At one of the first ’DEIS Impact events, the Brandeis National Committee (BNC) and other members of the Brandeis community discussed the state of workplace gender bias on Tuesday, Feb. 3 during “A Woman’s Place: An Intergenerational Discussion on Gender Inequality in the Workplace.”
Karishma Pradhan ’15, a BNC student representative, led the discussion. She began with her inspiration, the book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, which deals with gender bias.
“I thought it was a really interesting book because it made me aware of a lot of gender biases that I had faced in my life that I was unaware of before,” said Pradhan. She discussed portions of the book which she found compelling: the Impostor Syndrome—when one feels inadequate despite indications of success—and the quote, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
Pradhan listed several statistics to preface discussion. In the U.S., more women than men graduate from college, yet there are fewer women in leadership positions, and America is the only industrialized nation without a paid maternity leave program.
Pradhan began by asking for examples of gender bias. Beverly Cohen, a BNC member who worked for years in the business industry, stated that though she never experienced discrimination, she recognizes the problem and spoke of a friend who worked in a lab and only wore skirts.
“She wanted to let the men know women could handle a top executive position … That was one of her stands,” said Cohen. Lucile Pearlson, a BNC member and longtime nurse, discussed the gender stereotypes of nursing but noted how the ratios have begun to change.
The conversation then turned to maternity leave policies and the balance many women try to establish between work and family. Daniel Terris, director for the International Center for Ethics, raised the issue of women who lose time in order to raise a family while men continue working.
“Is this a problem of un-family-friendly policies in the workplace? Is it a problem of not fully shared childrearing?” he asked.
Pradhan pulled the question “Can women have it all?” from Sandberg’s book. The participants discussed the idea that while some women, like Sandberg, have the privilege of sufficient leave benefits and of being able to afford childcare, there are many gaps in this country’s policies that prevent other women from achieving their goals. Providing an example, Pearlson illustrated how the hospital would not allow her to work part time so that she could balance work and family. She believes childcare must be improved.
Alicia Ball ’15 discussed an article she had read on American and international maternity leave policies stating, “I found it so fascinating that there are countries where it’s not optional, it’s required … [The article] was listing a few big name companies in the U.S. that do provide the same benefits, but they’re the minority.”
At this point, Pradhan introduced a new question, asking the room how early gender biases become apparent. Jessica Basile, director of graduate student affairs and post-doctoral scholars began with the story of her nephew: “Anytime he laughed too high or giggled, the constant put down was, ‘You’re laughing like a girl.’” She explained that although her daughter could act girly or tomboy-ish, it is not socially acceptable for her son to act like a girl. She then told a story about a professor she had as a Brandeis graduate student. The professor, she explained, did not have a lot of money and dressed her young son in a pink baby suit from a thrift store. “She had so many people tell her that she was going to wreck her son’s gender identity,” said Basile.
Cohen asked whether such labeling was as prevalent today when “younger people are just so open,” and the room agreed the issue is still widespread. Cohen asked the group how to fight the issue, citing the platforms of celebrities and the press. Tamar Vogel, the BNC marketing & communications specialist discussed the impact of the media, citing the #LikeAGirl ad campaign, which confronts the stereotypes of running and fighting like girls.
Terris discussed the ad featuring Little League star Mo’ne Davis. He explained that despite her talents, she will never play professional baseball because the MLB is limited to men. He cites tennis as a sport where the sexes have achieved equality in entertainment value and potential prizes, an example of equal pay for equal work as he sees it.
The group continued to muse on the role of men in the issue of gender inequality, noting gender roles in marriage are beginning to change. Cohen said she feels it is great to see men who “will let the women achieve their goals and are willing to stay home and be the child rearer.”
Pradhan mentioned the former president of Godiva, who spoke at Brandeis. As her career began to skyrocket, her husband became the primary caregiver for their children. Basile stated that men must be more involved in the movement in order to combat stereotypes and biases, stating, “Feminism can no longer be just a woman’s movement.”
Participants discussed the progress of change, which appears slow but is certainly moving forward, particularly in the past few generations. They agreed the danger is to believe we’ve arrived at true equality and agreed that society must continue to work for change.
“I deputize you all to be the change you want to see,” said Marci McPhee, associate director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life. “We’re in this conversation because we care, this matters to us and we’re going to be that change.”