Translating Implicit Bias from Theory to Practice

Many scholars do their work in the hopes of making both an academic impact, and, when possible, a broader impact, to influence policy, raise public awareness, and change behaviors and practices.

Sociology, including feminist sociology, has long cared about public scholarship that seeks a broader impact on society. What are the different ways of approaching public scholarship? What ideas make it into public conversation? What happens to particular ideas when they go public, such as diversity and inequality? Our paper, recently published in Gender & Society, focuses on the stunning increasing visibility of the concept of implicit bias, a theory about how people can act based on prejudice and stereotypes about social groups without intending to do so.

Implicit bias is, quite simply, one of the most successful cases of an academic concept being translated into practice in recent memory (see Figure 1). Its popularity, from implicit bias trainings cropping up in virtually every industry and their subsequent ban by the Trump administration (a ban rescinded by the Biden administration), to presidential candidate Hilary Clinton using the concept in a presidential debate, to entire industries built around the concept, means you probably have an opinion about implicit bias and its application. Whatever you think about the concept, however, it is a remarkable success story for those seeking both academic recognition as well as broader impact. Given its exceptional academic and public trajectory, we wanted to know more.


Implicit Bias in the ADVANCE Program

One of the programs that has used the concept of implicit bias to promote organizational change is the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program. For the past 20 years, NSF has funded the design and implementation of systemic interventions aimed at increasing the participation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers. Implicit bias became one of the central concepts orienting the program, especially for the evaluation of faculty in hiring and tenure and promotion processes. (It is by no means the only concept – other foci include culture, networking, workload balance, work-life conflict, and mentoring, among others).

We used the ADVANCE program to dive deep into what makes implicit bias such an attractive anchoring concept for institutional change. We found a trade off between how easily it is understood and the possibility of really transformative change. Implicit bias doesn’t sound threatening and so can be used in places feminist ideas do not typically gain traction. But this also limited its potential for systemic organizational change. For example, because implicit bias is demonstrable and relatable (you, yes you, can take the IAT test and see for yourself!), it has convinced those who are skeptical about the existence of gender or racial bias that bias is a real thing (even if they do not consider themselves racist or sexist). Awareness of biases itself, however, is not a structural critique.

Similarly, implicit bias is actionable, and in a way that can also appear impartial. Small changes, such as using rubrics for more transparent evaluation or accountability of individual decision makers (who, through no fault of their own, may unintentionally act with bias), can effect real change within organizations. At the same time, these impartial actions can leave more politically-charged conversations about what excellence means and who has the power to define what merit means, off the table.

Moving Forward

After scientists offer theoretical explanations for gender or racial inequality, they do not have control over what happens to those ideas (see Sarah Ahmed’s work on diversity). We can celebrate the awareness the concept of implicit bias has brought to the structural inequalities in everyday life. But we suggest remaining critical of how the concept has been translated into practice.

The challenge remains: how can we take advantage of a concept’s versatility while also mobilizing its most radical, structural implications? Oppressive stereotypes are so deeply embedded in the structure and culture of our society that they impact everyone, down to their subconscious. For organizations, one step is to increase individual awareness. Further, and perhaps more difficult, steps include identifying and changing biased organizational practices, standards and procedures, as ADVANCE leaders have revealed is possible. Only societal cultural and structural change can possibly address the full extent of the problem revealed by the existence of implicit biases.

Ultimately, simply raising public awareness about the role of bias in inequality is not enough. We need much more work to change the very organizational contexts in which behaviors based on bias can occur to effectively transform organizations. We hope our research helps move us in that direction.

Kathrin Zippel is professor of sociology at Northeastern University. She has published on gender politics and policies in the workplace, social movements, and globalization in the United States and Europe. Her book, Women in Global Science: Advancing Careers Through International Collaboration was published by Stanford University Press. She currently directs a research project on the diffusion of innovative gender equity ideas in the network created by the National Science Foundation ADVANCE program.

Laura K. Nelson is an assistant professor of sociology at Northeastern University, where she is core faculty at NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks, an affiliated faculty at the Network Science Institute, and on the executive committee for the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program. She uses computational methods, principally automated text analysis, to study gender, social movements, culture, and institutions. Her work has appeared in outlets such as Sociological Methods & ResearchPoeticsMobilization: An International Quarterly, and Gender & Society, among others.

The Specter of Motherhood in Academic Science and Engineering

Why do women leave academic science and engineering? This puzzle has plagued scholars and practitioners for decades. Despite a rising presence in graduate programs, women still constitute only 24 percent of tenured professorships in the natural sciences and only 15 percent in engineering fields in the US. 

A popular explanation is that the job is very demanding. The work hours are long, and the structure, like the ticking tenure clock, does not make combining a career with parenting easy, especially for women. This is even more apparent now that COVID has exposed and exacerbated the disproportionate impact of caregiving responsibilities on women’s academic careers. It’s no wonder that some women don’t want to stick with it.  

Though parenting demands are undoubtedly critical, they don’t paint a complete picture. Many women leave before they have children, and therefore, before they presumably encounter work-family conflicts. Further, parenthood doesn’t explain why women are more likely to leave science and engineering careers than other demanding professions, like law or medicine.  

Fortunately, studies of academic workplace culture can offer some insight: gender-based discrimination, exclusion, and harassment have been documented for decades in academic science and engineering. But knowledge about the ways in which academics actually communicate beliefs and assumptions about motherhood, in particular, remains limited. As such, it is an open question as to whether or not exposure to workplace beliefs about motherhood might help explain gender differences in early-career decision making. 

The Research

Our study, based on in-depth interviews with 57 young, childless, PhD students and post-docs in natural sciences and engineering fields at four universities, fills this gap. We find two critical things. First, the young women and men that we talked to described a pervasive workplace culture that frames motherhood, but not fatherhood, in opposition to legitimacy as a scientist or engineer. In this context, it is widely believed that motherhood is controversial and should be feared, rejected, and hidden. Second, these ideas about motherhood disadvantage women in their day-to-day interactions and, ultimately, motivate some of them to leave academia. 

Interviewees told stories of faculty saying things like “There’s more to life than babies” and “I don’t understand why women complain . . . you just have to decide you get a family or a career in chemistry, one or the other and just accept it.” One recounted how a professor’s “gist was that having children is sort of narcissistic. And she’s above that . . . like, simpletons want to have kids.” When asked what topics she might discuss with her dissertation advisor, one graduate student explained: “If it were something [like] ‘I’m having a child’ . . . I would feel uncomfortable about how he’d receive that because of the ‘women always fail’ thing.” Some described an alarmist narrative about motherhood, such that women’s, but not men’s, reproductive plans and decisions were publicly discussed and critiqued by colleagues. 

Not surprisingly, most women reacted negatively to this culture. Words like “scary,” “frightening,” “worry,” “struggle,” and “stressed” routinely came up when we asked women their thoughts on combining family with a career in academic science or engineering. These words were never used when we asked men the same question. The more women were taught to fear motherhood, and the more they felt they could not discuss family plans, but rather had to reject and hide them, the more these plans seemed to pose an insurmountable obstacle to career success. We use the phrase the “specter of motherhood” to describe these circumstances. 

These beliefs and practices surrounding motherhood made it particularly difficult for young, childless women to gain professional respect. Women recounted stories of having their commitment questioned and being asked why they were getting a degree since they would likely “end up dropping out anyway to have babies.” Others realized they would be taken more seriously and given more attention from their advisors if they made it known that they did not plan to have children. These experiences taught women that their already questioned presence in the profession would likely become more tenuous if they were to become mothers in the future.  

We show how this recognition—that gaining professional respect requires continuously engaging in practices that reject, denigrate, and hide motherhood—disproportionately drives women away from academia. Of the people we interviewed who had already decided to leave academia, despite originally being open to it when they started graduate school, the specter of motherhood was a factor in nearly all of the women’s rationales. It was not a factor in any of the men’s. 

It is noteworthy that most of the men and women we interviewed disliked or disagreed with these norms and practices around motherhood. Most perceived them as “extreme”, “odd,” and generally out of step with “normal” people—people who presumably value family and see motherhood as an ordinary aspect of life. Given that, it is not surprising that some women are unwilling to engage in this unusual approach to family life, especially if they can still achieve career success outside of academia that doesn’t require them to give up motherhood.  

Our findings offer insights for academic institutions. A larger presence of mothers could help dispel the specter of motherhood and so policies that lead to better recruitment and retention of mothers, like tenure clock extensions are necessary. But our work reveals that interventions that target attitudes about motherhood are also critical. Programs that raise awareness about the many mothers who are successful academic scientists  and that describe the benefits of academia to mothers—like, scheduling flexibility and job stability—are crucial to counter the spectre of motherhood we discovered. Programs should also address motherhood during graduate advising to normalize seeing and talking about children in workplace settings.  

Our study is focused on academia but the specter of motherhood may be present in other professions, especially elite male-dominated ones. If ideas about motherhood are similarly powerful in shaping women’s career aspirations in other occupations, then measures that target these attitudes are  critical for addressing the stalled progress toward gender equality more broadly. 

Sarah Thébaud is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research identifies cultural, social psychological, and institutional processes that contribute to gender inequalities in the workplace, families, entrepreneurship, and higher education. She earned her PhD in Sociology at Cornell University and was a postdoctoral 
fellow at Princeton University. 

Catherine J. Taylor is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara and a mother. Her main research and teaching areas are gender, work and occupations, social psychology, health, and methods. Before joining the faculty at UCSB, Professor Taylor earned her PhD in Sociology at Cornell University, was a Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholar at Columbia University, and was a faculty member 
at Indiana University. 

Gender, Race, and Faculty Workload Inequities

Faculty members carry out many different tasks – teaching, research, advising, and administrative and leadership work (often called “service”). How these tasks are weighed in faculty rewards systems may differ from institution to institution – with teaching valued more heavily in some settings, and research valued more heavily in others. Across settings, mentoring and service are often devalued.

Within this system, workload inequities are rampant. Women report a greater mismatch than men between what they want to spend time on and what they actually spend time on. Women faculty members tend to spend less time on highly valued research. Service work is often particularly devalued, and men are much more effective at avoiding it, while women are more likely to be good team players. Students also expect more mentoring and support from women faculty members. Time spent on campus service, teaching, mentoring and advising appear can reduce the time that would otherwise be spent on research.

This problem is worse for women of color, who face an identity tax, carrying out more service and mentoring than other faculty members. Women of color also often feel overburdened with responsibility for the much-needed diversity work on their campuses. These inequalities in workload have long-term effects. Faculty members who focus on research are often more likely to get recognized and promoted, while the good citizens of the department go unrewarded, hindering their career progression.

Workload Distribution and Valuing

Our article in Gender & Society draws on our NSF-ADVANCE funded project, which carried out a survey of 957 faculty members from fifty-three mostly STEM departments, primarily located in research-intensive universities. 

We find that white women, by and large, feel that the workload distribution in their departments is unfair, and are less likely to think that their colleagues are committed to having a fair and equitable workload. This finding supports what we already knew about women doing more of the less-valued mentoring and service work in their departments. We further find that women of color are more concerned about how their workload is valued. Women of color indicate that the essential teaching, mentoring, and campus service work they do is not credited within their department rewards system. The work that women of color see as important appears to be devalued by their colleagues and goes unrecognized and unrewarded.

These findings are troubling. Faculty members who believe that their workload is unfair, or that their work is undervalued, are much less likely to be retained. This is both because they feel frustrated in their work, and because their colleagues may not support their promotions. Furthermore, in the wake of the protests for racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic, diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are more critical than ever. Institutions need, and sometimes require, faculty members to engage in this critical work. They must align their rewards systems so that faculty members are recognized, retained, and advanced when they do.

As long as white women and women of color do more of the undervalued work, and are not recognized for the work they do, the senior ranks of faculty will primarily be made up of white men.  As this figure below shows, faculty diversity still remains a substantial challenge in the U.S.   

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2016 through Spring 2019 Human Resources component, Fall Staff section.
(This table was prepared November 2019.)

Solving Workload Inequities

However, our study also had some good news. There are a number of strategies that departments can use to create workload policies that faculty view as more equal. For example, faculty in departments with transparent workload systems, clarity about workload expectations, and fair teaching and service assignments are more likely to see workload as fair, regardless of their race and gender. Similarly, faculty members in departments with clarity about workload expectations and fair teaching and service assignments are more likely to see workload as fairly valued, regardless of their race and gender

These policies can be adopted by departments to and make a positive difference relatively quickly.  Departments can have explicit conversations about what activities are valued and compensated; they can also publish benchmarks, perhaps by rank or appointment type, to clarify expectations in teaching, advising, and service. Department leaders can ask faculty members for their preferred teaching and service assignments, and make those assignments in ways that promote equity. Importantly, these simple steps can help address whether white women see workload as distributed fairly, and whether women of color perceive their work as being credited in evaluations. Other publications from this project lay out how to create transparent faculty work activity dashboards, to ensure that faculty workload is equitably distributed, as well as how to adopt workload policies and assignment procedures that promote equity.

We recognize that many leaders think of faculty workload inequity as a can of worms that they are afraid to open. But addressing faculty workload inequity has immediate, long-term effects on race and gender equity. Workload equity must remain an ongoing project, tracked yearly, and consistently adjusted, to reap the benefits of these systems.  Yet departments that strategically design their faculty workload systems, and put in place mechanisms to foster workload equity, can make meaningful progress toward advancing equity.

Joya Misra is a Professor of Sociology and Public Policy and the Director of the Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. You can find her on Twitter, @JoyaMisra.

Alexandra Kuvaeva was a research assistant for the ADVANCE program and recently earned her Ph.D. in international education policy at the University of Maryland, College Park.

KerryAnn O’Meara is a Professor of Higher Education at the University of Maryland and was 2020 President of the Association for the Study of Higher Education.

Dawn Kiyoe Culpepper, is a doctoral candidate in higher education and Faculty Specialist for the ADVANCE Program at the University of Maryland.

Audrey J. Jaeger is the W. Dallas Herring Professor and Executive Director for the Belk Center for Community College Leadershipand Research at North Carolina State University.

Women Scientists and the Academic STEM Workplace: Why Perceptions of Meritocracy Matter

Children growing up in the U.S. today, as in decades past, are taught that if you work hard, you will succeed. They are also taught that the world needs more scientists—a lot more scientists. Future prosperity, if not survival, lies in our capacity to solve pressing environmental, social, and economic problems. Accordingly, we invest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in hopes of growing and sustaining a STEM-savvy workforce. If we equip more young people to do science, we can tackle even bigger problems.

Building and sustaining a STEM-savvy workforce, however, requires more than educating future generations with the knowledge and skills for doing science. It also requires matching highly educated scientists, engineers, and tech professionals with the jobs that enable them to use their specialized skills. While public policy debates commonly draw attention to the need for more people to pursue education and careers in STEM, such debates shy away from the particulars of how (and which) STEM professionals get the best STEM jobs and recognition for their work.

Most of us assume that the best qualified people get the jobs they deserve. This idea is commonly referred to as ‘meritocracy’. And we assume that organizations, including institutions of higher education, corporations, and government agencies alike, operate consistently to fulfill the ideals of meritocracy.

But as research has shown for decades, organizations, including those that champion the ideals of meritocracy, fall short in their efforts to live up to their meritocratic ideals. The systems by which people are matched to jobs and then advance in their careers are far from perfect.  Barriers to equal opportunity exist such that some groups are hindered from getting STEM jobs and from moving up into higher level positions.  Even so, most people continue to believe meritocracy best explains who gets ahead in STEM education and jobs. Likewise, many people—including scientists and engineers themselves—often assume that meritocracy is not simply an ideal, but rather a reality.

In our study, published in Gender & Society, we ask, to what extent do women STEM academics actually perceive barriers to equity in the context of their own jobs? Using interview data from 53 STEM faculty at a research-intensive university in the U.S. Midwest, we explore how women scientists’ perceptions influence university efforts to reduce systemic barriers to equity.  

Findings

Our findings reveal that the vast majority of the women scientists we interviewed recounted how as girls and young women they had assumed that if they studied and worked hard in school, they would succeed.  These women had excelled and received considerable recognition in their academic endeavors and then landed what they considered great jobs as faculty members in academia.  At the same time, a smaller subset of these women had a different story to tell—one in which they came to realize even before securing jobs in academia that their paths were not determined solely by meritocracy.

Our most interesting findings are that about two thirds of the women scientists who had not questioned meritocratic ideals before they began their careers came to recognize after becoming faculty members that inequities in academic STEM are very real indeed. The remaining women (almost a third of our sample) still believed that opportunities and advancement are primarily a function of meritocratic processes. The implications of our findings are that universities hoping to recruit, retain and promote women scientists, especially women of color, must address faculty members’ differing assumptions about how meritocracy influences opportunities.  Universities need to remove the systemic barriers that often keep highly qualified scientists from excelling in STEM careers. 

Sharon R. Bird is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Professor of Sociology at West Virginia University. Her current research focuses on organizational strategies for reducing workplace inequalities, especially in the context of higher education.  Her related research and publications examine gender gaps in small business success and workers’ experiences and success are shaped by organizational demographics and cultures.

Laura A. Rhoton is a Research Analyst in Institutional Research. Her research focuses on women’s gender practices in academic STEM disciplines and the implications of these practices for addressing gendered inequalities in higher education.

Teaching Module: Gender and Legal Consciousness

Are you prepping to teach a course about Law and Society or the Sociology of Gender?  

A goal for Gender and Society is to provide pedagogical support for instructors, professors, and lecturers on gender topics. The G&S Junior Scholar Advisory Board members develop teaching modules in their areas of expertise and research.

A new addition to our teaching modules is created by Advisory Board member Pedrom Nasiri. Their module provides options for teaching about gender and legal consciousness with suggested readings, and class activities. These teaching tools can be used on campus or online.

This module helps instructors introduce students to the sub-field of legal consciousness studies. The provided readings will orient students to the study of gender and the law from an intersectional framework focusing on gender, race, and sexuality.

To access the teaching module, click here.

Pedrom Nasiri is a Joseph-Armand Bombardier scholar in the Department of Sociology, at the University of Calgary. Their multiple award-winning Ph.D. research examines the lived experiences of multi-partner families in Canada and their articulation with ongoing class, gender, and race formation projects.

COVID-19 Makes Transforming the Academy More Urgent

A full year into quarantines, Zoom-everything, no childcare, and facilitating kids’ education at home, there is reason for concern about the long-term consequences for women in academia.

Within academic STEM fields, where women earn about half of the doctorates but are woefully underrepresented in advanced ranks, the impact may be particularly dramatic. The ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic directly affect individual women, but also academia itself. The pandemic has amplified inequities within academia and in society more broadly.

Will we recognize these impacts and seize the opportunity to make academia a more inclusive and equitable institution that welcomes the contributions of diverse academic women? If we want the best talent and most innovative research to advance knowledge, we must.

Even before a global pandemic abruptly moved our lives into virtual spaces, women shouldered a greater burden for care work in their families, communities, and workplaces, leaving less time to devote to their scholarship. As the immediate decline in the number of manuscripts submitted to scholarly journals by women demonstrates, the pandemic has exacerbated this inequity.

While some faculty and administrators still insist these are individual problems, the pandemic has confirmed what feminist sociologists have been saying for decades – we have structured our universities to reflect sexist and racist assumptions about who does, and should do, particular kinds of work, and how that work is valued, supported, and rewarded. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how far we are from equity and how easily we can lose ground. 

Faculty worry that administrators will not “let a good crisis go to waste,” as they cut faculty, staff, and academic programs, and reorganize their universities. They also note that many universities have attempted to acknowledge this crisis and responded by extending the time to tenure for faculty and changing the use of teaching evaluations. Some faculty are concerned that these responses may exacerbate rather than alleviate gender inequality. But this does not have to be the scenario.

The Research

My research suggests we are in a critical time that may be a moment for those committed to feminist institutional transformation to push for change. My interviews with feminist sociologists indicate they should be at the decision-making table to steer the response of universities to the pandemic in feminist directions. Why single out feminist sociologists for a central role in shaping policy for a more inclusive academia?

Sociologists are trained to identify and analyze how institutional structures and cultures perpetuate or remediate inequalities. Their expertise can help others to recognize that the expectations, policies, practices, and culture of the university—not characteristics of individuals—maintain inequality.  Feminist sociologists produce knowledge using the tools of their discipline and use that knowledge to inspire, inform, and demand structural and cultural transformation. They combine their disciplinary, methodological, and theoretical expertise with their political commitments to expose the ways these policies, practices, and institutional cultures reflect and reinforce white masculine privilege. This work can help us imagine a transformed institution.

The pandemic has revealed that despite decades of increasing numbers of women and minorities entering the academy, the organizational principles still presume a homogenous faculty composed of heterosexual white men with stay-at-home wives. The faculties have changed but the taken-for-granted assumptions about work and family often do not reflect this reality. Further, we must acknowledge that higher education includes a wide range of institutions serving very different types of students. My interviews with feminist sociologists who work on institutional change suggest that a just academy must reflect and support the lives of the diverse individuals within it. My findings encourage us to consider how our efforts to transform the academy should acknowledge and respond to this broad diversity, rather than impose a one-size-fits-all model of formal recommendations. Feminist sociologists have helped identify principles that could propel changes in policies and practices and re-shape institutional culture.

The current crisis requires change, and universities could use this moment to address the fundamental expectations, policies, practices, and cultures that have long reduced the possibility of meritocracy for women and people of color. Administrators must be aware that decisions made now will have long-term consequences. For example, tenure clock extensions may reduce pressure in the short term, but they will affect life-time salaries and retirement benefits for those who take that extra year now. Women cannot simply “catch up” on their research, and the consequences of the gender gap in manuscript submissions will further exacerbate inequalities.

My research suggests universities would be well served to listen to the experts within their own ranks. Feminist sociologists have the knowledge and skills to identify and analyze organizational problems. And, they have the political commitments that compel them to help change their institutions. While all faculty are tired and over-extended, many feminist sociologists continue to apply their disciplinary expertise to institutional transformation. They are already hard at work documenting and analyzing the effects of the pandemic. Research is revealing disparate experiences for parents and non-parents, with especially dire circumstances for mothers. We must seize this opportunity to devise policy and implement changes in practice, based on recommendations that can push us forward to a more just academy.

Heather Laube is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan-Flint. Her research examines how feminist academics navigate their often-conflicting positions and identities as they strive to maintain their feminist ideals, achieve professional success, and transform the academy. She is also interested in the ways innovative faculty mentoring programs can help individuals thrive and contribute to institutional change. You can find Dr. Laube on Twitter @h_laube.

Gender Division of Labor during COVID: Can Remote Work Improve Gender Equality at Home?

The closure of schools and childcare centers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified pressure on U.S. parents already struggling to balance employment and family caregiving in a country that provides little social support. The move of schooling and childcare into the home – along with the still-unfolding effects on women’s employment – has raised questions about the long-term consequences for gender equality in the U.S.

Some are optimistic that these large-scale disruptions – which, for some, have included new opportunities to work from home – offer a chance to increase gender equality in the division of care and domestic work. As remote work decreases the need for “face time” at the office, classic rationales justifying an unequal division of domestic labor may also recede. Others, however, remain skeptical, noting that if the increased unpaid work falls disproportionately on mothers, the loss of childcare and on-site schooling will only exacerbate existing gender inequalities, especially given women’s greater risk of job loss in the current “shesession.” Additionally, even if remote work offers an opportunity to increase gender equality for remote workers, access to this arrangement remains a largely white-collar privilege that limits such potential gains to a privileged few.

In our study, published in Gender & Society, we ask how families experienced and responded to sudden changes in paid and unpaid work in the early months of the pandemic, focusing in particular on how these experiences varied by parents’ ability to work remotely.

Analyzing nationally representative survey data from 478 partnered parents, collected in April 2020, we examine how the loss of childcare and in-person schooling affected the division of housework, childcare, and children’s remote learning as well as how pressured parents felt about the sudden responsibility for their children’s schooling.

Findings

Our results indicate that among couples with children, the consequences of these pandemic-induced shifts in schooling and childcare largely depended not just on individuals’ own work circumstances but on their partners’ as well.

In families where both parents worked from home, the response to the increased domestic workload was generally egalitarian – mothers and fathers alike reported almost identical increases in housework and childcare and in responsibility for housework and child care as well.  Mothers and fathers in households with two teleworkers also reported feeling nearly equal amounts of pressure about their children’s schooling.  Even in the scenario where both parents worked from home, however, women still bore disproportionate responsibility for unpaid work since similar increases left pre-pandemic inequality intact. Mothers were thus more than twice as likely as fathers to say they were primarily responsible for housework and childcare during the pandemic and over 1.5 times more likely to report taking on the bulk of managing their children’s home learning.

Disparities in housework, childcare, and home education were even greater when only one spouse worked remotely. When mothers worked from home alone, they were more likely than mothers in dual remote-worker couples to have increased their housework time, absorbing the additional domestic work. In contrast, when fathers alone worked from home, they reported far less involvement in domestic work than either mothers working from home alone or fathers in dual-remote working couples.

When domestic workloads increased and neither parent worked from home, mothers mostly picked up the slack – especially when it came to housework and home learning. Among couples not working remotely, mothers were twice as likely as fathers to have increased their household time and were three times as likely to report being primarily responsible for housework. These mothers were also seven times as likely as fathers to say they did the majority of children’s home learning and, consequently, were twice as likely to report feeling pressure related to their children’s remote education.

The takeaway

We cannot yet know the longer-term consequences of the rise in remote work post-pandemic. Taken together, however, these findings suggest that gender remains a powerful force in organizing domestic work despite the greater flexibility that working remotely allows. In the most optimistic scenario, where both partners worked remotely, the gender division of labor remained relatively stable with both mothers and fathers contributing more to housework and childcare in the wake of school and childcare closures. In couples where neither parent worked from home or where mothers alone did so, mothers became the stopgap who absorbed most of the additional caring and schooling of children. For reasons that need greater exploration, fathers who work from home were generally better able to protect themselves from the incursions of unpaid care work. Going forward, our findings suggest that whether remote work fosters more equality or exacerbates preexisting inequalities will depend on the varied forms it takes in families.


Allison Dunatchik is a PhD student in Sociology and Demography at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research centers on gender, work and family, with a focus on how public policies affect gender and class inequalities inside and outside of the household.

Kathleen Gerson is Collegiate Professor of Arts & Science and Professor of Sociology at New York University. She is the author of “The Science and Art of Interviewing” and “The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family,” among other books. She is currently writing a book on the collision of work and caretaking in contemporary America.

Jennifer Glass is the Centennial Commission Professor of Liberal Arts in the Department of Sociology of the University of Texas–Austin, and Executive Director of the Council on Contemporary Families. Her recent research explores how work–family public policies improve family well-being, and why mothers continue to face a motherhood pay penalty as their income generating responsibility for their children grows.

Jerry A. Jacobs, Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, is the co-founder and first president of the Work and Family Researchers Network. Jacobs has written extensively about women’s careers and work-family issues. His six books include The Time Divide: Work, Family and Gender Inequality (2004) with Kathleen Gerson and the Changing Face of Medicine: Women Doctors and the Evolution of Health Care in America (2008) with Ann Boulis.

Haley Stritzel is a PhD candidate in Sociology and a graduate student trainee in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Haley uses a range of quantitative and demographic research methods to study the family and neighborhood contexts of child and adolescent health. Her dissertation focuses on the geographic distribution and correlates of foster care entries associated with parental substance use.

The Pandemic Reveals: Home, Work, and Health Care Disadvantages for Women of Color

What do we miss when we don’t bring an intersectional lens to analyses of the pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how we, as women of color, occupy crucial spaces and confront oppressive systems in multiple spheres of our lives on a daily basis.  

Gendered and racialized inequities have unfolded in front of ours eyes, bringing to bare the harsh and unjust realities that many women of color experience. These challenges have not changed due to the current pandemic; many of these inequities have simply been amplified.  In our recent article in Gender and Society we suggest that we must look at racism and sexism in tandem to understand the root cause of health problems and inequities facing women of color in the pandemic. We focus on the impacts of COVID-19 on three (3) important settings occupied by women of color: home, health care, and work.  

Women of color as devalued in the home.  

With shelter in place orders starting in March 2020, home was presumed one of the safest places for people to be to avoid contracting the COVID-19 virus. Despite home being a safe place for many, this privilege did not apply to all. Reports of domestic violence increased dramatically, often in the presence of children and other family members. Talha Burki reports that “Some 243 million women are thought to have experienced sexual or physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner at some point over the last 12 months”. These instances will have lasting impacts, introducing a number of public health implications. Even in homes without physical and mental abuse, home may not be a space of refuge. Since the beginning of the pandemic, women, especially women of color have reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression due to an overburden of labor in the home. This labor includes traditional household duties (i.e. cleaning) in addition to homeschooling responsibilities. These added expectations coupled with social isolation and resource insecurity foster an unhealthy living experience. Finally, women of color have also experienced increases in housing insecurity and homelessness due to financial constraints (i.e. loss of income) and abuse.  

Women of color as disposable in work settings.  

It is evident that the pandemic has impacted jobs and employment. For example, we prioritized and encouraged workers in positions deemed essential to work outside of their homes. However, being essential was far less than equitable. For women of color, being essential did not mean increased pay, benefits, and respect; being essential often constituted increased risk of COVID-19 exposure and working under even more stressful conditions. Women of color in health care make up a large percentage of the COVID-19 deaths. For example, nurses of Filipino descent account for a shocking 31.5% of the workforce’s COVID-19 deaths, yet make up only 4% of the workforce. For women of color in non-essential positions, loss of job security, loss of income, and loss of health insurance were prominent concerns that have a direct impact on one’s physical and mental health. 

Women of color as dismissed in health care settings.  

There is a long history of women of color being mistreated, dismissed and ignored in health care settings. This has been no different during the pandemic, as we are presumed incompetent, even if we are in positions of perceived power and privilege. For example, many are again outraged after Dr. Susan Moore, a Black woman, filmed herself in the hospital and reporting on mistreatment and the rush to send her home: “This is how black people get killed when you send them home and they don’t know how to fight for themselves”. Sadly, she died at another hospital after advocates pushed for her transfer—though perhaps “murdered by the system” is a more accurate description. Unfortunately, this example is one of many and we continue to see occurrences of neglect and silencing of Black women in health care settings. Access to quality and equitable health care disparities are visible on a daily basis and have been brought to light during this pandemic with testing, treatment and now vaccines.  

We as a community should continue to advocate for women of color in home, work, and health care environments. We challenge scholars, advocates, journalists, and wider publics worldwide to consider how we have embedded both gender and racial inequities into the very fabric of our society and the perpetually negative implications that has for women of color.  The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed already stark inequality… what’s our next move?  

Dr. Whitney Pirtle (sociology) and Tashelle Wright (public health) are researchers at the University of California, Merced (UCM). Their most recent work takes an intersectional approach to exploring and analyzing preventable health disparities among Black women and women of color. Pirtle and Wright address the implications of racism and sexism on women of color during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Whitney Pirtle was recently recognized as one of the newest John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chairs and Tashelle Wright was recently awarded a UCM Black Research Fellowship.  You can find Dr. Pirtle on Twitter at @thePhDandMe and Tashelle Wright @WrightTashelle.

Good-bye to “You Guys”

Image credit: Christian Helms

Teaching about sexist language should be easy. After all, our classes have “gender” in the title and the vast majority of the students are women. Some of our courses are cross-listed in Women’s Studies. As a colleague once put it, “You have the selection effect going for you.”

And yet, even under the best of conditions, it’s hard.

We’re not referring to sexist terms that men (and some women) use to demean women, such as whore, slut, or the c-word. No, we’re talking about so-called male “generics,” such as freshman, chairman, and the ever-present “you guys.”

In the late 1960s, feminists pointed out the problems with these terms: They make women invisible and reinforce the idea that men and masculinity are the norm. Linguistically subsuming an oppressed group under a privileged group can’t be a good thing for the oppressed, though it may feel good to some. A woman might find it flattering when a man refers to her as “one of the guys.”    

And that’s part of the problem: How can “you guys” be harmful when it’s normalized and used by almost everyone?

We’ve found that understanding resistance to using true generics is more difficult than understanding why sexist language matters. What’s going on? What stands in the way of good people adopting you all, y’all, hey folks, or “you,” which is both singular and plural? “What can I get you to drink” works for one person in a room or 10.

The Research

To examine liberals and feminists’ resistance to using true generics, we analyzed negative comments to online essays that critiqued “you guys” (one posted on AlterNet in 2007 and another shared on Facebook in 2015). We found five types of resistance: appeals to origins; appeals to linguistic authority; appeals to aesthetics; appeals to intentionality and inclusivity; and appeals to women and feminist authorities.

Resistance to seeing the problems with “you guys” is linked to beliefs in U.S. society about harm. People believe that harm exists only if an action is initiated by an individual, the individual has bad intentions, and the consequences of what is said or done are immediate, visible, and extreme.

But inequality can be reproduced unconsciously; the harms to a group as a whole may be indirect. In the case of “you guys,” the harm doesn’t lie in occasionally addressing a group of women or a group of women and men with the term, but in the cumulative effect of men and women saying it over and over, and just about everywhere. “You guys” is insidious; no bad intentions required. With analytic distance, one can see “you guys” operating as a form of sexist conditioning.

It helps to imagine people using “you girls” or “you gals” as a generic term. Students find that possibility funny, ridiculous, absurd. They also say that men wouldn’t put up with it. Soon it’s not a big leap for them to see that men treating a woman as “one of the guys” has a lot more value than women treating a man as “one of the girls.” 

Our analysis suggests that people who value their feminist identity, like those in our classes, resist dropping “you guys” because it’s hard to take criticism for not living up to feminist ideals. For a social movement to succeed, however, participants must be willing to get rid of any practices that undermine their principles. Without adopting self-criticism as a life-long project, participants will expend more energy pushing against a simple call for change than making a change for the good.

Sherryl Kleinman is Emerita Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has published extensively in the areas of inequality, symbolic interaction, qualitative methods, and feminist analysis (e.g., Feminist Fieldwork Analysis). She also writes creative nonfiction, essays, and poems.

Martha Copp is Professor of Sociology at East Tennessee State University. She is co-author of Emotions and Fieldwork with Sherryl Kleinman. Her research and teaching interests include the reproduction of social inequalities, qualitative methods, work, and emotions.

Kalah B. Wilson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at North Carolina State University. Her dissertation focuses on Appalachian residents’ responses to changing rhetoric about coal mining during the Trump Era. She examines elites’ media framing of coal and the connections between identity, masculinity, and environment for Appalachian residents.

Latina/o Physicians and Gender Discrimination in American Medicine

“I have never taken care of more Spanish speakers, undocumented patients, Latinx patients…than I have during the pandemic” exclaimed Dr. Susan López, a Latina internal medicine physician working in a Chicago hospital late last year.

These words echo the results of my recent research on gender and racial/ethnic inequality among Latina/o physicians in the state of California who, for the most part, work in minority and Latino immigrant communities.

In our work with Latina/o physicians, Maricela Bañuelos and I examine how ethnicity (such as language use) and gender intersect in American medicine. We examine the distinct experiences that men and women have in the U.S. medical workforce when performing their daily job tasks. We draw on interviews 48 Latina/o physicians (26 women, 22 men) mostly in the Southern California area. The doctors included in the study identified as Mexican, Central American, South American and Puerto Rican, with varying degrees of Spanish language ability. We coupled the interviews with observations in their places of work and medical galas/events to offer a behind the scenes look at interpersonal relations between these men and women with co-workers, nurses, staff and patients. 

FINDINGS

We find that bilingual and bicultural Latina doctors were expected to perform Spanish/English translating work at all times, and when they said “no” or explained that it wasn’t their job, they were more likely to experience hostility or were accused to being difficult to work with by their co-workers, pushing them to manage their appearance and behaviors.

It was more readily acceptable, on the other hand, for Latino doctors to say “no” or not do Spanish/English translations when they were asked. Often nurses or staff members would find someone else, or were ready to jump in and perform this translating and other work for them.

Bilingual Latina Doctors Pay a Tax

Both Latina/o physicians described their Spanish/English bilingual and bicultural abilities as an asset in their jobs. But, they also felt burdened by translation demands–with women having to do the lion’s share of this work. Latina/o physicians noted that Spanish/English bilingualism often meant they performed tasks outside of the bounds of their job description. For instance, specialists and doctors from other facilities failed to provide translations and often relied on the referring bilingual doctor to their work. Bilingual Latina physicians were often pulled in to perform this labor, especially for women patients, and coupled with being the “lonely only” bore the brunt of this work.

Latina/o doctors described instances in which they were not readily accepted as doctors and in which patients assumed they were not the attending doctor because they looked “too young.” Latina doctors stated that it was more common that patients mistook them for holding a lower occupational position. Moreover, only women reported unwanted comments about their appearance and racially-based sexual harassment from patients.

Latino Doctors’ Advantages

Our analysis underscores that Latino physicians held a gender advantage over Latina physicians when it came to demonstrations of respect in interactions from nurses and staff, regardless of racial/ethnic background. Men physicians noted that nurses would often “jump in” and perform simple tasks for them like drawing a patient’s blood. Women physicians noted that nurses would take “forever” to complete simple tasks while performing it quicker when the request was made by Latinos. This resulted in Latina physicians modifying their behavior so their coworkers would follow through on their task, but on most occasions they performed the tasks of others themselves to get the work done.

Both Latina/o physicians modified their self-presentation to fit a profession that favors medical providers who conform with the conventional white male norm of high-status occupations.  Unlike Latinas, however, men said they tried to overcome the ageism colleagues and patients subjected them to by “proving themselves” or subtly modifying their physical appearance.

MAJOR TAKEAWAYS

Bilingual Latina physicians often find themselves performing Spanish/English translations at all levels of the medical hierarchy– in their own specialty, for nurses and staff, and for medical personnel in entirely different facilities. Even though Latino doctors faced marginalization because of race, they also benefited from the sexism that Latina physicians experienced daily. We find that everyone—from physicians to nurses and staff to patients—is complicit in maintaining this inequality across the medical education pipeline and into their jobs.

Even when wearing the white coat—the traditional garb doctors wear—and their name badges, both Latina/o doctors were regularly mistaken for not being the attending physician, confused as housekeeping staff at times. While men said they could simply grow out a beard to look older, Latina doctors were encouraged to take greater measures to fit in.

We must pay attention to how racism and gender discrimination manifest for physicians and also recognize that bilingualism and biculturalism are assets in the job in order to renumerate physicians that possess those skills appropriately.

Glenda M. Flores is an associate professor of Chicano/Latino Studies at UC, Irvine. Her book Latina Teachers: Creating Careers and Guarding Culture and new research on Latina/o/x physicians focuses on gender, race and class inequality in white-collar occupations.

Maricela Bañuelos is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at UC, Irvine. Her research focuses on Latinas/os/xs in higher education and educational equity.