gender

Into the Gap

Happy 2021!

The Globe and Mail newspaper is currently running a series of articles titled Power Gap: a data-based investigation into gender inequality in Canadian workplaces. I’m really pleased to see attention and resources being directed towards understanding this issue. To date, the articles are doing a very good job of unpicking why there are more men than women in positions of power in Canadian workplaces, and why men are generally better-paid. But the series also shows how difficult it is to address these imbalances in a substantive way, because of data limitations. It’s hard to solve a problem without fully understanding what’s causing the problem.

The complete explanation of the Power Gap project methodology is paywalled, but to summarize it, the analysis relies on data from “sunshine lists” – lists of public sector employees with an annual salary above a certain level, which most Canadian provincial governments release every year. Because these lists are not consistently formatted across provinces – for example, not all provinces release employees’ full names – the data on the lists had to be combined and then adjusted so the data were comparable.

Also, since the purpose of the Power Gap project was to investigate gender inequality, the employees’ gender had to be added to the data set. Gender data were collected through several different methods, including (more…)

Pandemics, Productivity, and Gender

After ten months of pandemic-related lockdowns, rescheduling, and cancellations, it’s almost becoming clichéd to say that “work as we know it may have changed forever”. But it’s true. The key word, though, is “may”. We don’t know if the way many of us are working now is going to be the way we’ll always work. We don’t know if employers and organizations are permanently changing the way that they’re going to organize or run their operations.

But one thing we do know is that the pandemic has had an unequal effect on workers’ productivity. Both women and men are working at home more, but (more…)

Using “Blind” Hiring To Increase Workplace Diversity

One of the best-known studies of bias in hiring is the “blind audition” study. This study, conducted in 1997, explored hiring practices at American symphony orchestras – specifically, whether “blind auditions”, when musicians play for the hiring committee while hidden behind a screen, made a difference in how many female musicians were hired. The “blind audition” study demonstrated how bias could affect hiring decisions, even when the hiring process was designed to be as neutral and objective as possible. 

However, the study only addressed gender bias in hiring. Now there are suggestions that the findings from that study could be built on to address racial and ethnic bias. Although, like the “blind audition” study, these suggestions are based in the world of symphony orchestras, they have relevance to any kind of workplace.

Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse, the authors of the “blind audition” study, were curious as to why the number of women in US symphony orchestras had dramatically increased from the 1950s to the 1980s, even though the percentages of women graduating from classical music schools did not significantly change during that time.

They suggested that (more…)

Invisible Systems, Invisible Women

Reading one book right after another book can make you think differently about both books.

Caroline Criado Perez’ Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men and Chris Clearfield and András Tilcsik’s Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do about It are both very insightful. Invisible Women describes, through numerous and very depressing examples, how a world that pretends to be “gender neutral” is still a male world, because gender does matter.

When gender isn’t considered in system development or product design, or isn’t separated out in data collection, outputs that are supposed to serve everyone often don’t work for women. For example, first-responder safety gear designed for “average” (read=male) bodies can actually be dangerous for women to wear, because the components don’t fit correctly and thus aren’t as protective as they need to be.

Another of Criado Perez’ examples (more…)

Oh, The Things I See… — Paula Stone Williams

Some of the most insightful observations about the comparative workplace experiences of men and women have come from people who have gone through a gender transition. Paula Stone Williams recently gave an excellent TED talk about what she learned as a man and as a woman, and she has now written a blog post on the same subject. Her perspective is very enlightening, particularly in showing how men and women can be treated differently in small or subtle ways – but all those little incidents add up to create big power imbalances that can be damaging to individuals and to organizations.

In a Q&A session after a keynote presentation earlier this month, I was asked about my personal discoveries related to gender inequity. Off the top of my head, I could not formulate a list. It did not take long to do so afterwards. In no particular order, here are 12 of my discoveries: In a […]

via Oh, The Things I See… — Paula Stone Williams

I Think This Is An Important Topic

And, um, I’d like to suggest that we should pay more attention to it?

A recent discussion on Twitter raised some provocative points about communication norms in workplaces, especially those norms associated with gender. The research of linguists and sociologists such as Deborah Tannen has shown that men and women communicate differently, especially in the context of work. Men tend to present their views and opinions directly, while women tend to frame their statements with qualifiers such as “I think” or “in my opinion”.

In any workplace, the dominant group’s norms – both linguistic and behavioural – usually become (more…)

Pumpkins and Pomposity

Margaret Wente, a columnist for the Globe and Mail newspaper, isn’t known for having insightful or original perspectives on issues. Earlier this year, it was discovered that some of her columns were truly unoriginal – that is, they contained unattributed material taken from other sources. But the topics of Wente’s columns also tend to be recycled, and two weeks ago she returned to one of her favourite topics: the silliness of some academic research.

Since I’ve written about Wente’s attacks on academics before, I recognize that I’m also recycling topics by devoting a blog post to her latest anti-academic screed. But Wente’s reasoning and analyses in this column are so appallingly weak that they deserve to be called out.

Wente’s column starts (more…)

Disrupting Gender Stereotypes in the Media

My friend Sam Ford does a lot of interesting things, and one of them is teaching in the Popular Culture Program at Western Kentucky University. Last year, at a research conference, Sam was on a panel with another WKU professor, Ted Hovet  – and during that panel, Ted made a provocative proposal: “We should never ask students to do anything again in which the professor is the only person who sees their work”. Sam took that idea to heart. And now, at the end of every semester, he sends out an email with links to students’ videos, presentations, and research articles from his classes.

I always like getting that email from Sam, because his students’ work is so enjoyable. But this past semester, there was a presentation so exceptional that I thought it deserved a wider audience. Sam kindly put me in touch with three of the four students who did that presentation, and the students agreed to share their project on this blog.

Shelby Bruce, Katie McLean, Kalee Chism, and Paige Medlin were students in POP 201 (Introduction to Popular Culture), and the topic they chose for their end-of-semester presentation was “women in the media”. The Prezi of the entire presentation is available here, but the part of the presentation that really caught my eye was (more…)

A Step Forward

As an adult figure skater, and an avid skating fan, the world figure skating championships are always an incredibly exciting event for me to watch. The 2015 world championships in March were particularly interesting, because they were the first world championships of the four years leading up to the 2018 Olympics. As usually happens after every Olympics, many recent world and Olympic competitors have retired or have decided to take a break from competition. So the 2015 world championships were one of the first opportunities for skaters to begin establishing themselves as potential contenders for 2018.

But something else important occurred at the 2015 world figure skating championships. It’s something that didn’t get a lot of attention in the media, but it should be acknowledged. And that’s the fact that Eric Radford, who won the pairs event with his partner Meagan Duhamel, is the first openly gay skater to win a world championship. (more…)

Do Men Need Women To Call Them Out? Some Thoughts on Adam Grant’s Controversial Article

Last week, the New York Times published an article by Adam Grant that set off more than a few firestorms of debate. The article, titled Why Men Need Women, proposed that women have a “warming effect” on men, causing them to be more generous and compassionate. It cited a number of research studies suggesting that men behaved more selflessly when they had female relatives or co-workers, and concluded,

It’s often said that behind every great man stands a great woman. In light of the profound influence that women can have on men’s generosity, it might be more accurate to say that in front of every great man walks a great woman. If we’re wise, we’ll follow her lead.

The article received more than 300 responses on the New York Times website, and was the subject of a lot of harsh criticism on Twitter. From my reading, there seemed to be several major themes in the criticisms (more…)