benefits for workers.

Holder explains that her research takes an unusual approach and examines occupational wage differentials between African American women and similarly educated white non-Latinx men because non-Latinx men, as a demographic group, possess the best wage-bargaining power with employers. Holder’s research is based on the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) database with a sample size of over 3 million. This research includes all twenty-two major occupation groups in the 2017 ACS sample and includes only participants who are

  • full-time employees of at least thirty-five hours per week
  • people employed only in the private, for-profit sector
  • non-Latinx persons
  • US citizens
  • Black women and non-Latinx white men with the same education levels, determined by the fiftieth and ninety-nineth percentile educational attainment levels of African American women in each occupation.

The education levels under investigation were probably a minimum of some college and a maximum of graduate level and postdoctoral education. The attainment levels of the Black women were used to establish the boundaries for comparison with the white men. The same attainment levels were then used to match white non-Latinx male workers in matching occupations.

Here are the research’s findings:

  • The aggregate wage differential between highly educated African American women and similarly educated white non-Latinx men in the United States in 2017 was $50.9 billion.
  • Specifically, African American women were underpaid in sales occupations by $9.1 billion.
  • Another large gap was for health practitioners. The annual wage gap was a differential of $49,683 compared to white non-Latinx men in the same occupations with the same levels of education.
  • The largest absolute pay gap, according to related research, is in the physician and surgeon occupational categories.

In conclusion, Holder states, “The findings from this research suggest that African American women’s labor power is largely undercompensated by employers, with tangible implications for income and asset-building in the Black community—as well as significant cost savings, in the tens of billions of dollars annually, for the private, for-profit sector.” We need government policies that hold companies accountable for these inequities. This is shameful.


Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

The Toxic Culture of Olympic Gymnastics for Young Women

I have always been outraged by stories of sexual and emotional abuse of young women athletes. I remember how vulnerable I was as an adolescent to the power of authority figures such as teachers, bosses, and landlords. The stories of the more than five hundred victims of sexual abuse by the team doctor of the USA Gymnastics organization, Lawrence G. Nassar, revealed in 2017 when eighteen of his victims filed a federal lawsuit raise huge questions about how Nassar was able to continue this abuse for decades without consequences. The answer seems to lie in the culture of Olympic sports that protects abusers of young athletes and encourages a toxic culture of abuse.

Since Nassar’s conviction for sex crimes, other instances of abuse of young Olympic athletes have come to light against coaches who are mentally, physically, and verbally abusive to young female athletes. In a recent article by Juliet Macur in the New York Timesseveral gymnasts have filed complaints against Mary Wright, a coach who, much to the distress of her victims, was recently named to the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame. One complainant against Wright, Hailee Hoffman, explains that as a former Stanford gymnast she was subject to years of emotional, physical, and verbal abuse by Wright. Four other gymnasts have since come forward with complaints against Wright that include

  • Being publicly ridiculed by the coach
  • Being called stupid, lazy, and fat
  • Being forced to train while injured, including, in one case, with two broken ankles
  • Other verbal abuse including berating, threatening, demeaning, and insulting comments

Other coaches have also recently been exposed as abusive, such as Maggie Haney, Sabrina Picou, and Qi Han, all elite coaches of Olympic gymnasts. The philosophy of coaching reflected in these stories of abuse is grounded in the belief that coaches must have absolute power over their athletes and they must scare their young athletes into obedience. Macur cites Morinari Watanabe, the president of the International Gymnastics Federation, as saying this mentality of coaching is “an antiquated and dangerous way of coaching.” In fact, Macur notes that “some mental health experts say the recurring verbal abuse, including berating, ridiculing, threatening, demeaning and insulting, can be as harmful to young people as physical abuse or sexual abuse. It has also been linked to depression.”

Nonetheless, the USA Gymnastics organization and the International Gymnastics Federation continue to be very slow in following up on complaints, taking complaints of abuse seriously, and in changing the culture of coaching. It is unconscionable that young athletes continue to be subjected to this type of treatment. Let us keep our eyes open and support change in the culture of gymnastic sports.


Photo courtesy of William & Mary (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Forgotten Women in History—Part IV

I am always pleased to stumble on an obituary for a woman who died long ago printed in the New York Times. The Times has been belatedly publishing these obituaries to make amends for overlooking the accomplishments of women in the past. Here are the stories of three more women who are new to me.

Charlotta Bass (1880–1969)

Charlotta Bass was the first Black woman to run for vice president of the United States on the Progressive Party ticket in 1952. Jessica Bennett of the New York Times notes that Bass’s shoulders are one of many that Kamala Harris now stands on. Even though Bass knew the chances of winning were small, her campaign slogan was “Win or Lose, We Win by Raising the Issues.”

Bennett notes that Bass led a remarkable life as an activist and journalist. Born in Sumpter, South Carolina, around 1880 to Kate and Hiram Spears, descendants of enslaved people, she moved to Rhode Island to attend college, then to Los Angeles, where she had a long career as editor and publisher of the California Eagle, the West Coast’s oldest Black newspaper. In the Eagle she denounced The Birth of a Nation, the movie made in 1915 that glorified the Ku Klux Klan. She used the paper to fight for equality for Black people in hiring and housing, along with other civil rights and labor issues. Her positions were considered radical at the time. She became the subject of government surveillance and was labeled “disloyal,” but she was able to bring many social justice issues into the national spotlight through publishing and running for state and national office.

Inez Milholland (1886–1916)

Inez Milholland was an ardent and talented advocate of women’s suffrage who was never mentioned in my history books. Meredith Mendelsohn, writing for the New York Times, shares that Milholland collapsed and died at the age of thirty after delivering fifty speaking engagements in eight states in twenty-eight days, where she urged her audiences to vote against Woodrow Wilson and for his opponent who supported suffrage. She pushed herself through illness to her detriment as she fought passionately for women’s rights, racial equality, labor reform, and prison reform and against WWI. The year she died, she led eight thousand women up Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, during the first major suffrage parade.

Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (1895–1966)

Jia Lynn Yang writes that Mable Ping-Hua Lee stood out in 1912 as one of the leaders of one of the largest marches for women’s suffrage in the nation. She and a brigade of women on horseback led ten thousand people through the streets of New York City on a march for women’s right to vote. Lee stood out as a highly unusual suffragist as a Chinese immigrant.

Lee arrived in the United States from China in 1905 to join her missionary parents when she was ten. Very few Chinese were allowed into the United States at that time because of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was not repealed until 1943.

While Lee’s mother seldom left their home in Chinatown because of her bound feet, Lee earned a doctorate in economics from Columbia University, published articles, and gave speeches in which, according to Yang, “she articulated a bold, transnational vision for democracy based on Christian values of equality.” She argued that suffrage was extending “democracy to women.”

Lee never realized her dream of returning to China to help liberate Chinese women, but she did help bring the right for women to vote in her adopted country.

Let’s take a moment to learn about the women who have helped pace the way for us.


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons, Library of Congress, and George Grantham Bain (all public domain)

New Research on Workplace Emotional Tax and Four Strategies for Change

Recent events in the United States have raised the awareness in many white people about the terrible costs of structural racism for people of color in our country in terms of safety, education, access to opportunity, and the wealth gap. In a previous post I wrote about research on the increase in Black infant and maternal mortality in the United States due to the stress of racism. New research conducted by Dnika J. Travis and Jennifer Thorpe-Moscon, published by Catalyst, demonstrates what they call the “Emotional Tax” paid by women and men of color in the workplace. They note that the cost of the Emotional Tax for both individuals and organizations is high. They offer strategies for reducing and eliminating these costs.

What is the Emotional Tax at work? To describe the Emotional Tax, the authors ask readers to imagine feeling a need to be constantly on guard at work to protect themselves against large and small acts of bias, exclusion, unfair treatment, and feeling different from peers at work because of gender, race, or ethnicity. This constant need to be vigilant to protect against what others might say or do, whether they intend to exclude or insult, has a cost. The authors explain that “a lifetime of being marginalized can have uniquely potent effects, including on health and well-being.” The Emotional Tax is also harmful to organizations because the tax can prevent employees from being able to thrive at work or can result in a talent drain when employees feel they must leave the organization to protect themselves.

The Catalyst research was based on a survey of 1,569 professionals, 89 percent of whom worked full time, working in corporate and noncorporate organizations in the United States, and was conducted in 2016. Participants were 24 percent Asian, 44 percent Black, 38 percent Latinx, and 6 percent multiracial with an average age thirty-five. They were 51 percent female and 49 percent male with no reporting of nonbinary participants.

Here are some key findings from this study:

  • 58 percent of the women and men of color surveyed feel they must be highly on guard to protect against racial and gender bias. This breaks down to Asian women (51 percent), Black women (58 percent), Latinas (56 percent), and multiracial women (52 percent) reporting being highly on guard. Black men (64 percent) and Latinos (60 percent) most frequently report being on guard.
  • Employees who feel highly on guard are most likely to want to leave their employers.
  • While other aspects of identity were included in the survey, race and gender were cited most often as the reasons for needing to be on guard.
  • Women (40 percent) were significantly more likely than men (26 percent) to report being on guard in anticipation of gender bias.
  • Latinas were the only group to cite their gender (47 percent) more than their race/ethnicity (42 percent) as the reason to be on guard.
  • Women of color (24 percent) are more likely than men of color (11 percent) to be on guard because they expect both gender and racial bias. Multiracial women are most frequently on guard for these reasons.
  • Between 13 and 27 percent of respondents report being on guard because they anticipate bias based on other aspects of identity, such as physical appearance, physical ability, age, and religious beliefs. A few women and men of color are on guard because they anticipate bias against sexual orientation or parental status.
  • While white men often benefit from behaviors consistent with masculine norms, men of color are more likely to be penalized for the same behaviors and are stereotyped as aggressive and hostile. Latinos, especially Mexicans, are stereotyped as too aggressive and Asian men as too passive. When they behave against expectations, they are penalized.
  • Respondents who experience higher levels of being on guard are more likely (38 percent) to frequently consider leaving their jobs than those with lower levels of being on guard (11 percent).

Strategies for reducing the consequences of the Emotional Tax for individuals and organizations, suggested by the authors, are as follows:

Strategy 1: Listen—Listen and affirm how employees experience gender, race, and ethnicity in your organization. Encourage dialogue, promote expressions of difference, and be open to being challenged by other perspectives.

Strategy 2: Learn—Take proactive, careful stock of the day-to-day experiences of exclusion and inclusion. Don’t discount subtle ways people can feel singled out or connected. Specifically, evaluate your organization’s culture, track and monitor outcomes or talent management processes, pay attention to differences, and ensure consistency of policies and practices.

Strategy 3: Link up—Team up with employees and demonstrate partnership. Specifically, hold facilitated conversations, identify common themes, and find ways for employees to “own” inclusion efforts.

Strategy 4: Lead—Ensure leaders and employees are supported and held accountable for inclusive behaviors. Educate and train managers, pay attention to whose voices are being heard, enhance employee skills, and encourage teamwork.

The Catalyst study also found that 90 percent of women and men of color who experience high levels of being on guard report high aspirations to succeed and thrive professionally. The authors suggest, “Any company that doesn’t fully leverage this ambition is vulnerable to a talent drain.” Don’t let this be true for your organization.


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The Triple Whammies and Double Binds Faced by Kamala Harris

As soon as Kamala Harris was named as Joe Biden’s running mate, “a steady drip of racism and sexism” was unleashed, writes Maggie Astor of the New York Times.

Many of the racist and sexist tropes thrown at her are similar to those aimed at Michelle Obama when she stepped onto the public stage as Barack’s spouse, such as calling her an “angry Black woman” when she spoke of her convictions or showed herself to be a strong woman. At the same time, the intersection of Harris’s particular combination of identities creates some different challenges for Harris. Astor explains that intersectionality is a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a lawyer and civil rights activist, three decades ago to describe “how various identities can overlap to produce discrimination more complex than just, for instance, racism plus sexism.” Harris has the “triple whammy” of at least three primary identities—race, gender, and being the child of immigrants.

The Triple Whammy

Astor notes that Kamala Harris is a Black woman, an Indian American woman, and a woman whose parents were immigrants. Astor quotes Nadia E. Brown, an associate professor of political science and African American studies at Purdue University, as saying, “These are distinctly misogynoir tactics” when describing the combination of racism and sexism that Harris faces as a Black woman. Here are some examples of misogynoir stereotypes and labels that Harris has experienced so far:

  • The president twice used dehumanizing language to refer to Harris when he called her “this monster” on the day following the vice presidential debates.
  • Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, referred to Harris as “an insufferable lying bitch.”
  • Tucker Carlson of Fox News labelled Harris as, in Astor’s words, “a power-hungry usurper” of Biden’s presidency.
  • Birtherism accusations have been made about whether she was born in the United States (she was).
  • She has, of course, been called an “angry Black woman” along with “mean,” “aggressive,” and “disrespectful.”
  • Sexualization is another racist trope leveled at Harris, which includes being promiscuous and hypersexual. Astor notes that Rush Limbaugh suggested, falsely, that Harris was elected as the district attorney for the State of California by “sleeping her way up.”
  • Harris has also been called “Aunt Jemima” by a public official and “phony.” Astor explains that when “phony” is used against a woman of color, it takes on a culturally loaded meaning—she doesn’t belong. This meaning is amplified when the woman of color has immigrant parents.
  • Harris has also faced challenges from the Indian American community because of anti-Black racism, from the Black community because of misogyny, and from the Black community because of her Indian American ancestry, which caused some to question whether she was really “Black enough” to understand their lived experience.

Double Binds

Much has been written about the double binds that women face, and women of color are often judged even more harshly than white women when facing double binds. Astor notes some examples of double binds that Harris faced after the vice presidential debate:

  • Trump described Harris as “totally unlikable.” This is a classic double bind for women, described by Amanda Clayton, a political scientist at Vanderbuilt University, as “women can either be seen as leaders or they can be seen as feminine, and the two don’t go together.”
  • “She is applauded for her knowledge,” Luntz wrote on Twitter. “But they just don’t like her ‘condescending reactions.’”
  • “Pence absolutely wrecking Harris on Biden’s economic plan here,” Ben Shapiro, The Daily Wire founder, wrote on Twitter. “Her smirking isn’t helping.”
  • The focus from commentators was on Harris’s tone and looks, and they overlooked the policies she was discussing and her professional experience.

We must all be vigilant and call out these triple whammies and double binds as unfair when we see them leveled against Kamala Harris. This includes staying conscious about our own biases and challenging ourselves when racist or sexist thoughts or judgments arise in us. They are unfair.


Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Gender Pay Gap in the White House

It is always important to verify the truth of claims that our leaders make in order to be informed citizens. The purpose of my posts is to report information from current research to keep readers informed of new knowledge about gender issues in the workplace. While the Trump administration has consistently made claims about their commitment to gender equality, new information reveals a mixed record in that regard. Here are some of the claims from the Trump administration about their accomplishments, reported by Chabeli Carrazana of The 19th:

  • Kayleigh McEnany, the Trump administration press secretary, said that the president has taken “unprecedented action to support women and girls.” The Trump administration has implemented some helpful policies, but the rhetoric does not match reality in many ways.
  • The Trump administration says that it has more women in senior positions than any president in history. We will examine data that disproves this claim.
  • McEnany also touts the historic low unemployment rate for women in 2019 as proof of the administration’s commitment to gender equality (and unemployment rates are now at historic highs due to the pandemic).
  • In terms of the gender pay gap in the White House, the Trump administration never mentions it. Mark Perry, an economist and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who tracks the pay gap, offers the standard justification that “there are more men than women who have advanced degrees and decades of experience,” so of course men are paid more in the Trump White House. To this tired “pipeline” argument, C. Nicole Mason of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research notes that “there is no absence of qualified women.”

Let’s take a look at some of the recently available data.

The Gender Pay Gap in the White House

Carrazana of The 19th writes President Trump did not make closing the gender pay gap a priority. An analysis by the staff of The 19th found that a significant gender pay gap exists in the Trump White House with a $33,300 pay gap in median salaries in 2020. Male staffers had a median income of $106,000 while the median of female staffers is $72,700. This means that in the Trump White House women make 69 cents on the male dollar, which is worse than the national pay gap of 82 cents on the dollar.

Carrazan notes that there do not appear to be any staffers who identify as nonbinary, so all available data is binary. These numbers for the White House are calculated as “raw” gender pay gap data, not adjusted for experience, education, title, or other factors, which is the same way that the national figure is calculated.

In comparison to past administrations, Carrazan reports that in the Barack Obama White House, in 2016, women were paid 89 cents on the dollar, which plummeted to 63 cents the first year that Trump took office, according to an analysis by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

Women in Senior Positions

As for the claim that the Trump administration has more women in senior positions than any president in history, this claim does not hold up. Carrazan reports that

  • An analysis by the Brookings Institution of top advisors across administrations found that the 2017 Trump administration had women in 23 percent of its A-team positions, which is less than the 2009 Obama administration, the 2001 George W. Bush administration, and the 1993 Bill Clinton administration.
  • An analysis by The 19th staff of 2020 data on Trump White House commissioned officers—assistants, deputy assistants, and special assistants to the president—found that 40 percent of staffers who had that ranking in the Trump White House were women.
  • In the Obama White House in 2016, the gender split in the commissioned officers, or top positions, was 50-50.
  • In terms of top earners, in 2016, 53 percent of those who earned $100,000 or more in the Obama White House were women compared to 47 percent who were men. In 2020, the gender split for highest earners in the Trump administration was 37 percent female, 63 percent male.

Actions to Support Women and Girls

In terms of this claim that President Trump took unprecedented actions to support women and girls, Carrazan reports that

  • The Trump administration tried to roll back measures designed to increase transparency on pay data collected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but was blocked from doing so by the ruling of a federal judge.
  • Trump signed an executive order in 2017 that rolled back the Obama administration’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order. The Obama order required companies with federal contracts to comply with a number of civil rights and labor rights laws, including paycheck transparency.

We must stay vigilant and ensure that the voices of white women and women and men of color are represented at the table where decisions are made and that we are paid equitably for our work. We bring valuable perspectives and life experience that will make our government and our country stronger.


Photo courtesy of The White House (public domain)