Friday, February 20, 2015

How Selective Mistreatment is Stalling the Revolution: Sexual Harassment at Work

“Are we in the best of times or worst of times for gender equality?” asked Jennifer Berdahl, Professor of Leadership Studies: Gender and Diversity at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, at this week’s WAPPP seminar. Titled “From Sexual Harassment to Selective Mistreatment: The Regulation of Gender at Work,” Professor Berdahl’s presentation highlighted that while women have come far in higher education and the workforce since the 1970s, progress has stalled in the last two decades.

Professor Berdahl’s research examines how social treatment in the workplace may play into these outcomes, focusing on sexual harassment. She categorized sexual harassment into three categories: gender harassment, which is the most common, unwanted sexual attention, and sexual coercion, i.e. quid pro quo, which is far less common. Though sexual harassment is largely understood to be men exercising organizational and economic power to coerce women into sexual behavior, we know that women can harass men, too. Berdahl and her colleagues were interested in examining the form that male harassment takes and whether it can be considered sexual harassment, given that the gender power differentials aren’t the same.

To do this, Berdahl et al. conducted a study of university students, asking them about experiences typically deemed to be sexual harassment to determine if they felt threatened by them. The study found that 14% of men had been harassed and that they were significantly less likely to be threatened by this behavior from women. The most harmful harassment they experienced concerned being labeled as “not man enough” from both men and women, which Berdahl labeled as gender harassment.
Anita Hill testifying before the U.S. Senate, 1991.

In another study of university men, Berdahl et al. found that sexual harassment was more common towards women who embodied more masculine traits, despite these women being no more likely to identify behaviors as offensive and harassing. This finding is more consistent with the idea that the harassment stems from a gender role violation and not from sexual interest.

Using a sample of faculty and staff at a large university, Berdahl found that general mistreatment of all employees was much more common in male-dominated settings, and women without children were the most commonly mistreated. Gender atypical employees were targeted for mistreatment, whether they were considered to violate gender norms occupationally, in their behavioral roles, or via their family roles.

Berdahl questioned the extent to which this mistreatment affected advancement. Since mistreatment is typically a peer dynamic based on social acceptance, and advancement is based on being noticed and deemed worthy of respect, it’s possible that those who violate social norms might still get ahead. To examine this, Berdahl et al. paired personality measures and mistreatment measures with advancement measures out of their sample of faculty and staff. Women who were colder and more assertive were the most mistreated but also received more raises than women with more typically feminine qualities. This might imply that women’s advancement itself is one of the sources of women’s mistreatment, as a woman might be disliked among peers but promoted by superiors.

In short, Berdahl explained that gender is actively regulated through social mistreatment at work, from gender and sexual harassment to mistreatment at large. This discourages both women and men from entering and remaining in non-traditional roles at work and home and allows for gender segregation and inequality to continue. Going forward, Berdahl hopes to conduct more research on the intersection of gender and race, examine the importance of culture and leadership and separate out types of mistreatment to better understand them.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Learning to Listen: How Voice and Agency Can Improve the Lives of Women Globally

In the first WAPPP seminar of 2015, Jeni Klugman, former director of Gender and Development at the World Bank and current WAPPP Fellow, spoke on the importance of women and girls having agency over their lives. The seminar, titled “Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity” touched on the findings of the World Bank’s recent publication of the same name.

Klugman started by defining voice and agency, both of which have become buzzwords in development work in recent years. The World Bank defines voice as being “able to speak up and be heard, and to shape and share in discussions, discourse and decisions,” while defining agency as the ability “to make decisions about one's own life and act upon them to achieve desired outcomes, free of violence, retribution, or fear.”

Women’s position globally has improved in recent decades, but not nearly enough. Since the 1979 passage of CEDAW, the 188 signing states have outlawed gender-based discrimination and violence. Still, more than 700 million experience violence by a husband or boyfriend over the course of their lifetimes, with rates at high as 40% of women experiencing this violence in regions such as the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. The well-documented costs of intimate partner violence make this problem an economic priority, as well as a moral one, for many of the world’s leading institutions.

Klugman highlighted the growing literature on measuring women’s agency. Early strands of such research, influenced by Nobel laureate and Harvard professor Amartya Sen, took a multidimensional approach and made sure to not equate agency with assets. This subjective survey data had its limitations, however, and the World Bank soon turned instead to objective demographic and health surveys, finding that the best indicators were related to what people said they did as opposed to more abstract concepts.

Many of the World Bank’s findings were unfortunately unsurprising. Agency indicators were worst in regions with low education levels and in rural areas. Marriage also predicted less agency, as being married reduced sexual autonomy, and this effect was even stronger for those who were married as a child. Risk factors of intimate partner violence included alcohol, women’s own attitudes towards violence, circumstances of marriage, such as marrying young or being in a polygamous marriage, previous child abuse and living in a conflict state. 

Education had a protective effect for women, but only for women who had received secondary education and above. Additionally, women who live in countries with domestic violence laws in place were 10% less likely to experience violence from an intimate partner.

Klugman closed by highlighting areas where changing norms and progressive laws and enforcement look promising. Broad-based participation in the change process that includes men, boys, community leaders and elders seems to hold the most potential, while there are more partial results if only women are involved in the intervention. The identification and agreement on core international indicators is a good step in the right direction, Klugman argued. She also pointed to databases such as WAPPP’s Gender Action Portal as important ways to translate research into policy and practice.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Intersectionality at Play: the Parliamentary Representation of Women and Ethnic Minorities

While there has been much research on women’s political representation and ethnic minorities’ political representation, there is very little about the intersection of these two, argued WAPPP Fellow Liza Mügge in this week’s seminar. In her lecture, titled “Gender and Ethnicity in Parliamentary Representation,” Mügge, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam, presented her findings, which are part of a stream of research on gendered representation of minorities.

Professor Mügge explained that parliamentary representation of minority groups is important, both because equal representation is a social justice concern, but also because research shows that having political representation close to actual proportions within the population of a particular society is necessary for that society to remain peaceful.

Mügge conducted an analysis of the makeup of the Dutch Parliament starting in 1986, the year that that the first ethnic minority Member of Parliament (MP) was elected. The analysis focused on both descriptive and substantive representation and named three transition phases for an individual to be elected to office: 1) ineligible to aspirant, 2) aspirant to candidate and 3) candidate to elected. Mügge then used an intersectionality lens to understand why there were many more minority women than men in office in the 1980s and 1990s and how candidates can learn from their specific challenges and successes.
Member of Parliament Sadet Karabulut

In phase one, the primary criterion to transition from ineligible to an aspirant is Dutch citizenship. With a massive increase in naturalization during the 1990s and the fact that post-colonial immigrants were already Dutch citizens, this was not a significant barrier. Education level also factors in, and Mügge argued that part of the success of ethnic minority women is due to the education gender gap: 54% of ethnic minority undergraduate students are female. Ethnic minorities are disadvantaged in labor market participation, and political participation varies greatly by nationality, with Turks and Moroccans’ turnout close to that of those with European ancestry at about 57%, while Antillean immigrants are much lower at 18%.

In the second phase, how diversity is regulated and the availability of identity networks are crucial. The Green Party and Social Democrats have highly institutionalized women sections for networking and strategy and strong, though informal, minority sections. Mügge argued that the gender progressiveness of the Social Democrats especially has spilled over to include ethnic minorities, thereby helping female minority candidates win.

In phase three, the challenge comes down to whether the candidates are given winnable seats. Only 6% of all ethnic minority candidates across the elections studied were in a winnable seat, though there was not a significant difference between male and females candidates. 

Many, but not all, of the factors that boost women’s participation also increase ethnic minority representation. Leftist ideology that has often supported more gender parity in government also supports ethnic minorities in general, but civil society networks work for ethnic minority women much better than for ethnic minority men. 

Mügge concluded by explaining the issue in terms of demand and supply. The large increase of eligible citizens since the 1990s has created MP supply, while changing ideology and the availability of networks has created demand. At the end of the day, the political parties are the most influential gatekeepers, however, and they continue to greatly affect gender and ethnicity representation in Parliament. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

What Soil Can Tell Us About Sex Deficits

Soil can help explain child sex ratios in rural areas of India, argued Eliana Carranza, Technical Advisor at the World Bank’s Gender Innovation Lab, in this week’s WAPPP seminar, “Soil Endowments, Female Labor Force Participation and the Demographic Deficit of Women in India.”

Sex ratios – defined in the world of demography as the ratio of females to males in a population – are typically split with the number of females and males. Variations in ratio are often visible by age group, but the biggest variation in sex ratios is actually seen via geography. For example, a few countries in the Middle East and South Asia show a distinct and persistent deficit of women, including India.

The World Bank study that Carranza presented was recently published in the American Economic Journal and argues that child sex ratios in rural India can be explained by differences in soil texture. Carranza argued that these ratios are affected by women’s employment opportunities in agriculture, which vary across different kinds of soil.

This is because the soil texture in a certain region determines the depth of land preparation required to produce a crop there. Deep tillage, which reduces the need for labor in female-dominated tasks such as transplanting, fertilizing and weeding, is only possible in loamy soil textures. Therefore, districts with larger fractions of loamy soils exhibit lower rates of female participation in agriculture. The lower demand for female labor reduces the economic value of girls to a household, leading to lower ratios of female to male children.

The study sees a significant effect of soil texture on agricultural workers' opportunities, which disproportionately affects women. There is not the same effect on the overall male population, since men have other types of employment opportunities, while there are no real alternatives available for women in these regions.

The study found that an additional 10 percentage points in the share of female agricultural laborers in the rural work force is estimated to increase the relative number of rural 0-to-6 year olds by 44 girls per 1000 boys. This would bring the sex ration from an average ratio of 925 to 969, which is above the natural outcome for children of that age. The deficit of girls could be erased by a less extreme 5.8 percentage point increase in share of female laborers in rural workforce.

Carranza's policy prescription is relatively simple: provide more economic opportunities specifically for women. Previous studies show that increasing income is not enough to close the gender gap, and neither is creating more employment opportunities overall. In regions dominated by non-equalitarian perceptions regarding the role and value of women, women’s employment opportunities have even greater influence on labor force participation, which in turn affects child sex ratios.

Photo Source: The World Bank

Friday, November 14, 2014

How We're Keeping Girls Out of STEM: Teaching and Messaging

In this week’s WAPPP seminar “Paying the Price for Sugar and Spice: How Girls and Women are Kept out of Mathematics and Science,” Stanford Professor of Mathematics Education Jo Boaler argued that the STEM disciplines are impoverished by the current lack of women’s participation.

Professor Boaler started the seminar by presenting the problem in basic terms: STEM achievement is equal by gender across K-12, but the participation in these areas is not, leading to a significant gender gap. A recent meta-analysis of 259 studies involving three million people revealed that academic achievement in STEM was almost equally split between genders, with girls ahead in 49% of studies and boys ahead in 51% of them.

There is a significant disparity in participation, however. The decline in women earning college degrees in mathematics and computer science in the last two decades has led to severe differences when it comes to PhD attainment, which in turn affect the pipeline for professors and other specialists in these fields.

While some believe that these differences are due to preferences and the gap is therefore not as big of an issue, Boaler argued that girls' choices are restricted by the environments that parents and educators create. She argued that there are two neglected areas that contribute to this gap: 1) teaching and 2) mindset and messaging.

The problem is the current use of traditional instead of inquiry teaching, Boaler argued, saying that mathematics is currently taught dryly. Studies show that when math is taught as a multi-dimensional subject involving inquiry, every student benefits, and the gender gap also disappears. Essentially, girls underachieve and opt out in traditional math classrooms, while boys perform the same in both. 

Beliefs and messages matter as well. This is what Boaler refers to as the elephant in the classroom: the idea that some kids aren’t going to be good at math, no matter what. New knowledge about brain plasticity shows that this isn’t true. If we take the time to learn an issue deeply, our brain makes new connections that can strengthen over time and carry us into adulthood. Boaler explained that this means that no one is born with a “math brain.”

This new neuroscience demonstrates that speed is not necessary or sufficient for learning math and that when we're anxious, our working memory is blocked. In short, stress makes doing math difficult. What’s more, time tests can be the early onset of math anxiety for many students, and this anxiety affects girls worse than boys. Boaler wrote about both these issues for Atlantic last year in a piece entitled “The Stereotypes That Distort How Americans Teach and Learn Math.”

Professor Boaler does not just study this issue, however. She’s also a practitioner. Last year, she created Youcubed, an online portal that provides seminars on how to better learn and teach math. 40,000 people participated in the first course, and by the end of it, 95% of participants said they would change teaching or parenting. This could have huge effects for girls in STEM classrooms.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Feminism in the Free Market

In this week’s WAPPP seminar, “Feminism Triumphed and Tamed: The Politics of Knowledge in Gender and Development,” Elisabeth M. Prügl, a Professor of International Relations and Political Science at the Graduate Institute of Geneva explored a critique of what some have come to call “free market feminism.”

While there have been many gains in the fight for gender equality in recent years, there is concern among some feminists that feminism itself has been co-opted by major institutions and by the forces of global capitalism. These scholars worry that feminism is no longer critiquing but rather supporting the existing power structures that have long disadvantaged women.

To analyze this deeper, Professor Prügl narrowed in on the largest global development institution, the World Bank. After conducting a close reading of World Bank documents from 2001 to the present, she argued that there are three dimensions of what happens to feminist ideas when they enter the neoliberal discourse: (1) integrations and instrumentalizations, (2) slippages, and (3) silences.

Firstly, feminism has been integrated into many institutions and into the idea of capitalism itself. To demonstrate this, Prügl used what she refers to as “the business case,” or the argument made by institutions that have a core mission apart from gender equality that more equality creates better economic outcomes. The narrative is not unique to the World Bank; it has become increasingly common in global institutions and on far-reaching development campaigns. 

Prügl posits that by focusing on the business case, we narrow the political imagination of what policies will actually improve women’s lives. We may ignore reproduction and childcare policies or oversimplify issues by making heteronormative assumptions and commitments.

Prügl argues that the problem definition is hugely important, as definitions are very tightly linked to solutions, and might even be defined after the solution has been found. She says that this is especially true in the case of neoliberalism, where it has already been decided that the market can solve everything.

Preferences also become an issue when discussing integration in the push for equal economic opportunity. Under conditions of equal opportunity, inequality results from preferences. Yet Prügl argues that it’s also possible that the outcomes an individual has experienced for her entire life shape her idea of what is and is not possible for her – and therefore actually change her preferences.

Prügl argued that slippages of feminist ideas occur in neoliberal institutions, with direct effects on markets, such as business registration and labor law. The idea of agency can also move away from its feminist definition in these circumstances. While those in the economic development sphere often define agency as the power and opportunity to take risks or seize opportunities, gender experts discuss it as the capacity to make decisions about one’s own life free of violence, retribution or fear – factors not always considered by economists.

Silence on feminist issues in the realm of global capitalism is also a concern for some. Prügl argued that gender expertise largely remains at the level of microeconomics, while the macroeconomics of equality are not discussed, and modernization, growth and globalization are taken as unquestioned goods. 

Prügl concluded by stating that gender mainstreaming has been both a failure and a success in recent years. She argued that the world changes due to the impetus from the knowledge and power we as individuals participate in validating, stressing the importance of a feminist critique of the current state of affairs. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Three E's to Reach Equality: Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship

At this week’s WAPPP seminar, Monika Queisser, the Head of the Social Policy Division at the OECD's Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, made the economic case for gender equality. Her presentation "Progress and Policies to Achieve Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship," was based off of the OECD 2012 report of a similar name. The report focuses on what Queisser calls “the three E’s” – Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship.

Education is a top focus of the report because it’s the pathway to employment across the world. The OECD reports that more girls are attending school than ever before. Every one-year increase in a population’s average education level accounts for a 9% increase in GDP per capita. But not all education is created equal. Women are severely underrepresented in STEM, where graduates have the most potential for future earnings and career development. Currently, 70% of engineering graduates are men. This contributes to the persistent global pay gap. Women earn an average of 16% less than men, and this gap rises to 21% among top wage earners.

Queisser argued that gender equality strengthens the labor force and boosts the economy for everyone in turn. The aging population and falling fertility rate in most OECD countries currently leads to a shrinking labor force. To remedy this, there is a need for more migration and/or for women to participate at higher rates. We must break down the economic barriers that are holding women back from full participation, Queisser argued. More women need to work, and those that want to should be able to work full-time.

The report found that when a couple has their first child, women tend to start reducing their paid work hours, while men start increasing them. Women make up for this loss in paid hours by increasing their unpaid work. Though policies could and should help change this, a cultural shift is also necessary. Even in countries with progressive maternity leave policies and strong social welfare, such as the Netherlands, there is still a cultural norm for women to work part-time.

In the report, the OECD laid out recommendations to achieve gender equality in these three areas. Gender equality in education attainment and choices should be promoted, though Queisser admitted that it's hard to alter the choices that children make because of deep-seated biases in our culture. Increasing the number of women in decision-making positions, instituting paid maternity leave, actively reduce the wage gap and implementing family friendly policies for women who are self-employed are all crucial for achieving gender equality in these areas. In addition, countries are encouraged to produce gender-specific data and monitor progress on this issue.

In closing, Queisser said her central question is always how the countries that are doing well got to where they are today. She used a popular example for how policy can dramatically change culture. Iceland, which created a positive tax credit for second earners who are women in the 1960s, consistently tops the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index. Queisser, a self-described optimist, argued that a combination of improved policy and shifts in our cultural norms could bring us closer to gender equality in this century.

Photo Source: OECD