Discrimination isn’t accidental

This is probably not surprising to any women who are in academia:

New research show there’s a considerable gap between men and women when it comes to being promoted to the top jobs in the country’s universities.

I don’t like the language of “gaps”. Gaps are natural or accidental – whoops, I didn’t measure that carpet properly, there’s a gap. But systemic discrimination – the kind in play when there aren’t as many women doing the “top” jobs in academia – isn’t natural. And in 2016, after decades of activism and research and shifting of the way we think about gender and work, there’s no excusing it as accidental.

But we still do, on some levels. Look no further than that Radio NZ article, from the headline “Women missing out on top uni jobs” to explanations like:

Emeritus professor Steve Weaver, who chairs Canterbury University’s academic promotions board, said the lack of female professors could partly be explained by the fact only half as many put their names forward for promotion compared to men.

To Weaver’s credit, he also says managers need to play a bigger role in encouraging women to apply for promotions. But saying “men put themselves forward more, women are more risk averse” implies this is simply the way things are – and that there isn’t a basic problem with sexism in our society.

Women are just risk averse, and men aren’t, and since men are getting all the important powerful well-paid positions, we can logically conclude that there isn’t any risk at all. It’s all in your heads, ladies! Stop imagining risks and the job’s yours!

But what if we assume that academic women aren’t all nervous fillies shying away from every shadow? What if we consider the risks they face?

The risk of being told your whole life that girls just aren’t as good at science.

The risk of being harassed at university by a “mentor” whose good opinion will determine whether you even graduate.

The risk of being downright disrespected and ignored by colleagues, superiors and even students. The risk of being assumed to be the secretary or the teaching assistant.

The risk of doing all the work and having the men in charge of the lab publish the results under their name.

The risk of getting pregnant, and not getting the promotion. Or being assumed to be a person-who-will-get-pregnant-at-some-point, and not getting the promotion.

The risk of being seen as “ambitious” or “aggressive” – words which are turned to praise when they’re describing your male colleagues.

The risk that even when your manager is encouraging and supportive, it all comes down to an appointment process which favours men, gives more weight to men’s achievements, hears more authority in men’s voices, and is simply more comfortable with the familiar: men. Why set yourself up to fail when the game’s rigged against you?

What’s not to be averse of?

These are the things we ignore when we fall into the language of natural phenomena. That’s how things are. People do the things they do. Women don’t put themselves forward. It’s out of our hands.

At a meeting last week I overheard a conversation between some very progressive, liberal folks, about school kids and homework. It was along much the same lines. Girls are “just” better at homework because they’re “naturally” more thoughtful and better at planning ahead. Teenage boys by contrast are simply “not wired” to put in effort before a deadline. ‘Twas ever thus.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we don’t start asking why – why are young women more conscious of the expectations on them? Why don’t young men think about consequences? Why do women still do the bulk of housework and child-rearing?* – we cannot be surprised if nothing ever changes. It cannot be mysterious to us that organisations will keep promoting men over women, that employers will keep paying women less than men, that our society will continue to be unequal and unjust.

Women are not “missing out on the top jobs”. They are being denied the same access and support as their male colleagues. A lot of it will be unconscious. The product of thinking and assumptions we don’t even know we’re making. Which is why we need to change the way we talk about it.

~

*The instinctive response to many of those questions will be, “not all young men!” etc. But that just goes to show that there’s a lot more going on than the simplistic, “we ticked the “male” category on the birth certificate so obviously he’s going to love trucks and hate personal responsibility” argument we keep accepting. And that’s the point.

The myth of hiring on merit: James Shaw at the CTU conference

Green co-leader James Shaw announced at the CTU conference last week that in any future government, when the Greens are at the Cabinet table, at least half of their seats will be filled by women.

Cue the #manban headlines.

hermione unimpressed clap

But seriously, Shaw showed some good, clear thinking here on an issue which so often gets swamped with #notallmen whining or #butwhataboutmerit or #reversesexism!!!

Take a look at our current Parliament which is seventy percent male. Or Cabinet, which governs the country, also seventy percent male.

No one seriously thinks all those guys are there because they’re the best of the best, or that they’ve all got so much more merit than any female politicians.

The reality is that it’s a traditionally male institution.

There were legal and social barriers preventing women from entering. And those overt barriers are gone but many subtle barriers remain.

And just to really reach the psyche of ~middle New Zealand~ (I’m joking, James, you’re doing good work here) he goes for the king of metaphors:

I’m going to steal a trick from our friend John Key here – this is his only trick – and use an All Blacks analogy.

Imagine if we had a coach who almost always picked players from only the North Island, or only the South Island to join the squad.

And they said ‘We pick whoever is best for the team,’ but the team kept losing all its matches.

How long would the nation put up with that? I think you could measure it in seconds before everyone said, ‘This is stupid. This isn’t working. You need to pick players from the whole country.’

That’s what’s happened with the representation of women in politics for decades.

And it isn’t working.

It’s trite but it’s true. You have two options: either admit you think women as a group aren’t as good as men as a group, or acknowledge that there are barriers – human-made, inorganic barriers – to women’s advancement on a par with men.

Or as Catherine Delahunty put it:

What do you earn?

Helen Kelly linked to an advice column in the Herald which suggests that while it’s perfectly okay to ask people how much they paid for their house, it’s a no-no to ask about their income.

It’s a great collision between two myths which reinforce a lot of terrible ideas we’re told about people, and value, and solidarity.

Of course you can ask people – with proper etiquette – what they paid for their house. House-buyingness is next to godliness. Buy a house young and you’re an entrepreneur. Own multiple properties and preach the virtues of “treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen” and you get headlines. There’s no shame in owning one house, five houses, or making millions of dollars literally being subsidized by a state which won’t provide decent housing for people in need.

But there’s plenty of shame in asking people what they earn. That’s private information, after all, and you’re an individual standing on your own two feet and by god, if other people (who aren’t as good and productive as you) find out what you get, they’ll try to steal it!

Or as advice columnist Lee Suckling put it:

Asking somebody about his or her salary is far less permissible. This is purely because it’s none of your business.

The only people that need to know how much you earn are your boss and your spouse.

It’s the gospel of self-interest. You’re an individual. You’re think as an individual. You function as a good little rational economic unit working purely for its own gain.

One of the terrible aspects of our current system is how it unnaturally pits us against each other. You certainly shouldn’t look at the other people working around you and think “we’re in this together. We’re in the same situation! We should be treated fairly and given the same pay for doing the same work.” They’re not comrades. They’re competition!

We’re meant to take it on faith that each of us – the “you” who has to protect your good deal from the avarice of your fellow labourers – is getting the best deal. And we’re meant to see this as a good thing, because the boss wants us to sit at his table in the cafeteria, not them.

We’re meant to trust that the boss is properly sharing his or her profits with the people who created them. Unfortunately, a lot of them aren’t.

That’s what a lot of people working at Google discovered when Erica Baker created a shared spreadsheet of the salaries of people working at the company. Surprise surprise – they found people weren’t being paid equally for their work. And apparently managers at Google didn’t like this. Erica Baker isn’t working there any more.

The defensiveness is kind of understandable, but also shows the benefits of transparency for everyone involved. We know about unconscious bias. Most people don’t twirl their moustaches and announce “I’m going to pay women less because I hate them”. They don’t realise they’re doing it until it’s all laid out in front of them. And if they think of themselves as good people who aren’t sexist or racist, etc, it can be a shock to discover you were being sexist or racist, etc, in practice.

(In the same way, I doubt Lee Suckling sat down at his keyboard and thought “Haha! How can I reinforce a cult of individual self-interest today? Muahahahaha!”)

A final point: if you’re in a unionised workplace with a collective agreement – and I acknowledge they’re the minority – you do see what your coworkers are earning. You know that the same job is paid at the same rate, or that everyone in your team sits in the same pay band. It doesn’t ruin morale.

What do we see when the people in a workplace or industry are in the union? Higher wages, better conditions, and fairer pay for men and women.

the incredibles coincidence

So I’m sorry, but I’m going to keep on being impolite. Because “politeness” is capitalism’s way of tricking us into not comparing notes and realising just how much we’re all getting exploited.

Sexism, babies, and our assumptions about work

It’s 2015, and we’re constantly told that sexism is over, feminism has had its day, and would you nagging witches please just simmer down already?

And then this happens:

An Auckland mother was told that having her kids in daycare could affect her job prospects because she would need too many sick days to care for them.

The mother rang O’Neils Personnel Recruitment Agency about an administration-manager job advertised on its website this week.

“The woman I ended up speaking to asked me if I have any children,” said the mother, who did not wish to be identified. “When I said yes, she asked if they would be in daycare, which they would be.

“She then proceeded to tell me that the client would not be interested in me as an applicant. Why? Apparently because daycare is a hotbed of illness, and I would have to leave work all the time, because they would be sick all the time, and when you are employed you have to be there, to do the job.”

A better headline might be “Sexist assumptions cost woman job chance.”

I’m going to be honest, here: I do not believe that Ms Sleep, the recruitment agent quoted in the story, asks men the same questions. Maybe she asks, “so does your partner take care of the kids when they’re sick?” Or maybe the topic of kids comes up in an interview and she thinks “gosh, he sounds like a nice family man.”

But I sincerely doubt that she’s ever told a man “look, you need to come back to me once you have a Plan B for childcare, because this employer won’t hire you if you have kids.”

We live in a society which makes a huge number of assumptions about work and child-raising.

Women are assumed to be the main carers of children

I know a couple who decided dad would be the stay-at-home parent. This caused shock, because the assumptions are so ingrained – people actually asked her, when she was back at work, “but what have you done with the baby?” – and people asked him, when he took the baby to daycare, “oh … *sad face* what happened to the mum?”

We would sooner assume that a woman would leave her six-week-old baby totally unattended at home, and that a man’s wife has died tragically in the first six weeks of baby’s life, than “she went back to work and he takes care of the kid.”

Ironically, this creates a vicious circle. If you’re having kids in a heterosexual relationship, and one of you needs to take time off after a baby’s born, and the woman in the relationship is far likelier to be paid less or promoted because people assume she’ll be the one taking time off … guess who ends up reinforcing the stereotype?

All women of child-bearing age are assumed to want/be planning children

I have friends who are childfree, and have been for many, many years. And even the women who are most outspoken about never wanting children face the same condescension: “oh, you’ll change your mind when you get older!” and “you’ll feel differently once you meet the right guy!”

There’s a few other poor assumptions right there: all women are cisgender, all women are heterosexual, all cis women can physically have children.

And of course, we can never take a woman’s word for anything because the ~biological clock~ is far more powerful than a silly ~ladybrain~. This points us towards a simple truth: women are seen as less intelligent, capable, and autonomous than men. You could almost argue that the “risk” of pregnancy or childcare impacting on work is a smokescreen; an excuse to justify simply not valuing women as equal human beings.

Children are the only reason people ever miss work or leave jobs

In this 2013 article, recruiter Ryan Densem complains

… he had dealt with employers left “frustrated” from employing a pregnant women after investing time and money into the hiring process and training, only to have to go through the same process a few months later to cover their maternity leave.

Has Ryan Densem really never encountered a man leaving a role within a few months? Does he refrain from head-hunting great candidates who’ve just started new jobs because it would be unfair to their bosses? Do men never get really sick, or injured, or decide to move to a new city?

I’ve worked places with huge turnover. Multiple people quit less than six months after starting. Huge amounts of time and money wasted on recruitment, and work left undone because everyone else was so stretched – and not a pregnancy in sight. There was a poorly-trained team leader and a toxic culture of managerial bullying, but for some reason that’s viewed as unfixable. Much easier to just not-hire an entire gender.

Besides, as recruiter Annette Sleep says in the top article,

It’s risk management and clients don’t pay us a handsome fee to send them risky candidates. The candidates don’t pay us a brass razoo. In business you work for the people who pay you.

Plenty of “handsome fees” to be made off a managerial class who drive good non-pregnant candidates away, I imagine.

What about sick days? Can I refuse to hire young men because they might go to the Sevens every year and I can’t afford to cover their hangover-sickies? People who play weekend sport, because they might get injured?

Ryan Densem wants to pretend that this is all about six-months-pregnant women switching jobs and forfeiting their entitlements to paid parental leave (because this ever actually happens), not systemic and deliberate discrimination against women on the basis of gender. But researcher Annick Masselot notes

“Women are not merely discriminated against because they are pregnant and are about to take a period of parental leave, they are discriminated on the basis of the next 15 years of school holidays”

Because all women will have children, and all children will get sick, and all women will be the ones taking time off because their sick and wanting school holidays off and leaving their jobs at the drop of a positive pregnancy test.

Given all this it’s not surprising that that our Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex – including

preferential treatment relating to pregnancy and childbirth, and family responsibilities.

At least Ryan Densem has the good grace to be honest about the lies employers tell:

“They’d never say, ‘Sorry, we won’t hire you because you’re pregnant’. They’d say, ‘Sorry, your background and experience isn’t exactly what we’re looking for’.”

It’s okay, Ryan. We know exactly what you mean.

So there’s the gendered, identity-politics side of the argument. But there’s a slightly broader set of assumptions in play, around work and workers, regardless of gender – and my thoughts on that got a liiiiittle bit long, so tune in tomorrow.

QOTD on being “fiscally conservative but socially liberal”

From Greta Christina at Raw Story, Here are 7 things people who say they’re ‘fiscally conservative but socially liberal’ don’t understand:

You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues. And conservative fiscal policies do enormous social harm. That’s true even for the mildest, most generous version of “fiscal conservatism” — low taxes, small government, reduced regulation, a free market. These policies perpetuate human rights abuses. They make life harder for people who already have hard lives. Even if the people supporting these policies don’t intend this, the policies are racist, sexist, classist (obviously), ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and otherwise socially retrograde. In many ways, they do more harm than so-called “social policies” that are supposedly separate from economic ones. Here are seven reasons that “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” is nonsense.

If you care about marginalized people — if you care about the oppression of women, LGBT people, disabled people, African Americans and Hispanics and other people of color — you need to do more than go to same-sex weddings and listen to hip-hop. You need to support economic policies that make marginalized people’s lives better. You need to oppose economic policies that perpetuate human rights abuses and make marginalized people’s lives suck.