The Shape of the Table

Today, I had an interesting conversation with some colleagues. We were discussing the recent decision made by the US Navy that now allows women to serve on submarines. This rule had been in effect for years, and the military had cited the “close quarters” and eminent dangers to women in this type of environment (no doubt rooted in the damage it could do to our ‘delicate sensibilities’) as rational to keep women from this type of service. When the new policy was sent out on a social media network, two of my male allies responded in disbelief. They had no idea that women had not been allowed to serve in this capacity (i.e. on the submarines).

I admire these men for openly admitting that they didn’t know about this discriminatory practice. I furthermore admire these men for acknowledging through further discussion how this practice was wrong, unnecessary and to some extent, ridiculous. But what I admire the most about these two men is that they have openly committed themselves to advancing the message that equality for women is important, educating other colleagues about the same, and have identified the need to ensure women are afforded access, or a place at the table. Allies like this are hard to come by, and I personally make a commitment right now to provide them with as much information as possible to continue to advance this cause.

However, something about this conversation stuck with me. The more I thought about the concept of access – I began to wonder if it really was the answer. For years, women have been told that if they simply had a “place at the table”, we would achieve equity. Simply by being “in the room”, “part of the team”, or “part of the leadership”, women would somehow right all the wrongs of gender discrimination, topple the hegemonic structures that perpetuate overt and micro inequities, and equality would be achieved. By sheer force of will and the vastness of our numbers at the “upper levels”, we would finally realize equity.

This creates a problem. Recall that women have not been involved in the development of processes, policies and structures currently in place. Simply amassing critical numbers of women in key positions will not solve this problem. Granted, it will change the conversation considerably; however, we have to acknowledge that patriarchal structures implemented centuries ago have not just prevented access for women, but have altered the way women behave, think about and believe what our role and place in society should be. This is internalized sexism – whether we as women believe it or not – and we have to remove our blinders before we can begin to imagine what true equity and equality for women really looks like.

Because of these structures, many women feel the need to emulate the leadership style of successful men in order to get ahead (for you fledgling feminist scholars out there, that’s called acting as an ‘amateur male’). Taken to an extreme, this can rob a woman of her identity, and perpetuate an even more horrific situation – that of women intentionally sabotaging other women in order to get ahead (a.k.a. acting as a female misogynist). In situations like this, women are playing by rules set by men long ago – and we’re losing.

Anna Quindlen said, “You’re less wedded to the shape of the table if you haven’t been permitted to sit at it.” However, I’d take that statement one step further. I counter Ms. Quindlen with this, “You’re less wedded to the shape of the table if you haven’t been permitted to design it.” This captures both the innovative, inclusive and equal role women should be taking in designing policies, laws, structures, processes, and values that shape our world.

As women have been victim to these power structures, we are better equipped to identify and challenge them. We can take an active role and work to end the inequities that we see. We can express our concern individually when things happen with which we do not agree.  We can moblize and champion change.  We can identify our male feminist allies to walk with us, talk with us, advocate with us and stand with us as we work to effect this change for women.  We all have a role to play, but I will assert women have the stronger role, for as Dr. Johnetta Cole, President Emeritus of Spelman College stated, “If we do nothing to change the world, then we cannot call ourselves educated women.”

For real change – we have to shake off what we know. For real change – we have to take off our provided sunglasses. For real change – we have to challenge what we ourselves believe and how we ourselves behave. For in that moment of rebirth – we will find a way to walk with each other as equals, and design one hell of a great table together.


What Could You Do With $713,000?

Today is Equal Pay Day. This day, April 20, marks the symbolic date when a woman’s earnings catch up to men’s from the year before. In essence, from January 1, 2010 until today, women have been working for free. In support of Equal Pay Day, the AAUW asked people to blog on the subject today. I am taking this opportunity to not just share information about the wage gap for women in our country, but to share some ideas on how we can try and help rectify this discriminatory situation. And believe it or not – it IS discriminatory.

Here are some statistics for you:

  • According to the US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor statistics, women who work full time earn about 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. This is down from the previous year, which stood at 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
  • From the AAUW groundbreaking study “Behind the Pay Gap” (2007), the gap between men’s and women’s salaries begins immediately upon entering the workforce.
  • One year after graduation, and after controlling for industry, type of job, prior experience, and other factors, this gap is 5%.  The more startling number occurs 10 years after graduation, when this gap widens to 12%.
  • Over the course of a 40-year career, the cumulative gap is extraordinary. For women with no high school diploma, $270,000 is lost. For women with a high school diploma, $392,000 is lost. For women with some college, $452,000 is lost. For women with a bachelors degree or higher, $713,000 is lost.
  • The Center for American Progress tracked wage gaps by age and occupation. By the end of their careers, male managers have made $635,000 more than their female peers, not counting other benefits, bonuses or contributions to retirement. The legal profession has the highest pay gap in this report – a lifetime gap of $1,481,000.
  • The Corporate Library reported in 2008 that female CEOs actually earned 103% of what male CEOs make – in salary. When bonuses, perks and other incentives were added in, male CEOs made on average $303,000 more annually than their female CEO counterparts.

What could you do with an extra $713,000? What could you negotiate in addition to salary that may help close this gap for you? What can you do as someone who hires in new employees into your organization in order to close this gap?

I assert that we can do several things. As employers, we can conduct research on our own campuses to ensure that the pay scales for all employees are equitable and fair. When we offer positions to new staff, we can ensure that we are offering the position at a fair level. We can also conduct regular reviews of departmental salary ladders and make sure that they are in-line with salary levels for similar positions within the larger organization. It is up to the employers to police ourselves.

As individuals, we can advocate on our own behalf. We can conduct research and find out if what we are being paid is fair and of “comparable worth” to others with similar responsibilities. We can challenge inequity and support this challenge with facts. We can take an active role in this process.

To that end – I now challenge you. I challenge you to be actively, not passively, involved. If you wore red today – great! That was an active step. If you attended an Equal Pay Day event on your campus or at your organization – fantastic! That was an active step. If you took the time to educate someone on your campus or in your department about Equal Pay Day – wonderful! That was an active step. But what will you do next? What other change can you affect?

I think we can do more. I believe that with just a little more effort, a little extra time, and a little more activism, we can impact change at a much more rapid rate than the slow, incremental change that has occurred to date. So work to plan the next Equal Pay Day. Write your senators and encourage them to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Actively work with your respective governing organizations to change policy that hinders equal pay. Promote workshops and sessions that help women learn how to negotiate on their own behalf so we don’t start out 5% behind in the wage gap. Then look beyond to the pay inequities in the world, where the discrimination is far beyond what our westernized viewpoint can possibly imagine.

Remember – equal pay isn’t just a women’s issue – it’s everybody’s issue. There is so much work to do – but we can do this. So get up. Get involved. Get active. For if you do – together, we can change the world.

Why the Feminist Lattice?

I’ve been asked a few times why I call this blog “The Feminist Lattice”. The title came from a recent event that I experienced in a Women in Higher Education course here on our campus. As part of the class we were introduced to Third Wave Feminism, and to Inga Muscio’s website, which included a section with various women’s “Womanifesto” writings. Our instructor provided us with her own Womanifesto, and then challenged us to write our own.

Previous to this course, I had started some reflections and writings on my own about my experiences as a woman in higher education. I was struggling to pull some of these writings together (for the record, I’m a major extravert and “reflecting” is not something I generally do in writing or internally in any way), but something about this assignment resonated with me. We were given a few moments to write something down, and once we had our draft, we were encouraged to share this with small groups of our classmates. My draft became the base for what would eventually become my own Womanifesto.

I will admit – at first, sharing this information was scary. Questions ran through my mind. I am a professional on the campus, and many of the students in the class work in my department. What would these women think of me? Would they think I was crazy? Would they view me negatively once I shared my own Womanifesto? Would this be harmful to me and my career on the campus – openly sharing my feminist perspective, my views on my own experiences, and my passion for women’s issues? I didn’t know.

I listened patiently to my small group members’ stories, and was amazed at how open each woman was with their background story prior to sharing their own draft Womanifesto. Then, it was my turn. In that instant, I made a decision. I wasn’t going to just read my creation. In that moment, I decided I was going to portray this vibrantly and with the passion I felt as I had written the words. I gathered up my courage, and my acting training, and began to read. During my reading, I realized for the first time in a VERY long time that I was completely connected with the words on the page. I was able to present these ideas and beliefs in a meaningful way, and I believe the true part of myself was finally shared. It was an amazing moment – one that literally resulted in goosebumps forming on my arms when I concluded. This wasn’t a performance. No – this was real. It was – finally – me.

Here is the link to my Womanifesto on Inga Muscio’s website. When you read it – you will understand the title of the blog. Enjoy – and should you choose to do so – write your own. It’s a powerful experience!

DoctorJPK’s Womanifesto

Devaluing the Male Voice?

I just participated in a Twitter chat for student affairs (#sachat) where the topic was Engaging Men in Leadership on Campus. This was from a student perspective – meaning that the issues discussed referred to engaging men in student leadership opportunities.

There were a lot of issues discussed around this subject, and it only took about 5 minutes for someone to bring up that a barrier to men’s involvement/engagement in student leadership opportunities was due to men not seeing many of themselves (meaning other men) in entry and mid-level administrative roles. Based on this comment – much discussion ensued about (a) do unintentionally ignore or leave out men because we assume they already understand how to become involved, (b) do all of the separate services for underrepresented groups impact men’s ability to engage, and (c) what do men really need in order to engage with the campus via leadership roles?

I have to admit, I struggled with this discussion. I immediately became defensive, thinking, “What the heck do you mean? Men have all of the advantage! They really do – all of the upper level administrators are male (with the possible exception of a VP of Student Affairs here or there), the systems after graduation are set up for their engagement and advancement, and other underrepresented groups are left behind.” This is evidenced in part by many studies, including “Behind the Pay Gap”, a 2007 study from the AAUW.

However, as a good student affairs professional, I stopped to consider the other point of view, which for me was very difficult. Student affairs has a high level of women at the entry and mid-levels – this is true. Student affairs also through our various mission statements talks about co-curricular learning, engaging the whole student, understanding different perspectives, and a commitment to community and civic engagement. None of these values are exclusive of the male voice.

At this point, I asked myself one question – do we devalue the male voice and subsequent experiences because we assume the existing systems of privilege provide men an advantage in all areas, including student leadership and engagement? I will admit – this question really caused me to pause. I wondered in my own career, as an adamant feminist, if had I unintentionally overlooked the potential in men? Did I approach students differently based on their gender? What is my responsibility as an administrator with the engagement of men in our community? How can I, as a woman administrator and student affairs professional, help to engage men more in our programs and our leadership roles? Do I need to worry about this?

I came to the conclusion that yes, there is a difference in how I approach students of different genders on our campus, but that this may not be a bad thing. Students needs to be treated as individuals, so working with them individually is critical for their successful development, and taking into account gender as one of the formative parts of their social identity is key. I also need to encourage strong male leaders on campus, but concurrently educate them about the systems of privilege afforded to them as men.

At the end of the discussion – I ended with this quote:

“And for all my women colleagues – the more we mentor men, the better off both men and women will be. #trainingfutureallies ”

I believe this to be true. Gender inequality and inequity is not just a woman issue, it is a man issue. The systems of privilege that exist hurt men just as much as they hurt women. By taking an active interest in both male and female students, educating them about privilege, power and oppression, and encouraging them to become leaders, we can continue to advance the cause of equality for all people, most especially women.

I’d be curious to hear the thoughts of others on this subject, as I found it to be a most interesting topic today.