International Women’s Day is coming up and #metoo has been inescapable this year, with good reason, I might add. While I’m not going to comment on that specifically, I will use this moment to reflect on women in my workplace.
One of the reasons I’ve been so content in my work since landing (back) in academia has been that I have been fortunate to land in a field where I am mentored by, work for, and work alongside amazingly talented, skilled, intelligent, and compassionate women. In fact, since joining my current university department more than 7 years ago, I have consistently heard that the field I work in – which I’m not going to identify due to privacy concerns – is more than 75% women. Industry-wide, not just in my corner of the work world at my university. That turns out to be true. In fact, I guess the most recent data now show that the workforce is actually closer to 85% women. And so perhaps my own experience of working amongst a team of inspiring women leaders may not be unique, no matter where I go next.
That is great news to me! And yet, we still have miles to go. Let’s talk about three problems that brings to bear.
1 – Wonder why are there so many of us women?
There are loads of us women academics working as staff in higher ed for many reasons, but primarily *because* we have fallen out of the academic pipeline. Meaning many of us pursued or completed terminal degrees, only to be shut out of tenure-track or faculty lines. Google the “leaky pipeline”and you’ll find somewhere upwards of 370,000 hits about both reasons for that in STEM fields (and why that term itself is problematic to many). Women in all academic fields face many barriers to entry and advancement as faculty. So whether it’s because they can’t get a position in the first place, can’t get tenure, are saddled with work that goes unrecognized, or can earn more as staff than faculty, many women end up staying in higher ed…just as staff or administrators, rather than the more prestigious faculty. (Just like me and thousands like me).
2 – What about leadership positions?
I work in a department where our Vice President is a woman, but apparently this is not always the case. What the data in my industry shows is that “although women make up the majority of the workforce, men still occupy the majority of the highest-level executive positions.” Harumph.
3 – One implication for a majority-women’s workplace
We have game night with friends, and so there’s a rotating cast of families who come, some of whom we know well, and others who join us for the first time. At the most recent one, I met a woman who asked what I did and I explained what my job was and where I worked. She asked if I liked it and I said something like “Yes, it’s great to be around so many creative and talented women! It’s just a really pleasant work environment on the whole, and not just [at my university] but industry-wide.” Her response?
“Oh, so ALL of you are woefully underpaid.
Because you’re all women
I had never thought of that before, but it’s likely to be true, given the gender pay inequities we face. After picking my jaw up off the floor, I asked her “What do you do?”
“I’m a labor attorney. I help clients who have been discriminated against in the workplace.”
Oh. So she really knows what she’s talking about.
Ladies, we still have so much work to do. Even those of us who have relatively little to complain about.