I love Spain and have spent a lot of time there for work and leisure travel. I was, therefore, particularly interested in an article by Raphael Minder in the New York Times reporting that women in Spain have achieved greater parity in their national parliament, the Cortes Generales, than we have made in the US Congress. Women make up 40 percent of the Spanish Cortes while, according to the Rutgers Center for Women in Politics, women hold only 19.4 percent of all seats in the US Congress.
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.
Sexism and racism are two forms of systemic injustice where people are treated unfairly by a network of social institutions because they belong to a certain social-identity group. For example, much has been written about the gender-pay gap and obstacles to promotion for women in many fields. In addition, the Black Lives Matter movement has raised our awareness of the higher rates of incarceration and killing of African Americans by police and the judicial system than is true for Whites. Gender and race are not the only social-identity categories where discrimination occurs, of course. Let’s take a look at some recent studies on how sexism and racism can be harmful to our health. (Be aware that these findings probably apply to other marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQIA community, as well.)
Examples of sexism are rampant in the United States as demonstrated in our presidential contest, sexual harassment scandals, and other public-sector examples like the gender-wage gap. Let’s be clear—both women and men can hold sexist attitudes about women. Sexist attitudes usually include negative stereotypes that create barriers or unfair double standards for women. I have written about many ways that internalized sexism makes it difficult for women to support strong women leaders in my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together. Below are some examples of sexist attitudes currently on display.
The commercial aviation industry remains one of the toughest and least accommodating for new mothers. Annalyn Kurtz of the New York Times notes that “pilots are exempt from a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to accommodate new mothers.” Perhaps because only 4 percent of the 159,000 certified commercial airline pilots are women, and only a portion of these are childbearing age, the issues of paid maternity leave and accommodation for breast-feeding are not priorities for union collective bargaining efforts. Many male pilots are also not supportive of fighting for these policy changes on behalf of their female colleagues because they do not see the policies as important. For these reasons, female pilots have begun to join forces to pressure their male colleagues and unions to support demands for paid maternity leave and alternative work assignments so that women can keep their jobs and support their families during pregnancy and while nursing newborns.
“Sisterhood is not enough; men must be involved in efforts to equalize workplace culture,” writes Peggy Klaus in the New York Times. Klaus goes on to quote Belinda Parmar, head of the tech consultancy Lady Geek, as saying, “gender equity is not a ‘women’s problem,’ it’s a society problem.” I could not agree more, and we need to do more to change workplace culture.
The American Bar Association (ABA) recently passed national standards that prohibit harassment of opposing counsel, witnesses, coworkers, court personnel, and others in the course of practicing law. Elizabeth Olson of the New York Times reports that according to the new standards, “harassment includes sexual harassment and derogatory or demeaning verbal or physical conduct” based on race, religion, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, or marital or economic status.
In a separate article, Olson explains that harassment has long been intentionally used in the legal profession to intimidate or fluster opposing counsel and witnesses as well as to reinforce male-dominated attitudes in the legal profession. She reports that a recent ABA study found that “stereotypical sexist remarks to female lawyers contribute to their underrepresentation in the legal field.” The study also revealed these statistics:
“I am worried about my new boss,” reported my client, Julie, a bright young woman in her thirties. “I had to leave my last job because my boss demanded sexual favors from me in order to keep my job. I had no one to turn to for help because he is so powerful and respected in the small world of our profession. Reporting him would have been career suicide, so I just quit. Now I am worried that my new boss is starting to show signs of the same expectations. I need this job and I don’t know what to do! Can you help me?”
The United Kingdom and Australia have significantly increased the number of women on corporate boards in recent years, while representation in the United States has stalled. Nneka Orji of The Glasshammer reports that female representation in the United Kingdom’s FTSE 100 company boardrooms increased from 12.5 percent in 2011 to 26 percent in 2016. Similarly, Alexandra Spring writes in the Guardian that 26 percent of the director positions in Australia’s ASX 200 companies are now held by women, with a target of 30 percent by 2018.