Gender Bias—Past Is Present

Gender bias in the workplace, defined as forms of discrimination against women that reflect the values and mind-sets of the men who created the settings and practices, is a deeply ingrained part of our culture. While many of these gender-biased mind-sets and practices are changing, Marisa Porges, writing for the New York Times, points out many interesting ways that the legacies of gender bias from the past are still impacting the present:

  • NASA didn’t have enough space suits that fit female astronauts. Only a few days before the much-publicized first all-female spacewalk was to take place in April 2019, it had to be canceled because of the lack of space suits that fit women.
  • Two years after Porges began flying jets for the navy, somebody noticed that the ejection seat on her jet was not designed for her five-foot-two-inch female frame. It had been designed and tested by and for only men, which increased the risk of major injury for a woman if she needed the safety equipment.

The legacies of gender discrimination are also present in small ways that affect the daily lives and careers of women. Porges notes that while women face many systemic barriers, such as wage gaps, family leave policies, and blocked career pipelines for women in underrepresented fields, the small legacies are also significant:

  • Lack of adequate lactation rooms in most office buildings
  • Antiquated office dress codes that require female employees to wear high heels
  • The size of safety gear available for female astronauts
  • Temperature settings in most workplaces, which are calibrated to men’s metabolic rates and are too cold for women

While Porges focuses on legacies of past gender discrimination reverberating in the present, new sources of gender discrimination are also concerning. Megan Specia writes about the broad gender disparities in the technology and artificial intelligence (AI) sectors, noted as problematic in a new Unesco study released in conjunction with the government of Germany and the Equal Skills Coalition. Specia reports that women are grossly underrepresented in AI, making up 12 percent of AI researchers and 6 percent of software developers in the field. The Unesco study states that “a lack of diversity within the industry . . . is reinforcing problematic gender stereotypes.” The report states several alarming examples:

  • Most virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa have female names, female voices, and often a submissive or flirtatious style. They also often have a “deflecting, lackluster or apologetic response” to insults, which provides a powerful illustration of gender biases coded into technology products.
  • Gender and racial biases have also been built into sexist hiring tools developed by Amazon and facial recognition technology that misidentifies black faces.

The report points out that “the more that [technology-enforced] culture teaches people to equate women with assistants, the more real women will be seen as assistants—and penalized for not being assistant-like.”

The absence of diversity in engineering teams that are overwhelmingly staffed by men means that gender bias continues to be perpetuated. Our whole culture needs to change and confront the multilayered problem.

 

Photo by Diego Gavilanez on Unsplash

Work Has Changed: The Impact on Women

New research, reported by Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times, notes that while American women are more educated than ever, a smaller share of college-educated women in their early forties are working today than a decade ago. In fact, the most educated women face the biggest gender gap in seniority and pay. Miller points out that women aren’t only opting out of careers because of discrimination, a lack of childcare, or a dearth of paid family leave policies. While these factors all contribute, research by sociologists and economists has converged on a new understanding of the way the nature of work has changed and how this change disproportionately impacts women’s careers. Researchers Youngjoo Cha at Indiana University, Kim Weeden at Cornell, and Mauricio Bucca at the European University Institute explain that “new ways of organizing work reproduce old forms of inequality.” Their findings include multiple alarming statistics:

  • In the last two decades, salaried workers have earned more by working long hours. Four decades ago, people who worked fifty hours a week made less per hour than did those who worked forty hours per week. Today, people who overwork—working sixty hours a week or more—are paid a premium and those with round-the-clock availability earn disproportionally more.
  • Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard, notes that overwork is most extreme in managerial jobs and in the greedy professions, such as finance, law and consulting. These professions demand long, inflexible hours—which has canceled out the effects of women’s educational gains.
  • Goldin explains, “Being willing to work 50 percent more doesn’t mean you make 50 percent more, you make like 100 percent more.” Goldin notes that financial rewards for working extra long hours don’t’ have a gender gap, but far fewer women seek such rewards, particularly mothers. Someone has to take care of the children, and usually that person is the mother. She cuts back on her hours, diminishes her future earning potential, flatlines her career, and underutilizes her education so that her spouse can maximize his earning potential for the family by overworking.
  • Men are much more likely to have a spouse who is on call at home. Cha reports that three-quarters of men in the top 1 percent of earners have an at-home spouse. Just one-quarter of women in the top 1 percent of earners do. In dual-earner households in which a man worked sixty or more hours, women were three times as likely to quit their jobs.

Miller points out that highly educated women aren’t the only ones impacted by the changing nature of work. Unpredictable and inflexible hours pose a challenge to family life and careers for same-sex parents, middle-class families, and low-income workers. She notes that researchers have focused on college-educated women because they are most prepared to have big careers, but their careers tend to flatline. In dual-career families with children, when one career takes priority, it is generally the man’s.

Several factors have contributed to the overwork trend affecting women. Technology makes people more accessible at all hours; business has become more global and people are now expected to work across time zones; the wealth gap in society makes people feel less secure; employment is increasingly unstable; work has become more competitive; and working long hours is a status symbol and a way to stand out.

What can be done to change the nature of work? Goldin states that most solutions for how to close the gender gap are merely band-aids because the problem is systemic. She suggests that the very nature of work needs to change, which will only happen if people demand it. Younger men say they want more involvement in family life. Employers want to keep talent and may listen if young men start to quit. Employers may even begin to notice that they are losing out on women’s talents and training by requiring and rewarding only long and inflexible hours.

We need to start a discussion on a national level about the nature of work and how to make it more humane for everyone. Everyone will benefit if work is predictable and flexible and rewards reflect quality instead of quantity of hours, and employers will gain access to talent pools that are not available to them now.

 

Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

Five Reasons Why It Is Time for Universal Day Care

Did you know that we almost got affordable, high-quality universal day care in the United States in 1971? Katha Pollitt writes in the New York Times that bipartisan legislation, the Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971, was passed by both houses of Congress—and vetoed by President Richard Nixon. Nixon’s veto resulted from pressure by the Christian right to resist “communal approaches to child rearing” that would undermine “the family centered approach.” In 1971, the women’s liberation movement was gaining steam and beginning to threaten established gender roles. Nixon was able to prevent a veto override by appealing to an existing hostility toward women working and being mothers and to a fear of communism in our Cold War culture. But as Pollitt notes, times have changed. Most mothers of small children now work (and some always did), and the fear of communism has been replaced by the growing popularity of mixed economy, social democratic welfare states successfully modeled in Western Europe. Pollitt argues that it is time to put affordable, high-quality universal day care at the top of the Democratic Party agenda ahead of proposals for free public education, health care for all, and a living wage. She notes that while these are all important causes, if we cannot afford them all and must choose, universal day care would help the most people and do more to change society for the better. She explains that “only about a third of Americans age 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher” (though more would probably try for a degree if it were affordable). By comparison, 86 percent of American women are mothers by the age of 44 and are struggling with access and the cost of day care. Pollitt notes that the lack of stable and affordable day care in the United States creates a crisis for families and has a huge impact on women’s employment:

  • Women who want and need to work and who have partners are often the ones who quit to stay home when day care is not stable or affordable. This lack of stable and affordable day care is a primary reason that women’s workforce participation has stalled and even decreased.
  • When unstable day care arrangements fall apart and women miss work, they can be legally fired. Being fired is economically devastating for their families and especially dire for single mothers.
  • The decision for women to quit working because of day care costs has more implications for a woman’s future than just a lost paycheck: she will have less Social Security in her old age; she will have fewer promotions during her working life, even if she returns to work when the children are older; her skills may become outdated; she will lose professional contacts while she stays home; when a woman stays home, previously egalitarian couples often revert to traditional gender roles, which are maintained even when she goes back to work.
Pollitt argues that now is the time for bold policy agendas, and universal day care should top the list because “It’s good for workers and employers, for communities and families and children.” Specifically, it would do the following:
  1. Create lots of jobs
  2. Alow lots of people to go to work
  3. Raise incomes
  4. Relieve stress and unhappiness
  5. Give children a good start in life
It does seem that now is the time for universal day care. Actually, it is past the time when we should have both affordable, high-quality universal day care and paid family leave in the United States. Caitlyn Collins reminds us that the United States is “the only country in the industrialized world without federally mandated paid maternity leave.” The levels of stress that American families experience is an urgent political issue that requires a political solution. How many people do you know who would benefit? Let us hear from you.   Photo courtesy of https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/kids-playing-with-puzzle-education-concept-gm669922316-122456419 (iStock standard license).]]>

How Women Pay A Price for #MeToo

I remember the 1990s when the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas Senate confirmation hearings brought the issue of workplace sexual harassment into the light of day and gave the name sexual harassment to a set of behaviors that were previously undiscussable. Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted behaviors of a sexual nature perpetrated by a powerful person (like a boss) against a less powerful person (like an employee) as an abuse of power. In what was the precursor to the #MeToo movement, after Anita Hill’s testimony about Thomas’s behavior toward her as her boss, women began to speak out, name their abusers, and win big lawsuits against the companies that failed to protect them. Men complained that they had to “walk on eggshells” around the office to ensure they were not wrongfully accused of sexual harassment by female colleagues, especially younger female colleagues. They argued that the best way to protect themselves was to stop mentoring younger women altogether. This was BS, of course—but now it is happening again. Katrin Bennhold of the New York Times reports that many high-powered men at the recent World Economics Forum in Davos, Switzerland acknowledged concern about the #MeToo movement which, she explains, “has empowered women to speak up about harassment in the workplace.” As was true in the 1990s, these senior men are deciding to reduce their risk by minimizing contact with female employees, thereby depriving women of mentorship, sponsorship, and valuable exposure to influential networks. Two online surveys conducted in 2018 on the effects of #MeToo in the workplace found the following:

  • Almost half of male managers were uncomfortable engaging in one or more common work activities with women, such as working one-on-one or socializing.
  • One in six male managers was uncomfortable mentoring a female colleague.
  • Men reported being afraid of “saying or doing the wrong thing.”
  • Research by Sylvia Ann Hewlett found that two-thirds of male executives hesitate to hold one-on-one meetings with junior women.
Bennhold cites Pat Milligan, a researcher on female leadership at Mercer, as noting that “if we allow this to happen, it will set us back decades. Women have to be sponsored by leaders, and leaders are still mostly men.” We learned some things in the 1990s about how to reduce the risk men felt when working with women and how men can create respectful work relationships with women, thereby ensuring that they will not be accused of sexual harassment. Here are some examples:
  • Education on preventing sexual harassment and assault is important to help men know what is and is not appropriate workplace behavior. This education is especially effective in male-only group settings. Bennhold cites Marc Pritchard of Procter & Gamble as explaining, “Men also need ‘safe spaces’ to air their confusion and concerns about what behavior might qualify as bad. We need something like Lean In circles for men.”
  • Male leaders can meet one-on-one with young female colleagues in a nonthreatening environment by leaving the office door open for meetings, socializing over dinner with multiple colleagues, and not inviting female colleagues to their hotel rooms for meetings when on business travel out of town. These strategies are examples of ways to continue supporting the careers of female colleagues with less risk of misunderstanding for male leaders.
Alexandra Robbins of the New York Times notes that redefining masculinity from toxic to productive is being encouraged on college campuses in some fraternities. Productive masculinity is defined as conscious action to disrupt sexism, racism, and homophobia by men confronting disrespectful behavior in other men, which involves having open conversations with other men about masculinity and developing respectful and platonic relationships with women. In their recent ad addressing toxic masculinity, Gillette explains that they hope to influence the next generation of men to show respect, hold each other accountable for bad behavior, and be role models to show the best in men. Jennifer Wright of Harper’s Bazaar notes that the firestorm unleashed by the two-minute Gillette ad, which many people labeled as a “war on men,” shows how far we have to go. Perhaps senior male leaders in companies can learn from younger men on college campuses about productive masculinity and from Gillette about what respect, accountability, and role modeling look like. We really do know how to do this—but powerful men need to be willing to do things differently. Do you see examples of productive masculinity at work? We would love to hear your stories.   Photo courtesy of thetaxhaven (CC BY 2.0)  ]]>

Why Men Don’t Get Interrupted

Abundant research shows that women really do get interrupted more and men really do talk more in the workplace. In a previous post, I summarized several studies reporting relevant research findings. In a new, more personal report in the New York Times, Thomas Page McBee, a transgender man, provides a unique opportunity to learn from his experience. He describes how the dynamics began to change dramatically for him at work. He transitioned from female to male, and his voice deepened from testosterone treatments. McBee began his transition to male at the age of thirty-one and moved to a new city and job at about the same time. He explains that his mother, a scientist and executive at General Electric, talked frequently with him and his sister as they were growing up about the challenges she faced as a professional woman. While still living in a female body as an adult, McBee notes that his high, sharp voice “made me invisible. I was frequently interrupted and talked over, especially by men, especially at work. I had to fight harder to make a point. . . . I was sometimes squeezed into silence.” Soon after he began his transition and testosterone injections, he was startled to discover that a privilege of his male body and deep voice was that he could “silence an entire room just by opening my mouth.” Specifically, McBee reports that

  • People didn’t just listen when he spoke, they leaned in.
  • Salesmen were oddly subservient.
  • When he would join a group of women engaged in lunchtime banter, the entire conversation would halt.
  • He could hold an entire meeting hostage as he worked through a half-formed idea. He began to wonder if he was “mansplaining” as he caught himself rambling. Previously, before transitioning, he “might not have had the confidence to even volunteer a thought without rehearsing it first.”
Thinking of his mother, McBee says he started to contemplate the choice he had about the kind of man he wanted to be. He began by “tallying the evidence” of whom he was interrupting (women, by a three-to-one margin), whose emails he responded to quickly (men), and whose opinions he was less likely to push back on (men). McBee reports that after asking for feedback, he made the following changes:
  • He added a round-robin process in his staff meetings to make sure everyone on his team got a chance to speak.
  • He made it a practice to highlight the accomplishments of female coworkers to his supervisor.
  • He acknowledged the invisible labor that women often contribute, such as organizing birthday celebrations and making coffee.
  • He amplified the ideas of women in meetings and made sure they got credit for their ideas.
  • He made coffee.
McBee closes his article by reflecting on the value of both his old and new gender cultures; his goal is to keep the best of both. Which of McBee’s practices are used in your organization? What else does your organization do to support women?   Photo courtesy of mconnors.]]>

Working Women Are Happier

An interesting new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and the Chicago Federal Reserve, which looks at eighty years of workplace history, reports interesting findings: over time, women have become happier and more satisfied with work, while men have become less happy and less satisfied. Evan Horowitz of the Boston Globe notes that the researchers acknowledge the challenges of measuring something like happiness and satisfaction when they don’t use a consistent year-by-year survey that asks the same questions. But the researchers explain that they built their research on several existing solid studies and devised new methods of data analysis to draw the longitudinal conclusion that only women have improved their working lives. Here are some reasons for this gender difference offered by the researchers:

  • Changing social norms allowed more women to enter the workplace in recent decades.
  • The work options available for working women have expanded dramatically since the 1950s, and even more so since the 1990s.
  • Women have been shifting into better jobs with less clerical activity and more professional and managerial jobs and fewer assembly-line jobs.
  • More women than men now graduate in the United States with college and graduate school degrees, which increases their options.
  • Lower-educated women have enjoyed the greatest increase in workplace satisfaction, possibly because they were the most constrained to begin with under the old gendered rules.
What about men? Why is their satisfaction lower than in the past? The researchers have some suggestions:
  • While physically demanding work, such as mining and assembly-line work, has become less common, men seem to enjoy factory work much more than women do. Consequently, the shift from assembly lines to desk work left women feeling more content and men feeling less content.
  • The shift from assembly-line work also coincides with the erosion of labor union membership and job security, leaving men feeling more stress and less contentment even when they are able to find factory work.
The researchers note that their findings of decreased happiness and satisfaction with work for men “is consistent with a growing body of research about the struggles of men.” While I definitely do not wish for men to be less happy with their work, I do note, with pride, the increased happiness of women in the workplace. I am grateful for the struggles of the second-wave feminist movement since the 1960s to open up work options for women. I remember when very few options existed for women. The struggle is not over. I have written recent articles about the gender pay gap and challenges that women still face with having access to leadership roles and to nontraditional jobs. But I am pleased that we have more options and are happier. Do you “remember when”? What do see that is different for women now?   Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash]]>