The topic of gender inequity and discrimination in the workplace is a nuanced one at best. There are so many policies and practices at play that uphold and foster such discrimination. As a leader, I have an obligation to address this; however, because of its complexity, there are two areas in which I feel could be the most impactful for direct change. These areas are the hiring and retention of staff.
While there have been strides made in the hiring of women in male-dominated industries, we’ve learned from our reading in this course that these women often experience discrimination and harassment on the job. Some examples are; Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Company v. White, a case in which Sheila White was hired as a forklift operator. During her time on the job, she experienced a hostile work environment. Even after reporting the harassment, she saw no improvement and had to leave the position for her mental health. Another example we’ve read is Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins. In this case, Ann Hopkins, a dedicated employee and top producer, was denied the position of partner at the accounting firm. In her role, she was the subject of many demeaning and sexist commentary by her male peers. It was not until the final ruling in the case that she was promoted to partner. In both cases, yes, women were hired; however, neither were treated equitably.
Reflecting on these cases, I noticed two areas that I can directly have influence. Higher Education is a field with a strong representation of gender when it comes to entry-level and first levels of management. However, as you approach middle management into senior leadership, these positions are predominantly held by men. We can work to change how we hire by evaluating the requirements of a role in terms of experience. By widening the definition of qualified experience, we can broaden the funnel of application, increasing the diversity of applicants. In terms of policy changes, it is beneficial to establish some requirements for where positions are posted. There are many professional organizations dedicated to the advancement of women, specifically in higher education leadership positions. Posting with these organizations can also widen the pool of qualified applicants. The last policy for hiring that I would establish is training for search committees to ensure they are looking beyond the negative stereotypes of female applicants and focus on the individual’s skills and ability to perform the job rather than sex.
In terms of retention, the two cases I mentioned are great examples of though women are employed on the team, that does not mean a company will retain them as employees given the environment in which they work. As leaders, we must ensure employees’ opportunities to express their grievances and report incidents of discrimination or harassment. Establishing a formal process and investigating each report is required to build trust with employees. Additionally, external equity audits should be conducted regularly to ensure integrity in the process. Lastly, I would work to establish routine gender equity and harassment training for all employees.
Gender equality, much like other movements for civil rights, has been a slow process. It will take a complete shift within our society. However, there are tangible action steps that those of us in leadership positions can make to help foster a more productive work environment and support staff members through addressing gender discrimination at work.