Women in the United States struggled many years to win the right to vote, and we still have not been able to win the presidency. At least fifty-two other countries in the world have had a female head of state—some countries multiple times—but we have not. Hillary Clinton’s recent run was not successful, but she took us one more step along a very long journey for women in the United States.
Gretchen Carlson went public about the sexual harassment she endured from Roger Ailes as an employee of Fox News and got Roger Ailes fired. Carlson did not agree to stay silent when offered a settlement as part of a nondisclosure agreement, and she got fired. It took courage to go public, and, subsequently, many women have come forward to tell their previously undisclosed stories of sexual harassment. In her article in the New York Times, Carlson notes that, according to the National Women’s Law Center, “almost half of all women have been sexually harassed at work. And those are the ones who have been brave enough to reveal it.” In a previous article, I explain why sexual harassment is still so prevalent in the workplace.
I have been designing and facilitating women’s leadership-development programs for more than twenty-five years, and I always include a segment on misogyny. I begin by asking for participants to raise their hands if they have heard the term misogyny before—usually no one has, until this year. This fall, when I asked the question, almost every woman in the audience raised her hand and knew the definition: having or showing a hatred or distrust of women. The women in my most recent program were from the whole spectrum of political ideologies, but this year’s election campaign elevated both the term misogyny (which is not really a new word but had almost disappeared from use) and awareness of the behaviors associated with it to the level of national discourse. Misogyny has always been with us, but we often didn’t see it, had become numb to it, or did not have a name for it. This election campaign brought misogynistic attitudes and behaviors to the surface and out in the open.
Does watching Mika Brzezinski get constantly interrupted by Joe Scarborough every morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe make you as angry as it makes me? And, yes, I do know that Scarborough interrupts all of his guests, but Brzezinski is his coanchor and often the only woman at the political round-table discussions hosted by the show. I often find watching how she is interrupted, talked over, and disregarded so upsetting that I have to turn the show off. She is smart and has a lot to say, but she is continually not allowed to make her points.
Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace, a new book by Washington and Lee University professor Ellen Mayock, is focused on academia but offers understanding of and solutions to gender-based discrimination in all types of organizations. Mayock’s core concept of “shrapnel” is especially intriguing. She explains that “shrapnel” describes the regular insults and slights that build up over time and inflict real damage. While the meaning of the term “shrapnel” is similar in this context to the term “microaggressions,” frequently used in dialogues about the impact of racism, I find shrapnel to be more accurate in describing the potential seriousness of the injuries inflicted by subtle discrimination. Whether it refers to gender or race or is used to describe other group-level discrimination, it is an equally useful concept.
I am the survivor of both sexual assault and rape, and I understand all too well the high cost, or tax, that women pay for being treated as sexual objects. I experienced sexual assault as a child, an adolescent, a young woman, and a middle-aged woman. I have never talked about most of these experiences, but I believe that women now need to speak out to make it clear that disrespecting women is a real problem, not just “locker room talk.” Sexual assault and violence are serious problems all over the world and not small problems in our country. Amanda Taub of the New York Times reports the following:
I have the good fortune to travel to mainland China two or three times a year. As a practicing organization development consultant and trainer for more than thirty years, it is a thrill for me to share my knowledge and experience in China by teaching leadership and consulting skills workshops to Chinese professionals. I have been fascinated with China ever since I taught English there in the 1980s when the country was newly opened to Western tourism and commerce after being closed to the West for decades. I continue to marvel at the changes that the Chinese have accomplished since my first visit over thirty years ago. I have seen the country evolve from a backward Third World country to a First World global power. But, to my surprise, one thing that has not changed is discrimination against women in society and the workplace.
As a consultant and coach for more than thirty years, I have heard too many painful stories from female clients about feeling unsupported and even undermined by other women at work. When I decided to research this dynamic for my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, I found that these feelings and experiences happen for a reason: organizations actually set up women to feel competitive with one another. This happens when women see very few other women in senior leadership positions. As one of my research participants explained:
A new study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey finds little progress in advancement for women in the largest companies. This study of 132 companies employing 4.6 million people includes a review of the pipeline data of the companies, a survey of HR practices, and surveys of 34,000 employees about attitudes on gender, job satisfaction, ambition, and work-life issues.
Key Findings: The Current State
First, let’s take a look at key findings from the study:
- Women remain underrepresented at every level. For every 100 women promoted to manager, 130 men are promoted. This disparity begins early and grows larger with only 20 percent of SVP roles held by women, which results in very few women in line to become CEO.
Not long ago, a prominent neuroscientist noticed an announcement for an upcoming neuroscience conference. Apoorva Mandavilli of the New York Times reports that this scientist, Dr. Yael Niv of Princeton University, also noticed that “none of the twenty-one speakers were women.” She was upset because she had been pushing for greater inclusion of women scientists as speakers at conferences for years. To top it off, the organizers of this conference were women. This event pushed Dr. Niv and about twenty of her women colleagues to take stronger action to create change.