One of the things
that I noted with pleasure about New Zealand is that both your prime
minister and opposition leader are women.
There are not many countries that can boast a head of state who is
female, and that indeed is one of the concerns underlying my talk
today. We are still, after all these years, thrilled to encounter
women in positions of high achievement, influence and power. We are
thrilled because it continues to be unusual to find women in such
positions. Despite the fact that, as an often-cited statistic holds,
women do two-thirds of the world's work, their achievements are very
often invisible. Women work hard, but they often receive little credit
for their accomplishments. Still rarely (relative to men) do they
reach high-visibility positions of achievement and leadership.
In my research, one of the things I have
done many times is to ask people to list the powerful people they
can think of. Fifteen years ago, when I asked a large group of Canadian
university students to list the most powerful person they knew, men
listed other men more than 10 times as often as they listed women,
and women listed men more than twice as often as they listed women
(Lips, 1985). More recently, when I asked a group of students in Virginia
to give me the names of powerful people, they responded with men's
names five and one-half times as often as women's names. Clearly,
students currently in university still do not easily bring
women to mind when they think of high achievement and leadership.
The public world continues to be a place where men are most obviously
in charge, holding most of the visible positions of eminence and high
status. Despite many years of challenges and resistance to this pattern
of male dominance, stubborn interlocking patterns of our social and
economic lives continue to conspire to reinforce it and keep it in
Our challenge today is to examine these interlocking
patterns, with the ultimate goal of interfering with them even dismantling
them. For they do not just affect a few women who would otherwise
be prime ministers, presidents, or top corporate leaders. Their impact
reaches into the lives of all women as we make decisions about what
to aim for, what to study, how to support ourselves and our families
economically, and what we might contribute to our communities at the
local, national, and global levels.
If we are to grapple successfully with the
problem of women and economic development, of preparing women to take
their place in the employment market, there are a number of patterns
to which we must attend. I will address five of these today: Pay equity,
the "glass ceiling," work and family balance, the feminization of
poverty, and women in a learning society.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
women make up two-thirds of all minimum wage-earners, and during 1998,
women in the United States earned 76 cents for every dollar earned
by men. At the managerial level, the wage gap is greater and most
noticeable for women of color. At this level, white women earned 74
cents for every dollar earned by men, Asian-American women earned
67 cents, African-American women earned 58 cents, and Hispanic women
earned 48 cents (Catalyst, 1997). According to the 1998 report on
the Status of Women in New Zealand, women here earn 76.8 cents for
every dollar earned by men, and within each occupation, male fulltime
employees receive higher incomes than female fulltime employees.
Why is it so difficult to overcome this wage
gap? One of the reasons is our long habits of thinking of women and
the work they do as less important and impressive than that of men.
Years generations of stereotypes have laid down habits of thinking
that allow us so automatically that we do not even know we are doing
it to expect less from women, to underestimate their abilities and
their work, to categorize each successful woman as an exception.
More than 30 years ago, Philip Goldberg provided
us with some of the clearest evidence of this when he gave undergraduate
college women articles to evaluate that were supposedly written by
a woman or a man. The young women who thought the article was written
by a man rated it more favorably than those who thought it was written
by a woman (although both groups of women read the identical article
and the only thing that differed was the name of the author) leading
Goldberg to suggest that women were prejudiced against other women.
Subsequent research has shown that both men
and women are prejudiced against women. The tendency to evaluate men's
work more favorably than women's is not found in every study. However,
in studies that do find gender-based differences in the evaluation
of work that difference is almost always in favor of men. And the
studies where such a pattern shows up most often are those carried
out in the "real world," where respondents are evaluating a job application
or resum‚, and where they believe their ratings have real consequences.
So powerful is the tendency to undervalue
women and what they can do that an influx of women into an occupation
or profession is enough to lower its status in the eyes of observers.
In a laboratory demonstration of this phenomenon, a researcher (Touhey,
1974) gave respondents descriptions of 5 high-status professions:
architect, college professor, lawyer, physician, and scientist. On
the information sheet describing each profession, half of the respondents
were told that the percentage of women in the profession was expected
to remain stable and low for the next 25 to 30 years, while the other
half were told that the percentage of women would increase dramatically
over the same time period. When they were told to expect an increasing
proportion of women in the professions, respondents consistently rated
them lower in prestige.
In line with this pattern are more recent
findings by Peter Glick and his colleagues that 1) when raters believe
that "masculine" traits are required for a job they assign high prestige
and salary to that job; and 2) the greater the percentage of women
that raters perceive to be in an occupation, the lower the salary
they assign as appropriate for that occupation.
These findings, and a host of others, demonstrate
just how insidious and pervasive is the tendency to undervalue work
that is done by women to assume that, if a woman can do it, it can't
be that difficult. Moreover, they suggest that all of us women and
men are so steeped in this pattern of stereotypical expectations that,
unless we are paying careful attention, we often unconsciously discount
and devalue the achievements of women.
In some countries, the attempt to reimburse
women and men equally for their work has led to a refinement of the
concept of pay equity to mean, not just equal pay for equal work,
but equal pay for work of equal value (also referred to as comparable
worth). This notion is a response to the persistent gender segregation
of the work force, in which women and men tend to be clustered in
different jobs (with women in the jobs that are lowest paid). The
idea behind the principle of equal pay for work of equal value is
that, even though women and men may not be working in the same jobs,
the work traditionally done by women and that traditionally done by
men can be compared in terms of its value. If the work is equally
valuable, it should be equally reimbursed.
Sound simple? It isn't. Implementation of
this idea requires that the value the composite of skill, effort,
responsibility, and working conditions of jobs normally filled by
women and jobs normally filled by men within the same organization
be compared. And such comparisons are fraught with the tendency to
undervalue women's work that I have just been discussing.
For example, how does the work of a company
mail clerk (usually male) compare with that of a secretary (usually
female)? How does the work of a grocery store shelving clerk (usually
male) compare in value to the work of a cashier (usually female) in
the same store? To make such comparisons, organizations may ask supervisors
and employees to fill out questionnaires evaluating jobs according
to criteria such as amount of education required, deadline pressures,
amount of responsibility, and other aspects of working conditions.
Then, points are assigned to each job category, based on the results
of the questionnaire and job categories with the same number of total
points are entitled to the same pay.
One publishing company in Ontario, Canada,
for example, asked all employees to fill out multiple-choice questionnaires
about the nature of their jobs (Kilpatrick, 1990). Each answer had
a numerical value (not known to the employees). All the answers were
grouped under 4 categories representing dimensions associated with
the job: skill required, effort required, amount of responsibility,
and working conditions. Then, the total points under each of the 4
categories were added up. [OVERHEAD: Results of one formula to determine
As you can see
in this chart, one result of the evaluation was that the female-dominated
job of newspaper librarian was rated as equivalent in value to the
male-dominated job of truck loader. The librarians, who were making
about three thousand dollars a year less than the truck loaders, received
a raise to make the two categories equally paid. Interestingly, according
to one management consultant, both the librarians and the truck loaders
were insulted at being compared with the other category.
Why is there a need for such complicated
formulas? Partly because the value (and the pay) conventionally assigned
to jobs dominated by women or men enshrines, to some extent, the implicit
evaluation of women and men that is part of the way we have learned
to think about gender. If women are stereotyped as less competent
than men, for example, then jobs that are seen as "women's jobs" will
be stereotyped as easier, requiring less competence, than those seen
as "men's jobs" and valued lower. In other words, because women and
men are perceived and valued differently, work that is gender-labeled
"feminine" has a different connotation than work that has been labeled
"masculine." It is difficult, if not impossible, for people in a society
that constructs gender in a certain way to evaluate the worth of an
occupation independent of the gender-labeling of that occupation.
And the evidence suggests, as I have said,
that our evaluations of work continue to be colored by the gender
of the person performing it.
The Glass Ceiling
What is a "glass ceiling"? A barrier that
keeps people from rising past a certain point but a barrier that is
transparent, and therefore virtually invisible until the person crashe
into it. Glass ceiling is an apt label for the phenomenon faced by
women who aspire to positions of leadership. Because increasing numbers
of women are entering fields that often lead to leadership positions:
law, business, politics, education, science, many assume that getting
to top positions is a matter of time and energy. Yet the proportion
of women who have made it into high leadership positions remains stunningly
The final report of the U.S. government's
Glass Ceiling Commission in 1995 noted that the nations's boardrooms
remain overwhelmingly white and male: 95 percent of the senior-level
managers in the Fortune 1000 industries and Fortune 500 companies
are men and 97 percent are white (Swoboda, 1995).
A subsequent report by the Catalyst research group shows that minority
women are underrepresented at the top, even in comparison to European-American
women. Asian, Hispanic, and African American women make up 10 percent
of the U.S. work force, but hold only 5.6 percent of management jobs
in private companies; and 60% of women of color managers are clustered
in three of the lowest-paying industries: retail trade, professional-related
services; and finance, insurance and real estate (Catalyst, 1998a).
In 1997, women comprised just 2.5% of the
top earners in Fortune 500 companies and held only 5.3% of the line
corporate officer positions (positions with profit/loss responsibilities
that traditionally lead to the top executive positions). They held
10.6% of the total board seats in Fortune 500 companies and two of
the CEO positions (Catalyst, 1998a). In Canada, women hold 12 of the
CEO positions in the Financial Post 500 companies (Women in Management,1999).
The United States and Canada have two of
the highest ratios of women to men in administrative and managerial
positions (67 and 68 women for every 100 men, respectively), but these
numbers include low-level as well as high-level managers. In New Zealand
there are 48 women for every 100 men in managerial positions. In many
other countries, the numbers are far lower. For example, in Japan
there are 9 women managers for every 100 men; in Poland there are
18; in Cuba there are 23; in India there are 2 (Neft & Levine, 1997).
Even women who do make it past the glass
ceiling into top executive positions apparently do not reach a place
where gender equity is the norm. A recent study of executives in one
multi-national corporation showed that the women who had reached this
level faced a second glass ceiling (Lyness & Thompson, 1997). These
women made the same pay and received the same bonuses as their male
counterparts. However, they managed fewer people, were given fewer
stock options, and obtained fewer overseas assignments than the men
did. They had reached the same level as the men; however, being in
the same position does not necessarily imply having the same level
of status and clout in the organization. When surveyed, the women
reported more obstacles and less satisfaction than the men did with
their future career opportunities. Clearly, they had gotten the message
that they had moved up as far as they could in their company whereas
the men were more likely to see new opportunities ahead. The differences
in the ways the two groups were rewarded were subtle, but they apparently
signaled to men that they were valued for the long term and to women
that they were not.
These researchers attribute their findings
in large part to the persistent gender stereotypes that color the
evaluations of and expectations for women. Management literature has
shown for years that women are not thought to have the characteristics
necessary for a successful manager, and that these stereotypes are
especially likely to come into play when evaluators are attempting
to judge future performance (as opposed to evaluating past performance).
Thus, despite excellent track records, executive women may be subject
to the expectation that they will not do as well in the future as
male executives will.
Work and Family Balance
Studies of the way that women and men use their time show that, in
most of the world, women spend more hours per week working than men
do. However, for women, a larger proportion of time spent working
is devoted to unpaid work: housework, childcare and other domestic
activities that are not counted when economists try to quantify work
(United Nations, 1995). In most countries, women spend about twice
the amount of time doing unpaid work as men do in Japan, nine times.
In developed regions of the world, two-thirds
to three-quarters of the domestic work is performed by women. Women
tend to do the cooking, laundry, housecleaning, and ironing; men tend
to do household repair and maintenance. In nearly all developed countries,
women do between 75 and 90 percent of meal preparation and clean-up.
They also do most of the childcare, especially when children are young.
Even women who are employed full time do most of the domestic work
in their households; one Canadian study showed that only 10 percent
of wives who were employed full time had spouses who shared responsibility
equally for household work (United Nations, 1995).
Women in developing countries do a great
deal of unpaid subsistence work, such as gardening, and carrying water
and wood, as well as unpaid housework. According to the United Nations
(1995), women's total work time per week is 53 hours in Bangladesh,
69 in India and 77 in Nepal, as compared to men's work time in these
countries of 46, 56, and 57 hours respectively. There is one remarkable
similarity among countries, whether developed or developing, in the
role played by fathers in child care: they do it for, on average,
less than one hour per day! a ten-country study of the parents of
four-year-olds found that fathers in the United States and Nigeria
averaged 0.7 hours per day in solo child care (i.e., looking after
the child without anyone else's help). Chinese fathers spent the most
time in daily child care (0.9 hours per day), while fathers in Hong
Kong spent the least (0.1 hours per day). Meanwhile, the mothers in
these countries spend from 5.2 to 10.7 hours per day in solo child
care; the highest average belongs to women in the United States, the
lowest to women in Belgium (Owens, 1995).
It is clear that women everywhere bear the
brunt of household labor, regardless of whether and how it is combined
with income-producing work. Studies of the division of labor within
U.S. households have shown that the movement of wives in to the paid
labor force has not been accompanied by a complementary shift of husbands
into greater participation in household work. Married women who are
employed do less housework than their unemployed counterparts, but
their husbands do little to take up the slack. In fact, women do more
housework than men do in every type of family living situation; married,
cohabiting, divorced, living with parents, single (Baxter, 1992; South
& Spitze, 1994). The "double duty" imposed on employed women has costs
in terms of stress and exhaustion (Wiersma, 1990). However, women
also reap psychological rewards from employment: employed women in
the U.S. report being happier and healthier than homemakers, except
when they have small infants to care for (Walker & Best, 1991) and
that employed women have lower risk of heart disease than either homemakers
or women unable to find steady work (Wingard, Kritz-Silverstein, &
A Catalyst (1998b) study of dual-career couples
in the United States finds that the majority say that they chief benefit
of having two earners is higher income. However, they also cited personal
fulfillment, intellectual equality, and emotional support as important
advantages, and most said they would continue working even if the
financial need to do so was not there. Both members of such dual-career
couples said that their top choice for benefits they would look for
if they were switching companies was flexibility: the freedom to arrange
their own day-to-day schedules. They also said they would like the
option to customize the pace of their career advancement being able
to slow down when family responsibilities were very pressing, without
hurting their chances for eventual success.
Indeed, it is clear that he stress of balancing
job and family can be reduced, and the rewards increased, by the availability
of high-quality day care and certain kinds of flexibility in the workplace
but these items are often in rather short supply. For many women,
the reality is a great lack of flexibility and a continuous struggle
to make and maintain adequate arrangements for childcare. Moreover,
a large chunk of their already smaller (than men's) income, often
goes to pay for this childcare. And the responsibility for solving
these problems falls disproportionately on women, even in couples
where both member have equally demanding professional careers. IN
the Catalyst study I just cited, fully one-third of the men in these
dual-career couples viewed their careers as primary in the household,
while only 6 percent of the women said their own careers were primary.
And then there are the many women who head single-parent families,
who must juggle the responsibilities of home and job with no spousal
support at all. So, women in general face lower pay, a glass ceiling
that impedes their career advancement, and the necessity to balance
home and childcare responsibilities with employment and a significant
number of women head households in which there is no other adult earner.
It is little wonder that women as a group hold fewer economic resources
than men. These are some of the factors underlying the next topic:
the feminization of poverty.
The Feminization of Poverty According to some
estimates, some 70% of the world's poor are women. In the United States,
women make up about three-fifths of all adults living in poverty (The
Washington Center, 1998). In New Zealand, census dat from 1996 shows
that , of those who had an income below $10,000, 62.3% were women,
while of those who had an income above $40,000, only 22.9% were women
(Statistics New Zealand, 1998).
This gendered distribution of poverty shows
up in findings from around the world that there are more poor households
that are headed by women than by men, that there are more women than
men in the poorest households. It is helped along by the fact that
women outlive men and often face an old age that is made more difficult
by the fact that they do not have enough resources to live comfortably.
We can put a face to the feminization of
poverty by looking at the lives of particular women. Consider, for
example, Elizabeth Jones, a twenty-seven-year-old Washington DC woman
with three young children, whose story was followed by a reporter
as she struggled to leave welfare (Boo, 1996). After a government
training program and a brief internship, Jones landed a job as a receptionist
at a non-profit agency. Unable to afford a car, every day she took
six buses and walked two miles to get her children to and from day
care and school and herself to and from work. With bills for rent,
day care and food eating up most of her income, Jones had only $207
a month left to cover utilities, emergencies, and clothing for herself
and her children. Every "staff development day" at the school meant
that she had to pay for a full day of child care for her children
-- at $15 per child. She found it all but impossible to save the money
necessary to keep her children in winter clothing. Constrained by
the time demands of her job, Jones was unable to continue volunteering
at her nine-year-old son's school, as she had when she was on public
assistance. Her son's difficulties at school were apparently unnoticed
by his teachers; she found it difficult to stay on top of the situation
when she could not ever be at the school during the day. Moving him
to a different school would mean adding another stop -- and probably
another bus trip -- to her already complicated daily routine. To make
ends meet more easily, Jones searched for a second job that she could
work on the weekends, a move that would necessitate finding weekend
day care for her children as well. Jones' determination to build a
good life for her children was implacable, yet the environment in
which she struggled -- the absence of adequate transportation, the
inflexibility of the school system, the low safety level in her neighborhood
-- would have caused a less courageous woman to give up. Yet single
mothers often are forced to develop their courage.
In developed countries, studies reported
by the United Nations (United Nations, 1995) suggest that there are
three factors that are very relevant to the feminization of poverty:
strong family ties, employment opportunities for women, and a strong
system of social welfare. These three factors are present in varying
combinations in the countries where there are nearly equal rates of
poverty among women and men (Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands) and all
three were found in much lesser degrees in countries where the ratio
of poor women to poor men was very high (greater than 130 poor women
to every 100 poor men; Australia, the United States). Countries that
had strong employment opportunities for women but relatively weaker
levels of social assistance and family ties had ratios of women to
men among the poor of between 120 and 130 (Canada, the UK).
Clearly, then, one thing (although certainly
not the only thing) that can be done to reduce the threat of poverty
for women is to position them so that they can earn a decent income.
That means providing social and cultural support for women who are
trying to juggle jobs and family responsibilities. It means eliminating
the discrimination that often keeps women out of jobs that pay well.
And it means educating women in ways that allow them to enter the
employment market at levels that allow for reasonable income and perhaps
more importantly advancement. Women have to be well-integrated into
a society in which education is ever more critical and ever more continuous:
a learning society.
Women in a Learning Society
Years ago, the barring of women from higher education was considered
quite reasonable in many countries; indeed, it was the women who insisted
on access to higher education that were considered unreasonable. French
educational philosopher F‚nelon declared in the seventeenth century
that science education for girls was inappropriate and that girls
should be taught that their sex should have "a prudishness about science
almost as fastidious as that which inspires a horror of vice" (Peiffer,
1991). American educator Edward Clarke argued in the second half of
the 19nth century that women's brains were relatively undeveloped
and unsuited to the intellectual rigors of higher education and that
if women used too much of their energy to think, it might rob energy
from their vital reproductive organs and render them infertile. When
Canadian Martha Lewis breached the barriers to women in 1849 by enrolling
in the Teacher Training School in Saint John, New Brunswick, she was
ordered to enter the lecture room ten minutes before the male students
and leave five minutes before the end of class, sit alone at the back
of the class, and wear a black veil at all times (Herstory, 1995).
Early American psychologists such Mary Calkins, Christine Ladd-Franklin,
and Margaret Washburn were denied official status in graduate programs
near the turn of the century simply because they were women (Furumoto
& Scarborough, 1986). The first women who aspired to study medicine
were often driven from the classroom by irate male students (Walsh,
We may sometimes feel we can look back on
these events with amused tolerance now that women have gained access
to university-level education in large numbers. After all, in many
countries of the world, female participation in higher education has
approached or exceeded 50% of enrolments. In the United States, women
are expected to earn just over 57% of all undergraduate degrees this
year, as compared with 43% in 1970 and 24% in 1950 (Koerner, 1999).
However, there is still cause for concern. In many countries, women
make up no more than 20% to 30% of undergraduate students, and in
still others their participation is extremely low. [OVERHEAD: SOME
EXAMPLES OF FEMALE PARTICIPATION RATES IN HIGHER EDUCATION - UNESCO
There is also a noticeable shortage of women
among the academic staff and senior management of institutions of
higher education. For example, a study of female university faculty
in the United States aptly titled Women Faculty: Frozen in Time shows
that their share of the highest level faculty positions has changed
little over the years. In 1975, 46 percent of women full time faculty
members had tenure; in 1992, the percentage was still 46 percent.
In 1982, women who were at the rank of full professor earned 89 percent
of what male full professors earned; in 1995 women full professors
earned 88.5 percent of the what their male colleagues earned. Finally,
in 1982, 27 percent of all faculty were women, although women obtained
35 percent of PhDs; in 1994, 31 percent of all faculty were women
although by that time women were earning 47 percent of all PhDs (West,
1995). The most recent data, released by the American Association
of University Professors last month, shows that the percentage of
women faculty has increased to 33.8%. However, more than one-half
of these women are in the lowest faculty ranks, and just 18.7% of
full professors are women (More women are professors, 1999).
The greatest problem may be, however, that
female students (and faculty too) are still heavily concentrated,
within the universities, in disciplines that are traditionally feminine.
We need to look carefully not only at whether women are learning,
but what they are learning, and what they are avoiding or being discouraged
from pursuing. In the United States, women in the age range of 25
to 29 have actually pulled ahead of men in terms of educational attainment:
more women in this age range have earned high school diplomas (88.9%
vs. 85.8%) and undergraduate college degrees (29.3% vs. 26.3%) (Manning,
1998). Yet women still lag behind men in terms of income and advancement.
In the U.S., whereas men who earn college degrees make an average
of $23,000 more per year than male high school graduates, women who
earn college degrees earn only about $4,700 more per year than these
same male high school graduates (Koerner, 1999).
Around the world, young women are disproportionately
absent from science and engineering disciplines in higher education
[OVERHEAD: GLOBAL PARTICIPATION, COLLEGE EDUCATION]
And, while there are some signs that the gender gap is narrowing somewhat
in some of the sciences and mathematics, it appears that it may be
widening in technology and computer science education. A study released
last fall by the American Assocation of University Women asserts that
technology remains a "club by and for boys." This study of high school
students found that relatively few girls enroll in advanced programming
and computer graphics course: only 17% of advanced placement computer
science students are female (Fording, 1998). A study in my home state
of Virginia shows a similarly alarming pattern. This study pointed
out that white males, who made up 32.8% of the high school population
being studied, made up 47.9% of computer science students and 57%
of advanced placement computer science students. Meanwhile, white
females, who make up just over 30% of the high school population,
account for only 13.3% of advanced placement computer science students,
and the numbers are even more dismal for Black and Hispanic females
(Benning, 1998). The picture continues to look bleak in college: In
1996, women earned fewer than 28% of all undergraduate degrees in
computer and information science (O'Hanlon, 1998). Moreover, in a
sobering trend, computer firms are siphoning off a significant number
promising students at the high school level, enticing them into highly-paid
technology careers. For examples, Cisco Systems offers a 2-year course
in high schools that certify graduates to become network administrators
and most of the students who sign up for these courses are male (Koerner,
1999). In response to the emergence of these corporate-sponsored education
programs, which train mostly men for high-paying jobs in technology
fields, a recent article in US News and World Report quotes Judith
Sturnick, the director of the American Council on Higher Education's
Office of Women in Higher Education as wondering "Will we set up a
separate track for education which will primarily benefit men, which
will allow them to enter the job market with higher pay at a higher
salary, while women continue on the baccalaureate track, end up debt
lade, and then wind up three or four years behind in a profession?"
(Koerner,1999, p. 54). She worries that, now that women are entering
it in large numbers, university education will lose status in just
the same way that professions lose status when they become dominated
by women as I noted earlier in this talk.
Computing and technology are high-income
fields that will be crucial to the world economies in the next century,
yet women currently make up only 25% of the high technology workforce
in the U.S. In New Zealand, according to one recent report, women
make up only 20 % of all research scientists and engineers, and, across
the board, women have a more negative attitude than men do toward
science and technology ("Scully factor" not evident, 1998). Forecasters
predict that as we enter the 21st century, 65% of all jobs will require
computer-related skills and women must be positioned to pursue these
skills, and to keep updating them, if they are to be able to compete
effectively in the job market.
Computing and technology are not the only
areas of concern. Women students have increased their presence in
colleges of business over the years, but they are still underrepresented
among graduates. In my own university, where women make up about 60%
of undergraduate students, they make up about 23 % of the graduates
of certain departments of the business college the departments, such
as accounting and marketing that lead to high-profile, highly-paid
careers. Once again, this is a field that is potentially high-income,
high-status, and crucial to the economy.
Women are still moving into fields that are
at the bottom in terms of pay, status, and influence. In my research
into the academic self-views of university students, I have found
repeatedly that students view their academic strengths and weaknesses
along gender-stereotypic lines. Young women indicate that they do
not see their abilities in mathematics, computer science, the physical
sciences as positively as young men do. Moreover, when they are asked
to indicate what is possible for them in terms of future study or
future career, they adhere even more closely to gender stereotypic
lines, saying that there is relatively little possibility of pursuing
further study in computing, the physical sciences, agricultural sciences,
engineering, business, or law and of achieving careers as successful
scientists, businesspersons, or political leaders.
Where do students get the message in these
days of legislated non-discrimination, bans upon sexist language,
and even the advent of corporate policies such as flex-time and parental
leave, that their options are so restricted? They get it in unspoken
ways from their world which continues to produce mixed messages on
the topic of gender and achievement. If they are studying the physical
sciences, engineering or computing technology, they see that virtually
all of their professors are men. Similarly, if they are taking courses
in business, almost all of the people teaching them are male. On a
wider scale, the names and faces of experts who are interviewed in
the media tend to be male, as do the names and faces of those whose
achievements are trumpeted through awards and other forms of recognition.
All of these things make it less likely that young women will form
the vivid images of possibility for themselves that they need to pull
them along the arduous track of hard work and risk that accompanies
the commitment to any challenging pursuit. Young women are bombarded,
for instance, with images of motherhood. The
motivation to take up this particular challenging and rewarding role
is reinforced and strengthened by the many concrete and positive images
of mothers with children that young women see around them. For most
young women, then, it is not that difficult to form a vivid image
of themselves a possible self as a mother. Yet concrete examples of
women in other roles, that are also challenging and rewarding and
better paid are usually in short supply. And without those images,
it is hard to find the motivation to go on. A young woman who was
dropping out of her undergraduate engineering program said to me "I
like my courses, and I am getting good grades. I think I am good at
this ... but I just can't see myself as an engineer."
We have to find ways to help young women
envision themselves as engineers, as computer scientists, as political
leaders, as business executives, as biotechnologists, as university
presidents and also as electricians, precision metalworkers, and other
skilled, high-paying jobs in the trades sector. That means not simply
acquainting young women with role models in these fields, although
this is tremendously important, but also paying attention to what
we say (and do not say) to them about gender and various fields. If
we make disparaging comments about successful women based on their
gender ("She's not much of a woman"); if we surround girls with opinions
that women are incapable in certain areas ("Don't bother asking your
mother for help; she can't do math"), we are telling girls and young
women in countless ways that only certain paths are appropriate for
women. The real reason that a young woman has difficulty "seeing herself"
as an engineer, a lawyer, a business executive, or anything else is
that society has trouble seeing her in those roles.
As technological and social change move at
an ever-increasing pace, as we increasingly learn to think of ourselves
as a "learning society," as the notion of lifelong learning becomes
ever more integrated into our expectations as a world community, women
must not be left behind. But history suggests that women will be left
behind doing the data entry, the clerical data-retrieval, the non-technical
service jobs and facing a lifetime of lower earnings, lower retirement
benefits, and greater risk of poverty if we do not act positively
to ensure that women are included in these changes. Today's seminar
is clearly a step in this direction, and I wish you inspiration and
perseverance as you wrestle with these issues.
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