Inequality in the Workplace is Still Happening

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The three Xs in this picture are my Great-Great Grandparents and their son, my Great-Grandfather. All were employed at a shoe factor in Buffalo, NY in the late 19th century.

There is still gender discrimination and bias in the workplace.  This is a fact coming from a woman in the workforce who can’t be dismissed for a variety of the reasons people like to dismiss those saying something uncomfortable and real about gender inequality in the workforce.  My parents are not wealthy and did not come from a wealthy family.  We are immigrant stock and my great-great grandfathers on my mother’s side were both dead before 30 from intense manual labor.  My parents and grandparents emphasized hard work and doing your best–nothing was ever handed to me on any type of a platter, let alone a silver one.

After working hard and doing my best throughout school, I earned a place in a prestigious university for my undergraduate degree and then earned a full scholarship to another university for my Master’s degree.  I carry some loans, but because of my parents’ help and my choice of programs that awarded need-based aid, I was able to minimize my loan footprint.

I took a wide range of subjects, not just ones that I thought would interest me. Even when these courses were no longer required, I took them to make sure I had the best possible chance in life–math classes all through high school and into college, foreign language classes, English classes, science classes, music, and a variety of others.  I did well in these subjects and for the comparison, I received perfect scores on algebra tests, trigonometry tests, environmental science courses (yes, 100%) and a 98 on geometry (damn 2 point question!).  In college I received an A in oceanography (study of the ocean as a system, not just sea animals), and in calculus.

I worked throughout high-school, college, and graduate school–food service, mail room, library aid, and in a factory doing trick work (three shifts on a rotation). When I graduated from my master’s program, I came home and got a low-level job because I needed health insurance and there weren’t many jobs available in 2004.  This was the time before students could get onto their parents’ medical plans until age 25.  I made only a little more than minimum wage, but figured that I would get some experience and learn something, so I did it because that’s what adults do.

I worked through two pregnancies and came back to work afterwards.  Despite my husband having many serious illnesses that have since taken him out of the workforce, I have been promoted many times and am now a manager with global responsibilities at my current company.  At one point, I managed people who were hired with me at the same time and who had served as my managers.

All of these facts about my background are to explain that I am not a special snowflake.  I have worked hard for everything that I have and am teaching my children the same lesson.  Besides having parents who loved me and supported me (which I recognize is no small thing), I did not have a charmed background and came from solidly blue-collar stock.  The following anecdotes that I am sharing are to illustrate that these things do happen to women in the workforce and are not figments of someone’s liberal imagination.  Rather than dismissing these stories and blaming those who report them, we can use them as a demonstration of systemic issues in the American workforce and work to fix them.

Women are repeatedly told they are “emotional” at work.  Male colleagues often raise their voices and drop obscenities in meetings and on conference calls, yet the only employees I have heard being identified as emotional are female.  In the past year, I was on a call where I showed figures in a table in Excel to illustrate my point of view and was told I was being defensive because my point of view was not what the organizer of the call wished to hear.  This has happened multiple times on calls throughout my career–being labeled as emotional and defensive is the go-to when facts and opinions voiced by female employees are not popular or do not support the party line.

Titles conferred on male colleagues for the same work have not been conferred on me.  There were openings where I have been given full responsibility to speak in a specific capacity, yet I have not received an increase in pay nor the title to match.  Yes, I did speak to managers, yes I did speak to HR, but no, this was not remedied, oftentimes for more than a year.

 The time I most successfully lobbied for an increase was when I cornered one of the upper level managers visiting my site coming out of the bathroom.

His wife happened to also be there and overheard me asking for the increase in pay that matched the role I was performing.  This was the one time I was successful in quickly accelerating the formal promotion timeline.

The issue of children and motherhood is a hot button in the workplace.  One of the primary reasons I chose not to breastfeed my children was because I had no where to go to do it.  There were no offices and I was the only woman in a management position at that company location.  There were already bets going on in the office about whether I would return to work after having my children and colleagues already told me it wasn’t fair that I had “time off” to give birth to my children, so I did push for any more “special privileges” such as asking my employer for the right to pump breast milk at work during the day.   Another employee who called himself liberal thought it was unfair that I had a federal subsidy for child care (money I earned that I could take out pre-tax on my check) and for maternity leave (technically, short term disability).  This is the same colleague whose mother had no means of supporting herself after his father left the family and four kids.

Women are still sexually harassed at work.  I have been followed at work by another employee on a fork lift until I turned and engaged him in conversation and told him I was not interested.  While walking through one employer campus, I was cat-called by other employees who were working outside.  This is when I was wearing work clothes and steel-toed boots, so no, I was not “asking for it” or “seeking attention.”

These issues don’t just happen on a peer to peer basis, but are often issues from those in a position of power relative to my own.  A previous supervisor of mine followed me to my home supermarket and shopped with me the entire time I was there at one job–all because I mentioned that I had plans that night and was going to the market before hand.  This was interpreted as an invitation to follow me and intrude on my personal time.

Female leaders are either interpreted as bitches or as sluts.  If the manager is not feminine enough or takes a hard line on a particular issue, it’s because she’s not getting enough sex or hates men, etc. etc.  A young, pretty supervisor is named a slut or an airhead because being feminine and pretty is also “asking for it” or makes her less intelligent than others.  These has happened innumerable times in my presence–if this is happening when I can hear it, I can only imagine what has gone on out of my hearing.  One woman who worked in my building had her computer screen updated to X-Rated material by someone who didn’t find her pretty enough and bullied her until he was finally fired.  She was a single mom who worked full time to support her child–a child that the father would not help pay to support.

In summary, the myriad statistics published by many, many reputable institutions are not making this up.  Women who claim that their pay is not equal or that they are subjected to unequal conditions are not lying

There is real, systemic gender inequality in the workplace and dismissing those who speak up as snowflakes, or whiners, lazy, or demanding of special privileges is lazy and encourages inequalities in other areas of life.

Feminists are not all bitter, angry man-haters.  We’re simply people who acknowledge that there is still work to be done and that we can do better.  I am proud to call myself a feminist.  I hope that a frank outline of my experience in the workforce will allow studies that are often maligned as containing inaccurate or skewed statistics to be taken more seriously by those who would dismiss them.

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