When the “Ideal Worker” is a White Man, Everyone Else Has to Work Harder

By Rachel M. Korn, Joan C. Williams, and Cecilia L. Ridgeway

When President Biden announced that he would be nominating a Black woman for the upcoming vacancy on the US Supreme Court, there was an almost immediate public backlash. In one high-profile example, Senator Roger Wicker was quick to claim that the future justice will be the beneficiary of affirmative action quotas, while Senator Ted Cruz called the suggestion offensive and insulting to Americans.

The criticism began before the names of any potential Black women candidates were suggested, which means that the actual qualifications of any particular candidate were not the cause of the backlash. Clearly, the assumption of these detractors is no Black woman in the entire county could possibly actually be qualified for the job. The other piece of the assumption is that a Black woman being chosen for Supreme Court Justice must have gotten an unfair advantage in the form of lowered standards.  Since the creation of the supreme court, 94% of justices have been white men. If any Supreme Court Justices are getting a pass on qualifications due to their race and gender, they’re the white men.

Let’s take a step back. Imagine a Supreme Court justice. Or a brilliant architect, savvy tech entrepreneur, or high-powered lawyer. If you’re like most people, what jumped into mind was a kinda tall white guy. This means that all other groups have a harder time navigating the workplace. These non-prototypical workers face a routine burden of extra work to get ahead in the workplace – a burden that is largely invisible to the white men around them.

Our research, reported in our recent article in Gender & Society, explored six forms of workplace bias in the profession of architecture: Prove-it-again reflects assumptions about who is competent – and who isn’t. Tightrope bias reflects that authoritativeness and ambition are more readily accepted from white men than from other groups, who consequently face more complicated office politics as they walk a tightrope between being seen as “too meek” or “too much.” Other forms of bias include a lack of fit with the dominant culture, exclusion from the information-sharing networks, being expected to do emotion work (like acting as the peacemaker), and being constantly interrupted.

We surveyed men and women architects from five racial groups about their workplace bias experiences and the results highlight the impact of intersectionality. Over and over again we found that the experience of women of color typically diverges the most from that of white men, with the experience of Black women often diverging the most as compared with other women of color. White women and men of color tended to fall in between, but typically reported experiences closer to women of color’s experiences than to those of white men. The notable exception was Latinos, who often reported experiences similar to those of white men (perhaps because architecture is such a class-conscious profession and Latino architects come from upper class families? We aren’t sure). We see these intersectional patterns very clearly, for instance, in how often women of all races and men of color reported having to work twice as hard to get the same recognition as their colleagues, or that they get less respect for the same quality of work. These are vivid, everyday examples of routine prove-it-again bias that white men were much less likely to report experiencing.

Tightrope bias means that white men typically are seen as a good fit for leadership roles, while others are expected to be deferential worker bees. Conforming to such expectations takes work: self-editing in order to prioritize the comfort of others in the workplace can be taxing and exhausting. While workers who are closer to the image of the ideal worker may be free to act authentically, other groups have to put energy into coming off as competent without being seen as “too aggressive.” Women of all races and men of color, for example, were less likely to say that people expect them to play leadership roles, and more likely to say that they get pushback for behaving assertively.

From the Supreme Court to architecture firms, those who don’t match the prototype of the ideal worker find they need to put in more effort and energy in order to have the same outcomes as white men. That extra work tends to be invisible to those in charge but it doesn’t have to be. Our work is a step towards making the routine burdens visible, and making them easier to undo – from architecture workplaces all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Rachel M. Korn is the Director of Research at the Center for WorkLife Law at University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

Joan C. Williams is a Sullivan Professor of Law, Hastings Foundation Chair, and Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

Cecilia L. Ridgeway is the Lucie Stern Professor of Social Sciences, Emerita, in the Sociology Department at Stanford University.

Thinking beyond gender: Why does sexuality and race matter in the tech industry?

By Lauren Alfrey  and France Winddance Twine

How do women negotiate male-dominated workplaces of the tech industry? In the February 2017 issue of Gender & Society, we address this question by building upon foundational work on occupational inequality. Inspired by Joan Acker’s concept of inequality regimes, we offer the first qualitative study and intersectional analysis of women tech workers from a wide range of backgrounds. We show how race, class privilege and gender expression shapes the occupational experiences of “geek girls.”alfrey_video_game

In our interviews with 50 men and women employed in a variety of positions in the San Francisco tech industry, we discovered that the gender-fluid, LGBTQ, White and Asian female workers reported a greater sense of belonging among male co-workers when compared to heterosexual women. In contrast to the gender conventional women in our sample, they were perceived as “one of the guys.” However, the gender-fluid Black LGBTQ women we interviewed did not experience the same inclusion or degree of belonging. Neither did conventionally heterosexual White and Asian women, who, like the Black women, also described routine micro-aggressions and sexist interactions that undermined their ability to be seen as competent equals in their workplace.

We argue that this represents a racialized and gendered spectrum of belonging—the dynamic forms of inclusion and exclusion that women experience according to their race, sexuality, and gender presentation. In occupational cultures where masculinity and hetero-normativity are the norm, fluid gender expression provides some women with conditional acceptance. Continue reading “Thinking beyond gender: Why does sexuality and race matter in the tech industry?”

Intersectionality in Real Life

By Elroi J. Windsor

What is intersectionality, and what does it look like in real life?

Sociologist Zakiya Luna explored these questions as they relate to the national coalition, SisterSong. For this collective of reproductive justice advocates, intersectional praxis was more than putting diverse groups of people in rooms together for meetings and events. Luna’s research described activists working in coalitions where “constructing identities and alliances is an iterative, never-ending process.”The participants in this women of color collective had similar experiences based on belonging to marginalized race and gender groups. Yet they also experienced challenges in their work due to intragroup differences based on ethnicity, ability, and citizenship. For SisterSong, the practice of intersectionality in real life is “ongoing” and “multidimensional.” It’s not always easy, and even woke folks have learning to do.

In the last few weeks, I’ve asked students in my Introduction to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies class questions about intersectional feminist praxis. We’ve been reading Black Girl Dangerous,by black queer writer Mia McKenzie, and thinking about how intersectional politics play out in everyday life. My students and I currently live in North Carolina, a state that has made national news this past year. Our time and place is ripe for some intersectional analysis and praxis. Continue reading “Intersectionality in Real Life”

Straight girls kissing? Not on stage or on the dance floor, but off campus and at home

By Jamie Budnick

There are a lot of words used to describe women who hook up with other women. Even if they do not identify as lesbian or bisexual, the media might label them “straight girls kissing” and social scientists might study their “sexual fluidity.” A generation ago, they might have been called a LUG – that is, “lesbian until graduation.” What do all of these labels have in common? They usually refer to a narrow group of women: white, middle-class, and living on the progressive campuses of selective universities.

Image: Berkeley college campus

The New York Times acknowledged this stereotype of college as “a hive of same-sex experimentation” when it reported a puzzling research finding: in a national survey, women with the lowest levels of educational attainment reported the highest lifetime prevalence of same-gender sex. How could that be? If non-college attending women (or women working on associate’s or vocational degrees) also have a high prevalence of same-gender sexual behavior, then we need new research to understand their lives and sexual identities. Continue reading “Straight girls kissing? Not on stage or on the dance floor, but off campus and at home”

Where do “women of color” fit in movements?

By Zakiya Luna

Artist: Valentin Brown

When you hear the phrase “women of color,” who do you imagine? In my research on a women-of-color reproductive justice coalition I noticed the many ways speakers at events I attended used the phrase “women of color,” assuming that the audience understood what they meant.

There is a small, but robust literature of the ways that racial minority women have engaged with white-dominated feminist movements and male-dominated nationalist movements (Falcon 2016, Roth 2004, Thompson 2002). Thus, I was surprised to find little empirical analysis on the promises and perils of women of color coming together across their differences. At the individual, organizational and movement level, identities, such as “woman of color,” are being negotiated. My research finds this is the case even within spaces specifically designated by and for “women of color” who are seeking a space that provides refuge from other movements.  This is important because these organizations negotiate providing a space for their members to feel comfortable, while also making practical tactical decision that may not fit neatly with longer-term goals of inclusivity. To sum up my findings, becoming “women of color” is a continual process, not a fixed accomplishment that sometime emphasizes commonalities and other times emphasizes difference.

Future research could consider other places seemingly emphasizing intersectionality and how debates about “women of color” inform these processes whether in social movements or the elsewhere. For example, as difficult as social movement actors find integrating intersectional analysis and challenge to power dynamics into their work, attempts to do so in the formal political process are fraught due to pressure to conceptualize minority groups in binary terms  and advocate for relatively advantaged groups. Future research may examine possibilities for mobilization of women of color in formal politics. Other research may consider strategies found in other sites that emphasize “women of color” such as retention programs at educational institutions, social organizations, and even federal health agencies. Continue reading “Where do “women of color” fit in movements?”

Traditional Wives, Empowered Daughters?: Parenting the “Trump Way”

By Emily Kane

European School Of Economics Foundation Vision And Reality Awards
NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 05: (L-R) Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump and Melania Trump attends European School Of Economics Foundation Vision And Reality Awards on December 5, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for European School of Economics Foundation)

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Jill Filipovic addresses “Why Men Want to Marry Melanias and Raise Ivankas,” referring to the traditionally gendered division of responsibility Donald J. Trump celebrates for his wife but seems to reject for his daughter. Filipovic goes on to note public opinion data suggests men favor independence and strength in daughters more than wives, but sweetness and attractiveness in wives more than daughters. This is an important pattern to note, with clear implications for reproducing gender inequality. And it’s a pattern that shapes the way some fathers participate in gendering their daughters even in early childhood. In my book The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls, I approach these patterns with explicit attention to the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality, and find that the way Donald Trump looks at things is more common among men privileged by race and class.

In my analysis of interviews with parents of preschoolers from a wide variety of backgrounds and social locations, I identify five distinct groups based on their parenting practices, one of which I call “Naturalizers.” These parents tend to view gender as rooted in nature, celebrate gender differences as positive, and reject seeing gender as a source of power. Though parents from all social backgrounds were represented in this group, a particular strand within it was expressed by upper-middle class white fathers with both sons and daughters. They encouraged a modest expansion of gendered expectations for their young sons, who they viewed as “hard-wired” for rough-and-tumble competitiveness but hoped to round out with just a small infusion of domestic skills and nurturing orientation. For their daughters, they viewed that nurturance and a maternal instinct as the hard-wired element, which they more actively hoped to round out with the skills to “choose” male-dominated careers if they wished to do so. This emphasis on choice, especially expressed by privileged fathers who often viewed it as unconstrained by structural power, is very much consistent with accepting traditionally gendered wives and more career-oriented daughters who still show that supposedly natural material instinct. As Filipovic quotes in her piece, Donald Trump praises his daughter as “a devoted mother and an exceptional entrepreneur.” Continue reading “Traditional Wives, Empowered Daughters?: Parenting the “Trump Way””

The Gender Pray Gap

By Landon Schnabel 

Picture from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosary

Despite men holding most religious leadership positions, on any given Sunday there are typically more women than men in U.S. churches. Twenty seven percent of women but only 19 percent of men say they attend religious services at least once a week. Women also pray more frequently than men, with 66 percent of women and only 43 percent of men reporting that they pray daily. The gender gap in religion is so strong that U.S. religious congregations are getting creative in their attempts to attract more men, from changing décor and musical styles to hosting mixed martial arts fights in churches as depicted in the 2014 “Fight Church” documentary.

Are There Gender Differences among U.S. Elites?

Some scholars have argued that hormones make females more religious than males. They used a 17th century theological argument, Pascal’s Wager, to claim that being irreligious is risky. Then they said that because males have more testosterone, they are more likely to engage in risky behavior—such as violent crime and not going to church. But feminist scholars have consistently demonstrated that most gender differences are the result of social (i.e., gender), rather than biological (i.e., sex), factors, and that all women and all men are not the same. In this article, I use the case of U.S. elites to consider how gendered social experiences can make people more or less religious. On average, women are more religious than men, but are high-earning women (those who make more than $100,000 a year) more religious than high-earning men?Schnabel_final color

Among high earners, women are no more religious than men. High-earning men are just as likely as high-earning women to be religiously affiliated, to pray daily, to identify as a strong member of their religion, and to attend religious services weekly. This convergence occurs because the relationship between earnings and religiosity operates differently for women and men. High-earning women are consistently less religious than low-earning women, and high-earning men are consistently more religious than low-earning men. Continue reading “The Gender Pray Gap”

Violence Prevention as a Form of Justice

By Nicola Henry

Much of my work to date has been centered on the reactive currents of judicial, quasi-judicial, and non-judicial mechanisms of justice, and until recently I did not specifically theorize the ways in which the “primary prevention” of violence (preventing violence before it occurs) might well be another mode of justice.

Understanding the socio-cultural determinants of violence – as a feminist project of justice – makes sense when we consider global statistics, and find that women and girls continue to be disproportionately the victims, and men the perpetrators, of sexual violence. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. Where I live in Australia, 1 in 5 Australian women compared to 1 in 22 Australian men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, and since the age of 15, 1.5 million Australian women have experienced sexual assault, 99% of which has been perpetrated by a male. Continue reading “Violence Prevention as a Form of Justice”