One Last Gender-Gap Post from HBR

Our Daughters Get Surprised by Sexism

One more brief item from the Harvard Business Review's section on the gender wage gap: Naive Graduates:

College students’ perceptions of the gender discrimination they’ll face—or take advantage of—when they graduate are out of step with the reality that researchers have found in the workplace. The vast majority of about 1,300 U.S. students surveyed in 2006 predicted that gender wouldn’t affect their pay or promotions, according to a study led by Stephanie Sipe of Georgia Southern University. Its findings dovetail with those of other studies in which women report that their education left them unprepared for the discrimination they faced in their professional lives.

I also remember believing that sexism had been conquered as I graduated from high school. After all, I matriculated with a half-female medical school class in UMKC's 6-year BA/MD program. Reality hit during classes, as patients still assumed me to be a nurse or other non-doctor-type on the wards. I am glad to report that patients, in my experience, make this assumption less often. No, sexism in medicine still exists but is less overt. Unfortunately, hidden 'isms are more difficult to identify and call out.

These young women recognized sexism that affected women in the workplace; however, very few thought that sexism would affect them personally. We seem to have instilled a message that worthy individuals can somehow overcome the barriers of a class to which they belong. Yes, women face discrimination, but women can overcome that if they are skilled. Sexism will not affect me personally, it only affects "others."

We need to educate "our daughters" better about the sexism that they will experience in the workplace. It must be made clear to them that they will experience issues simply because they are female. Much progress has been made, but we have a long road to true equality. Only when our daughters appreciate these issues can they fight them and make the next steps forward.


5 responses so far

  • Karen says:

    WORD. I didn't grasp the extent of sexism in the workplace until I found out what my predecessor had been paid. I worry about my toddler daughter; things don't seem to be getting better fast enough. Sigh.

  • Pascale says:

    I figured it was just a lag thing; we hadn't had enough women in the academic medicine pipeline long enough for them to be in highly visible leadership positions, or for their salaries, as a group, to equal those of males. Then studies started coming out showing that for every rank women received lower salaries and less support, even if they were childless and unmarried, when compared with matched male counterparts. That's when I became a real feminist (again).

  • jc says:

    I really thought that if I worked hard enough, kept my nose in the books, that everything would be fine. That my work would speak for itself. HELL NO. I also became a feminist because of the crap I experienced and continue to experience. I also find that senior women gain respect by age, not because gender all of a sudden is not an issue. Many senior women cannot help what younger women are experiencing because the seniors don't know what they did to lessen the abuse. They became less of a phuck fantasy.

    I watched my mother as a school teacher go from district to district substituting for years, while administrators told her she needed a master's to get hired. She got a master's going to night school. Then a bunch of d00dz without master's got hired for the jobs she was applying for. It sorta clicked in my mind way back then that even a master's is not enough for being a woman scientist. We need to educate younger women in how to connect WITH WOMEN, rather than how to bend themselves into pretzels to appease men.

  • Marilyn Merker Goldman says:

    I was so naive, really all along. This was only one of the things that I was naive about. Academic politics, including gender politics, is so complex. I wonder if there is any way to educate people about what's ahead, what to look for, how to stand up for yourself?

  • Pascale says:

    Certainly no one told me anything about anything! I got advice on my start-up and grants and other actual job stuff, but nothing about the political things. I suspect in part this is because the political things differ from place to place. It would have been nice to have been told some of the things I learned, like find a historian!
    Also, I was mentored in my training by men who have no clue what women go through. To be fair, I don't know that my advice would help women identify non-overt sexism up front.
    Other than having the conversation (and rubbing our "daughters" noses in it) I'm not certain what else we can do to prepare them.