Let Her Work Part 3: Sarah

Read part 1 here.

Read part 2 here.

I met Sarah in either my fourth or fifth year of university – I’m pretty sure it was fourth. She’s kindhearted, gentle, funny, bright, and has a passion for history like I have a passion for talking about sexual health!

Even though we don’t talk as often now, she graciously shared her experience with me.

Sarah starts off by saying: “I’ve never felt like I was the victim of sexism or harassment in the workplace but as a situation developed at my job in the summer of 2017, I quickly saw how subtle sexism in the workplace can be.”

At the time, Sarah was working in guest services with primarily female staff, but the bosses were male. In an effort to start new public programs, Sarah and a friend came up with an idea of doing a weekly outdoor amphitheatre show that would showcase the area’s natural and cultural history in a playful way. They were turned down each time they brought it up.

A few weeks later, they held a large public event would be featured on the local radio and TV stations. Since they had planned the event and knew the crews would be there, they figured they should be the ones to talk to the news about this fun public party. They were immediately told to NEVER talk to the press as they weren’t “high enough” on the staff hierarchy, and someone in management should do that. Sarah figured, okay, fair enough on that one: “We were seasonal staff with no guarantee of continuing on in our positions in the fall.” The summer ended, and Sarah returned to university.

The following summer, Sarah didn’t go back to that job (which, she says, is a whole other story itself). But then the reality of the situation became apparent. That summer, one of her male coworkers from the previous summer, who had the same level of employment as she had at the time, was allowed to start an amphitheatre program. Hmm, interesting, no? Winter of 2018, a video was released on the local TV channel.

It was him, in a one-on-one interview with the journalist about winter activities.

Put yourself in Sarah’s shoes for a moment: imagine having all these ideas that get shot down by your male bosses and then not long after, a male employee is allowed to do those same things. Now I’m not saying that her bosses hated women. They may not even have clued in to what they were doing or how it was perceived. But those implicit biases kept Sarah from being able to do the things she wanted to do.

Huh. I wasn’t sure at first, but I think both of those situations were examples of sexism in the workplace, even as subtle as they are.

I wondered if I was overreacting but I don’t think I was. For me to have not been allowed to do those things, but my male coworker be allowed to? I was hurt.

Were Sarah and her co-worker looked over because they are women? Hard to say for sure. But the research shows that men are often afforded leadership opportunities more than women. It’s a subtle pattern, but one that is incredibly disheartening and discouraging for young women who experience this kind of discrimination.

  • Women are likely to receive fewer opportunities at work, compared with men. (See Eagley & Carli, 2007)
  • Women are under-represented at higher levels of management and leadership. (See Eagley & Carli, 2007)
  • Managers give women fewer challenging roles and fewer training opportunities. (See King et al., 2012 or Glick, 2013).
  • Men are more likely to be given key leadership assignments in male-dominated fields and in female-dominated fields. (See De Pater et al., 2010).
  • Managers are less likely to grant promotions to women, compared with men (even given the same level of qualifications). (See Lazear and Rosen, 1990)

To be clear, it’s not about giving unqualified women opportunities over qualified men. But it is about giving qualified women equal opportunity as their male counterparts.

I remember years ago listening to speeches for student council and someone (a woman) said, “Vote for me because we need more women in leadership.” Love the sentiment, but if your only justification for receiving a position is your gender, then you’re kind of doing it wrong. Women don’t want to be an equality hire, but they do want to be recognized for their skills and education in the workplace.

References

Starmaski CS and Son Hing LS (2015): Gender inequalities in the workplace: the effects of organizational structures, processes, practices and decision makers’ sexism.

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