Tag Archives: Sexism

Female Stereotype Threat Hurts Women, Economy

Guest Blogger: Elizabeth Wingfield, Former WLP Intern

In an article for WeNews, Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers demonstrate that girls still internalize stereotypes about female performance in math and science, making them less likely to pursue careers in those fields. While the percentage of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers is rising, according to Barnett and Rivers girls need to hear earlier that there are no innate gender differences in math and science if we want to eradicate stereotype threat (“that confidence-killing burden of anxiety”) and therefore see more women  in STEM careers.

Barnett and Rivers report that a 2009 study found “that middle school girls did less well on a math test when told that boys generally did better in math than girls. Even girls who denied they held a belief in girls’ inferiority did poorly. Without the negative information, they score nearly as well as men.” Girls have proven their ability to compete with their male counterparts by taking the top prizes at Google’s first science fair and taking roughly the same number of math and science courses in middle and high school as boys. However, girls still hold a disproportionately low percentage of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering. Even those women who do hold undergraduate STEM degrees are less likely to work in a STEM career than their male counterparts. Barnett and Rivers blame stereotype threat for this disparity.

The lack of women in STEM occupations is a “brain drain” that the US cannot afford. According to “Rebecca Blank, acting deputy secretary of the Commerce Department…the lack of women in STEM is harming U.S. ability to compete in the global innovation marketplace.” But, “fortunately…a team led by psychologist Anthony Greenwald at the University of Washington discovered that although girls in the early grades see math largely as a male preserve, they haven’t yet made the connection that ‘because I am a girl, math is not for me.’” These findings suggest that if girls are assured early enough that they are not innately worse at math because of their sex that they will be more likely to pursue jobs in STEM fields later on since they will be less likely to suffer from stereotype threat.

You can read the entire article here.

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Filed under Education, Gender Discrimination, Girls, Sexism

Undergraduate Women Face Discrimination, Fewer Leadership Opportunities

In March 2011, the Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women’s Leadership at Princeton University found  that “there are differences—subtle but real—between the ways most Princeton female undergraduates and most male undergraduates approach their college years, and in the ways they navigate Princeton when they arrive.” The Committee also saw that their findings seem to be indicative of broader trends at undergraduate universities—“Through the work of our subcommittee on comparative data, we learned that many of the patterns we observed at Princeton are common on other campuses.”

One important difference that the Committee found was that women are less likely to run for elected positions for a variety of reasons. Some undergraduates who were interviewed said that they chose not to run for a traditional elected position because they doubted how much change they could affect in that position whereas some were just intimidated by the public visibility that is involved in a campaign for elective office. However, there were also “women who do consider running for visible campus posts, especially a presidency [but don’t run since they] get the message from peers that such posts are more appropriately sought by men.”

Sexism that prevents women from running for leadership positions on college campuses is not just external. The Committee found that internalized sexism also plays a role. “Female undergraduates may say that they do not have the skills or experience to run for a highly visible post, that others (usually men) are better qualified. Even women who are regarded as strong leaders by their peers and faculty and staff members may not see themselves in such a light.” For this reason, women are more likely to need encouragement in order to reach their potential. Whereas “men are more likely to consider themselves plausible candidates for office or prizes and step forward without special encouragement; women often report that such encouragement led them to take the steps that produced significant achievements.”

Of course, gender discrimination does not affect undergraduate women only around issues of leadership. While “male undergraduates may also feel pressures to conform to a certain set of campus norms… the pressures seem to be especially marked for women.” Undergraduate women at Princeton “sometimes feel that they are expected to measure up to an impossible standard. They are supposed to be smart, involved in many different activities (as are men), and also ‘pretty, sexy, thin, nice, and friendly,’ as one undergraduate reported.”

You can read the entire report here. You can stay updated on various efforts to make campuses a better environment for women at the Feministing Campus page.

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Filed under Education, Equality, Sex Discrimination, Sexism

Study Reveals Women Still Not Recognized as Capable Leaders

A recent meta-analysis (integration of a large number of studies on the same subject) by Northwestern University reveals that most people still use gendered stereotypes when thinking about leadership. The consequence of this is that “Women are viewed as less qualified or natural in most leadership roles…and secondly, when women adopt culturally masculine behaviors often required by these roles, they may be viewed as inappropriate or presumptuous.” These biases against women are most likely contributing to the ever-present leadership gap in the U.S.—women still only hold 17% of seats in Congress and in 2008 only 15.7% of corporate officers in Fortune 500 companies were women.

Previous research found that women are perceived as inherently having more “communal” qualities such as being compassionate. Men, on the other hand, were perceived by participants in the studies as inherently having more “agentic” qualities such as being assertive. Research found that it is agentic qualities that are perceived as being an important element of leadership. The Times of India sums up, “Because men fit the cultural stereotype of leadership better than women, they have better access to leadership roles and face fewer challenges in becoming successful in them.” Both female and male participants in the studies that made up the meta-analysis saw men as being inherently better leaders than women.

It is incredibly disheartening that, as Laura Hibbard commented, in an era where “women hold some of the most powerful positions in the United States (see: Hilary Clinton, Secretary of State, Nancy Pelosi, [Former] Speaker of the House, etc.) we still haven’t really changed the way we think about leadership roles and women.” However, the study did show some encouraging trends. The meta-analysis collected data since 1973 so could see if attitudes towards women in leadership are changing over time. Most people still view leadership roles as inherently male but Alice Eagly, professor of psychology and a co-author of the study told Hibbard, “women should be encouraged that leadership is culturally not as extremely masculine as it was in the past…That’s progress because it makes leadership roles more accessible to women and easier to negotiate when in such a role.”

To learn more about the effort to see more women in leadership positions and to find out how you can help in that effort, visit The White House Project’s website.

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Filed under Employment, Gender Discrimination, Sex Discrimination, Women Leaders

Stay-at-Home Parents Now Need to Ask Spouse for Credit Card

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in May 2009, was intended “to put strong protections in place for consumers. Unfair rate increases, late-fee traps and bombarding credit card offers on college campuses were key targets of the legislation.” However, the Federal Reserve Board recently decided that the Act mandates that credit card companies only take individual income into account when deciding when to accept someone’s request for a credit card. This decision was meant to keep college students from going into credit card debt they could not afford to pay off but it also has the consequence of disenfranchising stay-at-home parents, 88% of whom are women.

Anisha Sekar, the chief content manager and credit card analyst for NerdWallet.com said that this would mean that a stay-at-home parent would have to get his or her spouse’s co-signature before attaining a credit card. This is despite the fact that a stay-at-home parent is “likely to make the household’s financial decisions, from paying for groceries to saving for college to dealing with medical bills.” It also ignores that, as Sekar says, “a stay-at-home mom works just as hard as (or harder than) her spouse-she just doesn’t file her income with the IRS.”

In response to outcry from women’s rights advocates, the Federal Reserve stated that “the individual-income provision may be ‘inconvenient or impractical,’ but that such restrictions are necessary to prevent reckless lending and borrowing.” The “necessity” of not allowing stay-at-home parents an equal footing in financial decisions in the household can contribute to the negative psychological effect of “relying completely on a spouse for such an essential part of adult finances.” It “also renders stay-at-home parents financially vulnerable in the case of divorce. If a stay-at-home mom’s spouse is irresponsible, her credit score will fall-and she can’t repair it without her own line of credit.”

In the worst case scenario, the Federal Reserve’s decision will play a role in financial abuse. Financial abuse is a factor in 98% of abusive relationships.  Rene Renick of the National Network to End Domestic Violence said “I can’t tell you the number of women who’ve said, ‘I stayed in the relationship longer than I wanted, or came back, [because] I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to feed my kids,'” says Renick. “[The Fed's regulations] will limit a woman’s ability to have access to assets on her own. Batterers will more than likely use this to … keep her entrapped in the relationship.” U.S. Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney and Louise Slaughter said that not only may not having a credit card contribute to one’s abuse, but the ability to attain one independently of one’s spouse could be incredibly important when trying to escape an abusive relationship. They wrote, “Women trapped in abusive marriages may be unable to work due to a controlling spouse…the availability of an independent credit card may represent her best chance at establishing independence and a path out of a dangerous relationship.”

You can read more about the unfortunate consequences of the Federal Reserve’s decision to ban stay-at-home parents from attaining their own credit card here.

Photo from here.

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Filed under Equality, Government

29 Fortune 500 Companies Have No Women on Boards

Among Standard and Poor’s list of top 500 companies, 29 do not have a single woman on their board of directors or among their highest-paid officers. The 29 companies represent a diverse range of industries. However, it is noteworthy that one-third of the “boys club companies” are in the oil and gas sector, which also has the lowest percentage of female directors, at 9.6%.

Many companies which were excluded from the list only had one woman on their board, which critics say “are often included only as a ‘token gesture of gender diversity.’” Other companies that were excluded include those that had no women on their board of directors but had one or more women as one of their top earning executives. For example, the Philadelphia-based retailer Urban Outfitters was not among the 29 companies listed because “two of the highest-paid executives on the company proxy—Wendy Wurtzburger and Wendy McDevitt—are women.” This is misleading as there are a disproportionate number of men in positions of power in most of the other 471 companies as well.

Indeed, only three of the Fortune 500 companies have a board composed of 40% or more women. These three companies are: Macy’s, Avon, and Estee Lauder. Huffpost Women commented:

[While] it makes sense that women would serve on the boards of cosmetics and retail companies, whose consumers are traditionally female, it doesn’t make much sense that Discovery Communications which owns the Oprah Winfrey Network, has no women on its board, or that Cintas, the largest uniform manufacturer in the U.S., doesn’t either.

Unfortunately, the problem of women’s underrepresentation in companies’ top positions is getting worse. Last year, the number of women on corporate boards dropped from 16.6% to 16%. Some companies in the oil and gas sector, such as Pioneer Natural Resources, cited a lack of qualified female applicants as the reason for the lack of women on their board. However, Terry Savage, who sat on the board of Pennzoil-Quaker State for six years, told Bloomberg Businessweek that “there are women qualified to sit on the boards of oil and gas companies. ‘The fact is that more than half the employees of that hugely industrial corporation were women.’”

The growing problem of a lack of female leadership in top companies is bad for women and the economy in general. Aida Alvarez, a former administrator of the Small Business Administration who now sits on the boards of Wal-Mart and Union Bank, said in Bloomberg Businessweek that “‘It makes no sense not to have diversity on the board’ …The large public company doesn’t exist…that doesn’t have women as end users or investors.”

You can view the list of the 29 companies that do not have women on their board or as at least one of their top five highest earning executives here.

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What We’re Reading: Title IX

Title IX, a law which requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding passed 39 years ago. However its promise has not been completely  fulfilled, even four decades later.  Here are some of the stories we have been reading recently which got us thinking about how far we have come in achieving equality in education and how far we still have to go.

  • Parents of competitive cheerleaders at Lugoff-Elgin High School in Camden, South Carolina, are requesting a formal investigation of Title IX compliance after they say school administrators refused to pay for new uniforms.
  • Some universities (including Duke, Wake Forest, and Appalachian State) listed men who assist in practices of women’s teams as members of the teams in a federal study. It is probably not the case that any of these schools did this to better fulfill Title IX requirements since, according to the article, “counting the men as part of the women’s team didn’t significantly change any of the three schools’ Title IX numbers.” However, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a law professor at Florida Coastal and the senior director of advocacy at the Women’s Sports Foundation says that another school may use this loophole to give “‘the appearance of an untrained eye that the school would not have to add another women’s team (to be in compliance) with Title IX.’”
  • Kristine Newhall addresses critiques of Title IX which argue that it creates reverse discrimination: “It seems difficult to argue that Title IX is creating reverse discrimination when men have always had and continue to have more opportunities.”
  • The University of Montana, “in danger of falling out of compliance with Title IX,” started a softball program.
  • Sue Estler, an Associate Professor Emirita of higher education at the University of Maine who served 11 years as the Director of Equal Opportunity and Title Coordinator reflects  on the history of Title IX and the continuing struggle to ensure that schools are in compliance with it.
  • A federal appeals court will hear a case alleging that Indiana schools discriminated against girls’ basketball teams by scheduling girls’ games for weeknights and boys’ games for Friday and Saturday nights.

To find out about the Women’s Law Project’s Title IX-related advocacy, click here. Image via.

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Filed under Education, Equality, Sports, Title IX, What We're Reading

Women in Academia

Bestcollegesonline.com recently published a list of “15 Incredibly Inspiring Women in Academia.” The list includes such notable women as Marie Curie, Maya Angelou, and Judith Butler. Included in the list are brief biographical notes about the women’s respective accomplishments and the hurdles each had to overcome to achieve success in academia. Hopefully we have moved past the days when talented female mathematicians like Sophie Germain had to take on the identity of a male university student in order to gain a higher education. However, women have yet to earn equality in academia.

A 2011 study (PDF) published by Catalyst, “the leading nonprofit membership organization expanding opportunities for women and business” reveals some upsetting gender inequalities in academia. During the time in which the study took place, “women had fewer and lower percentages of tenure positions than men at doctoral, masters, and bachelor’s institutions. Women [also] occupied more non-tenure track positions than tenure track positions, and men overwhelmingly comprised  the majority of tenured faculty.” Indeed, the study found that only 24% of full professors were women.

The lack of women in academia seems inconsistent with the number of women in higher education. Indeed, “women continue to earn the majority of bachelor’s degrees, and are projected to earn in the majority of master’s [degrees].”Though the number of women faculty members doubled (PDF) from 1984 to 2008 and a lower percentage of men start out on the tenure track than women, Danielle L. Auriemma and Tovah P. Klein of Barnard College  found that “a much higher percentage of [men], compared to women, hold tenure, and far fewer [men] are on the non-tenure-track.”

An explanation for the lack of women in various career fields that “has been pushed by media” is that women “freely choose not to work after becoming mothers.” However, Auriemma and Klein show that statistics do not prove this claim to be true. Indeed, “the majority of educated women with young children [are] in the work force. In 2007, over 70% of women with children worked outside the home (Halpern, 2008). Statistics are similar for highly educated women in their thirties where 2/3 of those with a young child work outside the home (Boushey, 2005).”

Though the question of where the women in academia go and why does not have a definitive answer, many have pointed to an insufficient support system for mothers in academia as one culprit.  Female faculty members reported having to turn down speaking engagements and generally traveling less for work in order to accommodate their children. Female faculty members also reported having less time to have “uninterrupted, concentrated time- to think, to create new ideas,” necessary for an academic.

Male faculty members do not share the burdens of parenthood evenly with their female counterparts. An opinion piece by Sara Ballard and Gurtina Besla for The Harvard Crimson shows that this trend starts when future professors are in graduate school.

A 2008 GSAS study of graduate student parents found that graduate student mothers bore the primary responsibilities for childcare in the months after the birth of a child: more than half (55 percent) of the spouses of Harvard graduate mothers stayed home for four weeks or less, while only two percent of the spouses of Harvard graduate fathers stayed home for four weeks or less. The burden of childcare is undeniably borne more heavily by the women graduate students. This statistic is reflected in the findings of the UCBerkeleystudy that determined that tenured women professors in science are three times more likely to be single without children than their male counterparts (25 percent versus nine percent).

In order to retain talented female scholars in academia in light of the disproportionate demands of parenthood on women, the American Federation of Teachers’  Higher Education Department suggested (PDF) that faculty unions make gender diversity a bigger priority. Auriemma and Klein also suggest more

Institutional attention to providing, publicizing, and encouraging the use of policies that help faculty deal with professional and personal responsibilities [which] will both enhance the quality of the environment, making it more attractive to academic women, and help individual scholars fulfill professional and personal duties.

Auriemma and Klein also suggest a re-envisioning of the tenure-track model. They ask “what would it mean to envision a career over a longer time span, not over a 7 year span? Rather than a linear progression, peaks and valleys over time would be expected. What does it mean to invest up front and allow a woman to become a mother, then to see her productivity soar at a later time?”

To make sure young mothers may pursue a professorship, Ballard and Besla recommend childcare assistance programs be made available for graduate students as well as faculty.

Women, now the majority of bachelor’s degree earners, are still underrepresented in academia, particularly in tenured positions. In the effort to figure out the reasons for this disparity and to make the playing field of academia an even one for both genders we may look to the 15 incredible women that bestcollegesonline.com provides for us as inspiration.  These women are testaments to how important it is to make sure the next great mathematician or Poet Laureate has her talent realized.

(Photo from hvaldez1)

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Filed under Education, Equal pay, Equality