Step Up: All In (For Self-Advocacy)

By Rebekah Peterson

Ladies, do you ever have a feeling that your male co-workers are being given more challenging assignments than you?

You know, that despite your ambition, your male co-workers are being given challenging assignments like managing a project, organizing a company event, or assuming responsibility of a major client?

Well, it’s not just a feeling and scholarly research actually backs this up.

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In 2009 researchers Irene De Pater, Annelies Van Vianen, and Myriam Bechtoldt randomly selected 136 employees working at middle job levels at a pharmaceutical company to participate in a study about their job experiences.

First, the employees were asked demographic questions, such as number of years in their current job and the level of their highest education. Next, they were asked to self-rank their ambition level and self-evaluation. Lastly, they were given ten descriptions of challenging job assignments and were asked to rank each on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much) the extent to which they deal with each of the assignment descriptions in their current job.

The results of the employees questionnaire were analyzed only after being controlled for their ambition and self-evaluation and the other demographic variables.

The results?

Women in middle job levels have fewer challenging job assignments than their male co-workers.

Yup—your ambition and desire to develop new skills are overshadowed by your gender.

Not only are assignments being given based on gender unfair, but they can also negatively impact your career.

The ability to tackle challenging job assignments helps lead to promotional opportunities, and if women aren’t being given the chance to prove themselves, it constrains them in reaching new heights in their careers and positions of power.

But just because you may not be assigned a challenging task at work shouldn’t stop you from getting one yourself. Here are some tips for asking your boss for more challenging tasks:

Step 1: Decide what you want out of asking for more tasks

  • More work in your position?
  • Or, a promotion?

Step 2: Come up with a solution

  • If you want more responsibilities in your position, identify tasks you are interested in.
  • If you’re ready for a promotion, identify opportunities within your company you think would be a good fit.

Step 3: Write down your current responsibilities

  • Your boss may not know exactly what you do and you should showcase your ability to complete all your current tasks and then some.

Step 4: Schedule the conversation with your boss

  • Schedule at least 30 minutes with your boss to discuss your current role and your proposal.
  • If you don’t want to schedule a time, bring it up at your annual review.

Step 5: Be honest

  • Be open with your boss. They want to help you and might have different ideas for more assignments.

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So, here’s my challenging assignment to you: don’t be afraid to self-advocate, and don’t be timid about asking for what you want.

Oatmeal cookies and so-called workplace rookies

By Staff Writer

Twenty-first century feminism is kinda like an oatmeal cookie; it looks pretty sweet, but when you bite into it, it’s still just hardened oatmeal.

Since the beginning of the feminist movement, women have been claiming that they do not need feminism. Less passive dissidents have even suggested that the movement is over and that women don’t need feminism anymore. It’s easy to think this way; in the US, more women are in business and political leadership positions than ever before, the wage gap is (slowly, painstakingly) beginning to close, gender discrimination is technically illegal, women can vote and own property, Not All Men, #NoMakeup, Emma Watson’s speech, birth control’s sheer difficulty (not impossibility!) to access, and Gloria Steinem’s feature alongside tote bags in the spring 2016 Land’s End catalogue. Could it get any better for women? I mean, it could. It really could. But some women don’t think so.
“TOP GIRLS?”, published by Angela McRobbie in 2007, explores the ways that post-feminism has constructed a “correct” and “incorrect” professional woman. She argues that the attitude that feminism is over, or no longer needed (known as post-feminism), is actually a signifier of gender re-entrenchment: the process of defying gender norms in a way that paradoxically reassert masculine dominance. When successful women take on masculine behaviors in the workplace, their performance of masculinity highlights their commitment to performing their gender and ironically harms women who can’t or won’t act out these same masculine behaviors.

So no, it’s not bad that you wear a power suit to work while another woman wears a dress. Your power suit, instead, highlights that you are a woman with a higher achievement capacity, creating a dangerous hierarchy of workplace-acceptable women. 

An easier breakdown of this:
Dianne has short, cropped hair. She spends little time on care work, she delegates non-essential tasks, and does not talk about her personal life while in the office. She wears a power suit. Every. Day. She does not have any kids. Dianne is a feminist.

But meet Jane. Jane has long hair, and wears blouses. She does care work around the office, does not actively take credit for her work, and often asks “is there anything I can do to help you?”. She has two children, and their pictures are all over her desk. She had to take a day off once last year to stay home with one of them when they were sick. Jane is a feminist.

Both of these women are good workers, and could probably perform the same tasks to the same degree of adequacy. But, Dianne is regarded as having more capacity to achieve. In the competitive meritocracy of feminism, Jane just doesn’t measure up. Dianne’s ability to adopt masculine social and professional styles in the workplace is both a product of the feminist movement, and the success thereof a signal of postfeminism dawn. Women like Jane cannot succeed under current patriarchal structures that are perpetuated by successful post-feminist examples like Dianne.

“But I love blazers!”

I hear ya. But, the problem isn’t solved by eliminating this “top girl” who performs masculinity in the office. Instead, the fix is to regard femininity and the feminine as equal to masculinity and the masculine.

Feminism, in its most basic sense, means granting women political, social, and economic equality with men; and by definition, that means valuing femininity as much as masculinity. In order for women’s continued growth, we must catch ourselves when we judge other women for acting “too feminine” or valuing a woman with masculine behaviors more than an equally competent woman with feminine behaviors.

You don’t have to rock femininity, but you can’t knock it either; instead, use your new knowledge of gender re-entrenchment to specifically empower and speak up for individuals who perform femininity.  

The Women’s March on Washington

By Rachel Garretson

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The Women’s March on Washington sent a potent message of hope for many who see fear and uncertainty in our future. Several of our InformHer team members attended the march in DC alongside our sisters and brothers across the country and the world. What they found was a powerful atmosphere of overwhelming inclusivity for all involved.

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Source: Slate

What made this march so successful that day? And how can we ensure lasting change?

Shiv Ganesh and Cynthia Stohl, from Massey University and UC Santa Barbara, respectively, can help us understand the answers to these questions. Ganesh and Stohl studied the Occupy Wall street movement by participating, observing and interviewing protesters who were a part of the Global Occupy movement in Wellington, New Zealand. The Occupy movement, in 2011, protested social and economic inequalities around the world.

Ganesh and Stohl concluded that the Occupy movement represented a new era of hybridity in protesting. They argue that there were many characteristics that marked the Occupy movement as a turning point, but we’ll just go over a two of them here and how we can use them to understand the Women’s March today.

Hybridity is the state of blending many separate and dissimilar elements into one new whole. This hybridity is demonstrated in both how the Women’s March was made popular and the inclusivity of its message.

Firstly, the planning and popularization of the march was certainly not limited to a single medium. Previously when researching the planning of a social movements like marches, we would try to determine a single source for the call to action, whether Facebook, email, or word of mouth. Ganesh and Stohl observed in 2011 that media and technology touched almost every aspect of our lives which made it almost impossible for them to pin down one source for the call to action. Five years later, it’s only harder. This message diversity is something that the organizers of the Women’s March used to the fullest by spreading the word through all different types of media.

A second way in which marches have hybridized is with their messages. Whether good or bad, today’s marches have a much broader messages than their more focused predecessors. Ganesh and Stohl showed us the beginning of this movement towards hybridity of message in the Occupy movement that incorporated local issues in the areas of individual marches into the larger message. This gave participants something concrete and personal to relate to instead of a vague ideal.

Likewise, the early planning of the Women’s March was criticized for focusing on white women’s concerns, but it grew to incorporate and bring together many causes. Part of that movement was to break down the ideals held by the originators of the march and diversify them to make them more personal to a wider variety of people.  Now the official statements express concerns of all minorities, including racial minorities, immigrants, the LGBTQ, and religious minorities. Critics might say that this unfocused message weakens the March and makes it unlikely that they will be able to accomplish any one objective. Supporters might say that this has transformed the March into a movement that will promote unity, and that feminism should really be intersectional after all.

There are points to both of these arguments, as well as the argument that this march was just a social flare up, an angry reaction to the election, and that it will fizzle out.

It is to easy to pat ourselves on the back and move on with our lives. But how do we keep up the momentum? Well, there are many ways.

For example, the Women’s March on Washington website is still providing leadership with their new campaign, “10 actions in 100 days.” The first two actions are already up and running and you can sign up to be emailed as they come out with the rest. But this should be just one string of your bow. As we’ve learned, hybridity is key when you want your message to be heard.

Donating and volunteering for causes close to your heart will also make a difference, as many are predicting that nonprofits will struggle in the next few years. All of us have many causes to be passionate about, and Ganesh and Stohl seem to be saying this is a good thing. It reflects our diversity of interests and our willingness to support causes that don’t directly affect us.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, is that we have to stay informed and aware of the world around us. As Alicia Key’s said in her speech at the DC march, “Our potential is unlimited. We rise.”

What Jessica Day Taught Us About Work and Play

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By Erika Harrington

So my latest Netflix obsession is New Girl.

Have you seen the episode where the main character, Jess, joins a local politician for a game of golf with the other powerful women of Los Angeles. Her mission: to get new books for the middle school that she works in. It was a funny play on the ‘seal the deal over a game of golf’ trope that is associated with television CEO’s and senators.

At first I was pumped up at seeing all women in a traditional male dominated scenario, but then I became annoyed at how satirical the scene was. A game of golf, talking highlights from football Sunday, or (at least in the world of Wolf of Wall Street) going to a strip club, are all ways people have connected with their bosses and coworkers. They’re also incredibly gendered hobbies.

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Don’t get me wrong, I am all for these out-of-work recreational activities. Spending time with the people you work with, in a relaxed setting, is healthy and beneficial to professional environments. The problem occurs when the activities are based on traditionally masculine interests because women are informally, and probably unintentionally, excluded.

This is where Rachel Aslop comes in. Aslop was interested in different channels of informal networking used by professionals, so she studied the characteristics and benefits of four employee book clubs by interviewing their members. The results were basically what you expect to hear at a ‘key to success,’ motivational talk seminar about the importance of golfing with your boss. These book groups allowed coworkers to come together in a welcoming environment, get to know one another better, and make connections that strengthened their professional networks.

Thank goodness I don’t have to worry about blowing money on expensive golf clubs.

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But what if I hate reading and golfing and strip clubs? Then what do I do?

Well the beauty of this study isn’t that it’s suggesting that book clubs are the best way to network. Rather it shows the importance of exploring new and creative ways to develop professional relationships.

Don’t buy into the traditional image of sucking up to the boss while riding in the cart to the next hole. Think outside the box.

Network channels don’t have to be complex. The Economic Times recently published an article with the story of four women from different departments, frustrated with being stuck in their mid-level management positions. They began to meet for lunch once a month to talk about their work lives.

Over time, they began to progress in their jobs. How? When one woman was talking to people in her departments, she would mention one of other three women and the great work they had done. This got their names circulating throughout the company and allowed their accomplishments to be shared without them having to brag about themselves (something women have been known to struggle with, but that’s for another post).

So find something you can do with your coworkers to bond with each other, that is free from the stress of the 9 to 5 work day. Go bowling every Wednesday, set up a carpool, etc.

BTW, anyone interested in binge watching New Girl together?  

I’m Sorry, it’s Not Me–It’s All of Us: Truth Told by Transmen in the Workplace

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By Joey Konrad

Have you ever pointed out a troubling gender pattern at your work, only to have it explained away in personal terms? Maybe it sounded something like this “I think you’re overreacting, he’s a jerk to everyone,” or “oh, that’s just how we do things around here, you’ll get used to it” or my favorite “it’s just a joke, why are you being so sensitive?”

If only there was a way to find out if it really is about gender, rather than the person! Of course the best way to do that would be to change a person’s gender, while keeping the actual person the same, and that would be impossi….wait, maybe not.

Transmen are individuals who were assigned female sex at birth but whose gender identity aligns with men. Many transmen transition from a women’s to a men’s identity while a part of a workforce. That means this group of transmen understands what it’s like to work as both a woman and man.

So what happens? That’s exactly what Kristen Schilt asked in a 2006 study in which she interviewed 29 transmen that transitioned while working.

What did she find? Many of the men interviewed noted an increase in the amount of respect given to them during professional meetings and conversations. Some men felt their thoughts and ideas were given a sense of authority and competence that they did not experience when they were women.

Want to hear something really absurd? One man interviewed recalled a moment when his associates applauded their boss for firing a female coworker for being incompetent, and pointed out the new man hired was skillful. They did so not knowing that both people in question were the same person with the same abilities, education, and experience who had transitioned their gender.

These interviews confirm that those comments women often face in the workplace are, in fact, due to their gender. Chances are you’re not “overreacting” and if it’s the office culture, your culture might be a sexist one.

So you’re not wrong. Even if your co-workers can’t see what is going on.

Male privilege is the widespread favoring of men’s ideas, voices and personalities because they are men. Women are treated as uneducated and incompetent often by people who don’t even realize they are doing it. The result: women must constantly prove their competence.

So Really. You’re not overreacting.  This male privilege thing is ridiculous–and it’s real.  

And since someone should do it,  we just want to say we’re sorry.  It sucks that you have to work so hard to for people to see how valuable and skilled you are.  

Say Her Name, Say Her Name

By Liv Stephens

It’s time to talk about a little bit of Monica, Erica, Rita, Tina, Sandra, Mary, and Jessica.

anigif_enhanced-28999-1428709735-5Lou Bega was definitely not afraid of name dropping when he wrote the jive pop 1999 classic Mambo No. 5.  However, the song has us vibing for more than one reason; it promotes female autonomy!

No, it’s not a trap. You see, research suggests that male and masculine voices address women using language that identifies women through their relationships with other people. It is almost never done with malicious intent, and research basically chalks it up to a style of speech that men learn by talking with other men called “attachment erasure”and it looks kinda like this:

“This is so-and-so, she’s that one dude’s __________ [girlfriend/roommate/sister/cousin/ hookup/friend/classmate/dog groomer]”

Or this:

“Oh, I know you! You work for/with ______ [the name of your sweaty co-worker] ”

You may not have even noticed it before, but everyone does it to everyone.  It’s hard to not fall into this language pattern.  The problem is that references to women are much more likely to use attachment erasure than references to men. This means that womens’ networking looks and sounds a lot different than mens’.

Here’s the deal: generally speaking, we prefer to network with people who we like.  And research indicates that we like people more when we perceive them to be similar to us.  It’s called the principle of homophily.

Here’s why that matters: A 2006 study conducted by Vasilyeva and Doerfel interviewed and surveyed employees of a retail company to study differences in the ways that guys, gals, and androgynous pals communicate. Among the tsunami of relevant findings they uncovered, they found that women need a higher degree of homophily (aka social sameness) than men do when networking with men in their field. As in, women need to be seen as similar to the man they are talking to in order for social attachments to form.  Unfortunately, this “one of the guys” feel is confirmed through statements of attachment erasure.  

Men, on the other hand, do not need need to establish similarity through others to affirm their attachments in the workplace, and can instead assert their sameness through personal characteristics such as similar goals, activities, or achievements.

A 2016 article by Susan Durbin explains that mentor relationships that involved at least one woman were only reported to form between those who already had common social connections, often initiated through a statement of attachment erasure.

This might look like:

“Oh, you’re Linda’s cousin!”

“Hey, did you work for Tom over at Company Inc.?”

Men, on the other hand, were able to create mentoring relationships via activities and hobbies both internal and external to the workplace.

That might look like:

“Hey, did you also go to Expensive University?”

“Were you the guy who gave that presentation at that conference last week?”

You get the picture.

So, what does this mean for women? Women must focus especially on their social credentials, and not their personal credentials, to boost their networking abilities. The semi-unfortunate truth is that who they know may be more important than what they know. In order to regain their autonomy, women must establish personal similarities (or what the research calls attachments) instead of social attachments through other people.

We can all help close this attachment gap by referring to people of all genders using their personal characteristics, instead of their social connections.
Bega said it best: you “must stay deep, ‘cuz talk is cheap.”

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.

American Horror Story: Earning more money than your husband

By Erika Harrington

Lions, tigers, and high-earning women! Oh, my!

Framing a situation where a woman makes more than her husband as a marriage-dooming horror story is nothing new. From family to friends to tv shows, we’re constantly told that if we ever find ourselves making more money than our partner, we’ll be welcoming a host of problems into the relationship.

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Now you’re probably wondering, do you have to choose between a fulfilling marriage and a fat paycheck?

Not quite. Don’t let this myth crush your hopes of a decent future, and allow me to ease your stress. I’m happy to report that these fears, instilled in you by society and the media, are just as real as the boogeyman.  (Assuming, of course, that you don’t believe in the boogeyman. You do know he’s not real, right?)

According to Gregory Eirich and Joan Robinson, there is no evidence that the wife being the higher-earning spouse has any effect on financial satisfaction and marital stress [in the context of a heterosexual relationship]. Although some marriages may face finance-related strains, Eirich and Robinson report that those strains have little to do with who makes more money.

Amazing. Who would have ever imagined that which person makes the most money does not actually matter in the relationship? Oh but wait, because the best is yet to come.

giphyThe best part about this study was the finding that at the end of the day, what really matters isn’t who makes more money, but how much money a couple makes combined. It turns out that no one really cares who’s picking up the bill for a five-star dinner, or whose credit card the tropical vacation gets charged to. The only thing that matters is actually eating that steak and laying on that beach. The moral of the story: Marital strife is influenced by how much money a couple makes combined—not by who is making it.

Revolutionary.

With that said, this wouldn’t be a proper InformHer post without reminding you that a problem still persists. If people don’t really get divorced because the wife is bringing home all the bread, then why are we talking about it? Sadly, even though a woman out-earning her husband isn’t the life ruining issue that so many American dramas say it is, this myth can still impact the important professional decisions of many women. Further, it can have an impact on the egos of some men. The idea that each spouse has certain marital roles to fulfill and that a woman should be afraid of being more successful than her partner can seriously alter a woman’s intended career path.

So let’s use this research as a guide to closing the gender gap, and to shoot down any excuses keeping women from the top. It’s time to readdress our priorities, and start putting a possible beach house and a new Mercedes over an overly protected male ego.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.

When collaboration becomes overkill: How collaboration can kill your career

By Erika Harrington

“Women aren’t authoritative.” “A commanding voice is a masculine one.” “Women are too dainty to lead.” We get it. You think it takes a certain type of a person to be a leader, and that type of person is usually a man. Thankfully, when it comes to the success of a company, what you think doesn’t matter; what actually matters are performance and results.

With that in mind, it’s high time that we face the truth that women can produce as well as men. Don’t believe me? Well, maybe you’ll believe British sociolinguist Judith Baxter, who published a study on the leadership abilities of males and females. Baxter wanted to find out if different, gender-specific language characteristics affected an individual’s ability to become a leader, and how well people  respond to them as such.

mulanclimbingUsing groups of all male, all female, and mixed gender participants, she was able to see who stepped up to the plate and hit a home run. Her findings—women were just as likely to exhibit leadership qualities and deliver respectable results. While women did communicate differently, they weren’t any less likely to take command or any less effective in command.

So why aren’t we seeing more balance in top-level professional positions?

There are many explanations for the scarcity of women leaders. One especially was noted in this study; Baxter found that the all-female group did not allow for a leader to emerge, and reacted negatively to one woman trying to take control of the group.

I know what you’re thinking: Here we go again with cattiness and women tearing each other down.

Not so fast, though—this article pointed out a more probable explanation; Baxter noted that the all female group seemed to value a group where everyone was equal. This approach allowed for a more diverse set of ideas to emerge. Nice job, ladies!

However, it is important to remember that there is also value in having a leader. The downside of this diversity enhancing collaborative approach was that no single idea gained significant focus. Kinda like when you spend 20 minutes driving around town with your friends trying to decide where to eat before Natalie finally caves and (in a truly hangry manner) screams, “Screw it! Let’s just get McDonald’s!”

Sometimes, having a leader just makes final decisions easier.

So, what can we learn from these findings?

Allowing a single individual (or a small group of individuals) to have power over a group or organization is important for productivity.  But, ensuring that these individuals can do a good job is just as important (let’s be real, McDonald’s was not the best choice, Natalie).
What isn’t important is that every leader fit the same mold. Masculine and feminine styles  differ, but these differences do not mean one is better than another. So let’s end the illusion that there’s one right way to get things done, because thinking that way is how one social group gets an unfair advantage. There is a time and place for all of these styles, so let’s all acknowledge strong women leaders for what they are. Let’s get more ladies in top-level professional positions and watch them thrive with their male peers.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.

Hair we go again…

By Erika Harrington

Let’s talk about the sassiest nonverbal. Let’s talk about the act done by the tallest of runway models to the smallest of cute toddlers. Let’s talk about the hair flip.

Well actually, let’s talk about hair in the workplace.

It’s no surprise that when we talk about getting a job, we talk about appearance. Self-presentation is definitely important. But where do professional standards come from? One answer to this question might be policy. Legal scholar, Angela Onwuachi Willig, analyzed cases in which women’s hair was the bases for reprimand. And who were the women that were most likely to be involved in these cases? You guessed it– African American women.

A quick google search of ideal workplace hairstyles, and what kind of results do you see? Straight hair worn down and tucked behind your ears, an organized bun, or relaxed but well-managed curls. All suitable options for the hardworking woman—well, the hard working white woman at least.

Willig’s study addresses Title IX, explaining that discrimination goes further than a woman’s right to not wear makeup. Our workplaces are not only plagued with gendered norms, they’re plagued with gender norms typically associated with white women. What is the company policy on dreadlocks? Afros? Kinky curls that can only be held down after a draining battle with blood, sweat, tears, and tons of product? Pressure to conform to these appearance policies is the exact burden that Willig describes, and the exact burden that violates the rights upheld by Title IX. This pressure is too real because to resist it is to welcome career-impacting consequences. The result: an average work day that begins at 7:15 am with fine tooth comb and a hot iron. Why do we look at braids with disdain? Braids! A style we spent a large chunk of our adolescence styling on our Barbie dolls.

This is unacceptable. Keeping our hair down is literally keeping us down. Why are we focusing so much time and energy on hair, instead of focusing on killing the next sales presentation? Why are these expressions of individualism and culture being stifled? This doesn’t only apply to black women– although if you’ve never had to run away from your mom as she tried to hot comb your relentless curls, consider yourself lucky. It applies anybody who’s putting in extra effort to uphold standards that are completely unrelated to their actual work performance.

Fortunately, there are ways we can begin to address this problem. For starters, let’s shift the emphasis on producing, not primping. If there are specific policies in your organization that address appearance, check to make sure that they’re inclusive to women of all races and ethnicities. If you’re an employee and you encounter a disagreement with a higher-up about what constitutes “extreme” or “unkempt” hair, understand that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Manual on Race Discrimination is on your side. Speak with your organization’s human resources department or coordinator and keep a detailed record of all pertinent conversations.

say enough. And if you’re like me, and love looking into a crowd of people and seeing heads of diversity, then tell the world you’ve had enough too. Say it loud, say it proud: a woman’s hair, afro or otherwise, has nothing to do with her professional competence.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.