Endless Cycle

By Erika Harrington

When it comes to wage gaps, and the success of professional women, it’s easy to play the blame game. “It’s hyper-masculinity in the business world that makes work a toxic environment for women.” “It’s that women choose to have children and stay home with the family.” “Men are threatened by strong women.” “Women’s hormones make them too emotional to make big decisions.”

Enough.

The fact of the matter is that no one’s to blame, and yet we’re all to blame. Confused? Read on.

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There are decades worth of elaborate research on the presence of (and lack thereof) women in professional executive positions. And with all this research comes a Frito-Lay’s Variety pack of conclusions on who’s at fault for the issue. Trying to get through this chaos of explanations and figure out what’s really going on would be a major headache. Lucky for us, Ellen Ernst Kossek, Rong Su, Lusi Wu bore the burden for us. They basically went through the many (and I mean many) studies that have been done on the topic and pulled out some themes so the rest of us can get the overview.

“However, simply because women spend more energy on their families than men, this doesn’t mean that women want to  spend more energy on their families than their job.”

They found that here are many different factors that keep women from executive suites and we can all do a little more to make sure representation improves in board rooms.

Factors that keep top leadership positions from being equal are things like individual decisions of women, organizational climates, and role expectations. While our culture expects more of  women when it comes to home responsibilities and family, women also tend to opt out of work to spend more time with children than men. However, simply because women spend more energy on their families than men, this doesn’t mean that women want to  spend more energy on their families than their job.

This is why the climate of organizations also contributes to gender inequalities. The research indicates that many employers and organizations don’t offer helpful work-life balance resources. Child care options that promote flexibility and better paid leave will help women to meet the professional goals that are important to them. It also crucial to remember that work-life balance isn’t a women’s issue, and describing it as one perpetuates stereotypes. The professional world needs to make sure work-life balance resources are offered to men and known about by men. This will promote a culture in which men share home responsibilities and are given the chance to spend the time with their families that they may have not been able to enjoy before.

Employers need to be more conscious of their practices that are making it difficult for women to thrive. This can be done using anonymous surveys, hiring an organizational change specialist, hosting a focus group, and more—anything that encourages employees to report what they’d actually need to succeed with their organization.

Organizations can also help be more inclusive by making the workplace an environment that supports female identities. Kossek, Su, and Wu found that research indicates women tend to choose fields that allow them to work with people instead of fields that force them to compete against people. Instead of these fields arguing that women should adapt to competitive natures of the job, they should be more open to potential benefits of collaboration in the field—because finding life-saving cures in the STEM field or growing a multi-million corporation doesn’t have to have a ‘Hunger Games’-esque climate.

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Employers also need to adjust what they define as commitment to work. Research again suggest that long hours and face-to-face work are valued over flexibility and telecommuting. But the latter allows employees to have better work-life balance and should be seen as just as hard working. To be fair, we could chalk this up to old assumptions about the way things “ought to be”—but these old assumptions can often be gendered. We all—men and women—need to recognize that we buy into these assumptions, we uphold stereotypes and create bias. Acknowledge it and fight any knee-jerk reactions to perpetuate it.

Okay, so that may have seemed like a long “brief” overview. I warned you that looking at the many causes of the lack of women at the top was going to be tough. But what isn’t tough is making the decision to address these problems. Taking the simple steps mentioned before can make all the difference.

Addressing all the factors of this issue can be messy but doing it is the only way to clean up the gender gap. We are all capable of taking at least minor steps to address bias in the boardroom, and it starts with you.

What makes the Red Woman unemployed?

By Ellie Miller

In 2010, when Peter Pan peanut butter was recalled, I wasn’t surprised. Peter Pan always makes me sick. Not because of fake ingredients and preservatives, but for the racism that it spouts in the movie’s infamous “What made the Red Man red?” scene. In your list of greatest Disney memories, this song probably falls pretty low. And I’d say that’s a good thing.  In this short scene, Disney captured the stereotypes that millions of Americans held about Native people. Natives were portrayed as overly sexual, stupid, and lazy. Decades later, these stereotypes still exist, one of the more prominent being the stereotype of laziness. Needless to say, that has not been very good for Native women in the workplace.

According to The American Association of University Women, in 2015, Native women made only 59 cents for every dollar a white man made. Once you pick your jaw up off the table at the shock of these numbers (I know that’s exactly what I did), you may be thinking, “I thought women make 77 cents for the male dollar.” You would be right- but that’s only if you look at white women. The severe racial discrimination that Native women experience in the workplace compared to any other groups highlights the ways racist ideas of laziness, drunkenness, and promiscuity consistently create unsafe spaces for Native women to work.

These numbers aren’t new, however. Nancy Shoemaker, in her book Negotiators of change: Historical perspectives on Native American women, explains how historically Native women have been given the lowest paid jobs. This trend stems from change resistant belief that Native people are unable to effectively participate in society.

This leads me to the thing we really need to know: These power imbalances and pay gaps didn’t happen by accident.

When colonizers first encountered Native people (the ones they mistakenly called Indians),  Native people, who happened to be more advanced than the Romans (and way less dead), were labeled as uncivilized labors with their heads and hands in the mud. The colonizers also ignored the fact that traditional Native societies  valued women’s work, and viewed Native women as protectors and bearers of life.

So in American history, we had a clash of two cultures, one that valued women’s work–more specifically, native women’s work– and one that didn’t.  I’m afraid you know how the story ends.

Sherman Indian School, 1910. Source

In order to make sure that colonizers’ ideas about work won out over native ideas, colonists ensured that the future–that is the youth–only learned colonizers’ ideas of work. They did this by removing kids from their families and culture, and sending them to boarding school. According to J.E. Simenson, in their book Making Home Work: Domesticity and Native American Assimilation in the American West, Native women were specifically taught “female occupations”, like cleaning or milking cows, while men learned industry and management techniques. This distinction set up Native women to only ever be laborers for white society.

In the face of this oppression and disavowal of work, Native women remain resilient. As culture protectors, Native women have been able to use their cultural value passed to them by their ancestors to resurrect aspects of traditional Native work. This matters not only for Native women, but for all women. Because understanding this situation historically makes it clear that our ideas about work and “the way things are” isn’t the way they have always been, and isn’t how they have to be, should be, or will be in the future.

We should know the name of Winona LaDuke who created the White Earth Land Recovery Project, which recovers traditional modes of agriculture and sustainability and reducing toxins from local farms. We should know to buy real Native earrings, not the $15 dreamcatchers hoops from Urban Outfitter- they’re probably the same price, but one supports Native women and the other child slaves in China, so you decide.

Knowing these names and this information reminds us that we can support Native women who assert the value of their ways of living and working, and we can also follow their lead by asserting the values of our own way of living and working.

 

So what made the Red Woman unemployed? Clearly the colonizer. But what made the Red Woman thrive? The answer to that is simply this: Red women.

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