Many women and men are still wary of working together when their work requires them to have one-on-one meetings or to travel together for business. New research reported by Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reveals that almost two-thirds of the 5,282 registered voters surveyed by the New York Times say, “People should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work.” Miller notes that these results also partially explain “why women still don’t have the same opportunities as men. . . . They [women] are treated differently.”
First, the good news: dozens of women have been speaking out about sexual harassment in the workplace in recent months, bringing their upsetting experiences into the light and out of the shadows after a long period of silence about this issue in organizations. Understandably, women have been coming forward slowly either because of pressure to stay silent or justifiable fear of negative consequences to their careers. Gretchen Carlson spoke out at Fox News and brought about the firing of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, and other women gained courage from her example to tell their stories of sexual harassment at Fox.
I just came across an interesting new study, reported in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), showing that companies run by male executives with female children rated higher on measures of corporate social responsibility (CSR), defined as “measures of diversity, employee relations, and environmental stewardship,” than is true for comparable companies led by men with no daughters. This means that male CEOs with daughters spend significantly more net income on CSR priorities than is true for other companies (unless the CEO is a woman, but more on this later).
Women, for the most part, just want sexual harassment to stop when it happens. But, as Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reports, women (and it is mostly women who are harassed) rarely report sexual harassment for good reasons: fear of retaliation that can take the form of hostility from supervisors, bad references, or loss of opportunity when labeled as a “troublemaker.” This is not a small problem for women. Miller reports that an analysis of fifty-five surveys shows that close to 50 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment, but only one-fourth to one-third of people who have been harassed report it to a supervisor or a union representative. Only 2 percent to 13 percent file a formal complaint.
I have always had a fierce drive for financial independence. When I was a girl child in the 1950s and 1960s, I remember reflecting on my mother’s traditional suburban life as a homemaker and being horrified by her lack of independence. Although she was living a life that met society’s expectations, she often told me stories about dreams she had abandoned to be a wife and mother.
I admit that I got nervous when the Trump transition team demanded that the State Department submit details of programs and jobs dedicated to promoting gender equity. Given Donald J. Trump’s history of demeaning and assaulting women and his sexist behavior during the presidential campaign, it seems quite possible that his administration will pursue the elimination of all funding for women’s empowerment programs in the same way they have planned to defund Planned Parenthood, which will deprive poor women of basic healthcare services.
Misogyny is a difficult and important concept to understand if we are to grasp many of the challenges that women face in politics and in the workplace. One source of confusion is that misogyny is actually an umbrella term that encompasses multiple concepts such as sexism, patriarchy, gender-based oppression, and internalized oppression. Both women and men participate in perpetuating the misogynistic attitudes, behaviors, and practices motivated by hatred or distrust of women. Such concepts are largely unconscious in individuals and often institutionalized in the policies and practices of organizations and societal institutions. I wrote about some post-election examples of misogynistic behaviors in a recent article.
Decades of research show that women make a difference in elected office. Women do govern differently, yet we are losing representation in the United States. Claire Cain Miller, writing for the New York Times, reports these results of the November 2016 election:
- The number of female governors dropped from six to five.
- The number of women in Congress stayed the same at 104, or 19 percent of the seats in the House and Senate. One seat was gained in the Senate and one lost in the House.
- Thirteen states will send no women to the new 115th Congress.
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.