Monthly Archives: May 2010

Few Female Police Officers in Pittsburgh’s Suburbs

There are approximately 1,555,770 sworn police officers in the United States.  So if the national workforce is 53% male, 47% female (according to the 2008 U.S. Census, though recent estimates have women breaking the 50% mark), then it would reasonable to deduce that we would have approximately 824,560 male officers and at least 731,210 female officers, right?

Instead, there are only 110,670 women (15.5% of all officers) wearing state or local badges in America.  This disparity in law enforcement is additional evidence that gender stereotyping of occupations still exists and is just a portion of the bigger picture that demonstrates an overwhelming number of women being employed in educational services, health care and social assistance industries while being underrepresented in other fields.

In Allegheny County, that disparity is exemplified in the number of female law enforcement officers employed by suburban police departments.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that in their survey of 30 departments in the county, they found only 22 female agents out of 740 law enforcement agents – and that exactly half of those departments have no female officers.  This is something that should be taken seriously, as the Post-Gazette writes:

Few dispute the necessity of having female officers. Women who are victims or suspects can relate more easily to a female officer, and female officers consistently are needed for searches and prisoner transfers. Departments without women regularly request assistance from female officers in neighboring departments for searches, or sometimes they train female civilians on staff to conduct searches.

While there is no question that women have the emotional and physical ability to become law enforcement officers, the  recruiting of female officers is hindered by many obstacles:

Diane Skoog, executive director of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives and former police chief in Carver, Mass., attributed the disparity to a lack of recruiting, less diversity in suburban areas and few mentors to draw women to the field.

She also noted that significantly fewer women take the civil service examinations to become officers, so the number of women who have the opportunity to advance is not large. Representatives of the 30 departments the Post-Gazette interviewed said they used either a civil service commission or some other authoritative committee to conduct examinations and create ranked listings of top candidates for police jobs. Departments are required to hire according to where candidates place on the list following written and physical examinations. Recruits also receive points on the exam for military service, a qualification that Chief [Ophelia] Coleman believes favors men.

Professional support is important but often lacking.  Research indicates that the prevalent negative attitudes that male colleagues display towards their female counterparts are significant difficulties for the latter group:

Male officers anticipate women failing (Brookshire 1980); they doubt women can equal men in most job skills (Bloch and Anderson 1974); they do not see women officers as doing “real” police work (Melchionne 1976); and they perpetuate myths about women’s lack of emotional fitness.

Finally, the demanding hours required of officers makes the job unrealistic for many women:

Joelle Dixon, of the Bethel Park police department, noted that some women can’t find a way to care for their families while working the demanding hours required of officers.

“I’m a mother, and they don’t have traditional day care when you work a midnight shift. I have a tremendous support system that makes my job possible,” she said.

Not only are women needed to provide better safety for the community, they are needed to create a more equitable balance in the work field.  We can increase the number of female law enforcement officers by eliminating gender barriers, encouraging women to pursue their interests despite existing gender stereotypes, and promoting a more equitable family structure that emphasizes equal responsibility between parents.  When this can be achieved, all women will have better opportunities of fulfilling their interests and potential in professional life.

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Filed under Allegheny County, Employment, Equality, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A Victory for Female Employees at Novartis

A class-action suit that lasted five weeks in trial was decided last week in favor of female employees at the pharmaceutical company Novartis. One of the women’s lawyers described the “overwhelming” evidence of discrimination against women, especially pregnant women, in pay and promotions:

Women testified they were subject to hostile remarks, especially concerning pregnancy, and unfairly passed over for promotion in what they described as a sexist atmosphere controlled by male district managers.

More specific examples are emerging as women tell their stories to the press. One woman was told by her manager to get an abortion. Amy Velez, one of the twelve women who testified, was “passed over for promotion by men who had inferior sales numbers,” and then overheard “a manager asking recruiters if prospective employees were married or had children.” Holly Waters, a plaintiff, was fired when she was seven months pregnant, despite being the “highest-ranking sales representative in the district,” because she took time off “on advice of her doctors.” One manager reportedly “showed female co-workers pornographic images and invited them to sit on his lap.”

For at least five years, this discrimination has been devastating for the thousands of female employees at Novartis. “Loss in pay and promotions” barely begins to illustrate the extent to which this hostile work environment took its toll on these women. Waters lost not only her job but the health insurance benefits with it, at a time when comprehensive medical care was crucial. In a world where “corporate culture… expected female representatives to be available and amenable to sexual advances from the doctors they called on,” we’re contemplating a lot more in personal losses for these women than foregone income.

To that end, the New York federal court jury decided that $3.36 million dollars would be paid to the twelve testifying women, in “compensatory damages for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment in individual amounts ranging from $50,000 to nearly $600,000.”  But that’s not the end of it. Arguments about punitive damages will be made soon, and the 5,600 female employees will be able to apply for similar damages in the coming weeks.

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Filed under Employment, Equal pay, Equality, Pregnancy, Sexual harassment

The 50th anniversary of the Birth Control Pill: thoughts on the past, present, and future

Fifty years ago, the Food and Drug Administration approved the contraceptive drug that is commonly known today as simply “the pill.” In an interview with Marty Moss-Coane of WHYY radio, social historian Elaine Tyler May illustrates the hopes and fears of second-wave feminists and their opponents at the dawn of this revolutionary drug. Despite its widespread use (80% of today’s women of childbearing age have taken the pill at some time), it has not fulfilled hopes of eradicating poverty nor effectuated sexual chaos.  In fact, Tyler May asserts:

“It would not have been socially or culturally… revolutionary if it hadn’t been that it arrived in 1960 just at the dawning of the second wave of feminism when women themselves were becoming much more active in opening up doors that had been closed to them.”

However, she does not belittle the fact that putting greater power to control reproduction into the hands of women led to their increased autonomy in all aspects of life. But recognizing the slow-to-change laws and social attitudes at the time of its introduction sheds light on why this may not have happened without the backing of a feminist movement.

In 1960, twenty-two states had laws on the books that prohibited access to contraception. Five years later, the Supreme Court ruled that married women were allowed access to the contraceptive, but single women were still denied access in many states. It wasn’t until 1972, twelve years after initial approval by the FDA, that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of access for all women, regardless of marital status. Even at this time, Tyler May describes the obstacles that single women faced in the form of reluctant doctors, who had to be persuaded and sometimes tricked into believing that the women were married or soon-to-be married in order to prescribe the contraceptive.

Fifty years later, access to the pill is still impeded by political, economic, and social factors.  Many women can’t afford the drug (even those with health insurance, as it is frequently not covered), and abstinence education in schools obscures information for teenagers. A contraceptive pill for men has not been successfully developed, or even widely discussed.

Tyler May sees the pill as having allowed a sexual act to be separated from its reproductive repercussions, and greatly enhanced sexual relationships. It has allowed women to succeed in careers that were otherwise not possible due to the expectation of unplanned pregnancies by managers, co-workers, and the women themselves. Above all, it has given many women greater control of their reproductive capabilities, which has meant greater control of their lives.

We have come a long way from the contraceptive efforts of women in the 19th century, which Tyler May points out effectively reduced the rate of childbirth from seven to three and a half from 1800 to 1900. But we still have possibilities to explore in female and male contraceptives as well as a long way to go in making accessibility a priority.

To read more about the evolution of contraception in America, check out Tyler May’s new book, “America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation.”


Filed under Contraception, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court, Women's health

Female Role Models on the Front Page of the Sports Section

Last summer, the Women’s Law Project conducted a 10-day examination of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an attempt to find out how much coverage the sports section of the newspaper devoted to female athletes. Notable findings included:

  • Zero instances of front-page coverage of women’s sports and/or female athletes
  • No full-length articles in the paper regarding women’s sports and/or female athletes
  • Zero pictures of female athletes were featured in the paper
  • An average of 1.14% of the sports section was devoted to women’s sports.

Given these dire statistics, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Sunday’s PG featured big stories about two incredible female athletes and role models: a front page story on swimmer Mimi Hughes, who is beginning a 981 mile swim in the Ohio River this week in Pittsburgh to fundraise for Women Across the World, and a story and picture about 16-year-old Australian sailor Jessica Watson, who recently became the youngest person to sail around the world.

The goal of Hughes’s 981 mile journey, according to the organization’s website, is:

to raise funds and awareness for organizations that support the life skills and academic education of girls. The swim will focus on select organizations from the rural and urban areas of the Ohio River Valley to the remote and fragile environments of the Middle East and Africa that effectively promote education in girls and women. In return, these women and girls will transform themselves, their families and their communities.

Hughes is no novice in swimming long distances—often in filthy and polluted water—for social causes that are important to her. According to the PG,

She once swam the length of the Tennessee River—652 miles—in 2003 to call attention to pollution. She swam three freezing miles across the Bering Strait from Russia to the United States in 197 to raise awareness of social and environmental issues. Similar concerns spurred her in 2006 to swim 1800 miles through numerous countries along the Danube River followed by a 400-mile event in the Drava and Mura rivers in central Europe.

Hughes will depart from the Monongahela Ward at 9 am on Saturday, and plans to swim about 20 miles—8 hours—a day, putting her journey at about 33 days.

Watson, on the other hand, completed an incredible, record-breaking journey on Saturday, when she sailed into Sydney Harbor and became the youngest person to sail around the globe solo, non-stop, and unassisted. Watson, after being alone at sea for 210 days, said that “[p]eople don’t think you’re capable of these things—they don’t realize what young people, what 16-year olds and girls are capable of…It’s amazing when you take away those expectations what you can do.”

Watson and Hughes are both incredible role models for young athletes, girls and boys, and we are encouraged by the fact that the Post-Gazette has made covering their accomplishments, and sharing their stories, a priority for its readers.


Filed under Equal pay, Girls, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sports

Remember to Vote Today!

Although women and men often care about similar issues, women are not adequately represented in federal, state, or local government. As a result, women’s voices and needs are not as integral to the decision-making process, and final decisions about policies that affect the lives of women and their families are often left to men who make up the majority of the legislative bodies.

Today is primary election day in Pennsylvania, an opportunity for every individual to make his or her voice heard through voting. So be sure to head to your nearest polling place and cast your vote!

A few resources and things to remember:

  • Click here to find your polling place (PA residents only).
  • Click here to find your polling place if you are not a resident of Pennsylvania
  • Voting is a RIGHT. If you are a registered voter, and have any problems casting a vote, call the Election Protection Coalition at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

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Filed under Democracy, Government, Pennsylvania, Voting rights

President Obama Nominates Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court

This morning, President Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court of the United States. If confirmed, Ms. Kagan will be the fourth woman to serve on the Court, and will bring the current number of female justices to three, the highest ever.

Ms. Kagan has never served as a judge, but she was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in 1999 by President Clinton. At the time, she was serving as Associate White House Counsel. Her nomination, however, was thwarted by Senator Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who didn’t schedule a hearing for her, which effectively ended her nomination.

Subsequent to working in the Clinton White House, Ms. Kagan presided as dean of Harvard Law School from 2003-2009. President Obama appointed her the first female Solicitor General in U.S. history in 2009. The Solicitor General represents the federal government in cases before the Supreme Court.

Ms. Kagan is generally regarded to be left-leaning and is openly pro-choice and pro-LGBT rights. During her time as dean at Harvard, she barred military recruiters from campus because of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, but allowed them to return because the school risked losing federal funds. In written answers to questions from members of the Senate Judiciary during her nomination to the Solicitor General position, she wrote that “the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, subject to various permissible forms of  state regulation.” Critics on the left distrust her views on executive power and indefinitely detaining foreign combatants suspected of supporting al-Qaeda.

As we wrote in another blog post, appointing and electing female judges matters. If Ms. Kagan is confirmed as the next Supreme Court Justice, she will join Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor in bringing women’s representation on the Court to 33%. While this is still far from a perfect representation of the female population on the bench, it would be a welcome step forward.

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Filed under Equality, Government, Reproductive Rights