Inequity in the Workforce: It’s Not One Group’s Problem to Solve
by Colleen Kropp
Judith Levine, Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program, led in with a bleak statement.
“Women make less in every occupation, even in ones that women dominate.”
Anne Long’s response? “We [women] suck at helping each other.”
Long ‘81, chair of the College of Liberal Arts Board of Visitors and President of Long Consulting Group, was one of several distinguished alumni on campus this Thursday for a panel discussion sponsored by Board of Visitors member and 2014 Liberal Arts Gallery of Success inductee Leonard Mazur ’68, titled “Gender & Equity in the Workforce.”
The discussion centered around the challenges and difficulties that are present culturally, socially, and legally regarding gender and sexuality in the workplace. Long’s declaration was one thread that kept cropping up across the panel — an issue that presents itself as the ideal and necessary starting point for inviting change. This was echoed in Sharon Taylor’s comments, who emphasized the imperative of lifting others as we climb in order to develop the next generation of drive, persistence and talent.
Taylor ‘76 also laid bare some hard but honest truth, speaking from the position of an African American woman who got her start in financial services, where for a time she was the only African American alongside being the only woman. Taylor, who is Senior Vice President, Human Resources, and chair of the Prudential Foundation, related the sobering message that “hard work alone is not enough to get you ahead,” and noted the importance of having a sponsor to act as that significant advocate.
Hard work alone is not enough to get you ahead.
Joyce Salzberg ‘69, Co-founder of Sunny Days Early Childhood Development Services, highlighted the significance of learning how to negotiate for yourself and really understanding the makeup of the organization or corporation in which you are involved.
The focus of the panel was not entirely about women in the workplace. Tom Waidzunas, Assistant Professor of Sociology, addressed the multiplicity of intersections where inequality can take place. His work (for which he has a grant from the National Science Foundation — the first ever to go towards LGBQT diversity in STEM field research) offers a perspective that encourages us to pay attention to the ways that inequalities are linked yet differ.
There is, of course, the sense of personal responsibility and self-advocacy. As Long reminds us, “no one should care more about your career than you do,” and she’s right. Fighting past the “unconscious bias” and knowing how to “speak truth to power” via empirical data (Taylor) are crucial. Resonating through the whole panel was the message Ask For Things, reiterated in various ways, but notably, from Taylor, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Sometimes you will ask, but you won’t get, but you’ll never get without asking.
Ellen Weber, Executive Director of Temple’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute, offered an activity that employs this thinking: Go to the grocery store, select a head of cauliflower with some wilted florets that is priced at $2.99 and ask if you can have it for $1.99. The proprietor does not have to honor this request, but he or she might. Regardless, practice asking for things when the stakes are low, because building up that resourceful skill and that strength is needed when what you are asking for actually matters.
Each panelist offered insightful advice alongside his or her personal anecdotes from years of collected experience. But with these significant actions of self-care and promotion is the obligation (channeling Long once more) to “send the ladder back down for the next person.” Helping one another out can begin immediately — in fact, it should. Every level of your career has a space or an opportunity where you can enable someone else to be a better, more successful and driven version of herself.