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The Grooming Gap: What “Looking the Part” Costs Women

Friday, January 3rd, 2020

Image result for mindy isserMadison, who works a customer service job at an airport spa, has an employee handbook that says “makeup should be well maintained” and “hands and nails must be well manicured.” She says the few men she works with just ignore these guidelines “because they’re meant for women but [it] doesn’t explicitly say that.” Her wages ($13.25 per hour + 15% retail commission) do not include additional pay to purchase manicures or makeup. During her interview, her now-boss commented on how nice her makeup looked and how well her shoes matched her purse—comments that make her feel like she needs to keep up that kind of appearance even though she already has the job.

It’s well known that a persistent wage gap exists for women workers in the United States, a gap that becomes even wider when race, industry, age and geography are taken into account. But less frequently discussed is the often silent expectation around appearance imposed on women workers, which has its own financial costs—known as the “grooming gap.” The grooming gap refers to the set of social norms regarding grooming and appearance for women, including the time women workers must spend to conform to these norms and the material consequences it has on their lives.

We’ve all heard the common advice to “look the part” at work. For men, that can often just mean business casual clothing and a short haircut. For women, it can mean hours spent each week on makeup, hair styling and curating an outfit that’s both attractive and professional.

The rules are usually unspoken; even when employers do not explicitly require workers to wear makeup, for example, women workers often feel required to wear it anyway.

They’re not wrong: Sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner found that physically attractive workers have higher incomes than average-looking workers, but that this relationship is eliminated when controlling for grooming in women. In other words, if you purchase the right clothes, makeup and haircut, higher wages are more within reach. It’s true that men need to abide by certain grooming rules, too, but they are less complex, less expensive and less time consuming. Men’s haircuts, for example, often cost much less than women’s haircuts—regardless of hair length. The grooming gap essentially constitutes a pay cut catch-22: If women don’t conform, they are paid less; if they do conform, they’re expected to use those higher wages on beauty products and grooming regimens.

Grooming costs for women can be extremely expensive; the global beauty industry, valued at $532 billion worldwide, directs aggressive advertising toward women to convince them they need to purchase a whole host of products to have a chance at being beautiful, well-liked or successful. The industry relies on maintaining impossible expectations around women’s looks so it can continue to rake in enormous profits. One 2017 study found the average woman puts $8 worth of product on her face each day; another found the average woman spends up to $225,000 on skincare and makeup during her lifetime. And then there’s the “pink tax”: Studies confirm that, 42% of the time, products marketed to women are more expensive than comparable products targeted to men.

The grooming gap also results in a loss of free time: 55 minutes each day for the average woman, the equivalent of two full weeks each year. Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFACWA), says that, in her industry—a workforce that is 79.3% women—the expectation around appearance literally “interrupts your sleep”: Flight attendants get minimal rest between flights, and that rest time is further shrunk because they are expected to appear “perfectly coifed” before their next flight. Nelson says that all of her grooming tasks took 30–40 minutes each day (more than two hours in a five-day work week). Madison agrees: it takes her 45 minutes to do her makeup and style her hair before her 7 a.m. shift—and she wakes up at 5 a.m. to get it all done. Prior to this job, Madison says she worked at the beauty department at Target, where she spent $200 on products every other week.

Restaurant and hospitality workers are perhaps hardest hit by the grooming gap, as they rely on tips to survive. When I was a barista in 2010–2011, the only official dress code rule was to wear closed-toed shoes, for safety. Still, I knew I had to show up looking pretty to pay the rent; I made less than $10 an hour and I needed the tips.

Katie, 36, a veteran bartender and server in Fort Smith, Ark., says at her current job, it’s “understood” she should wear makeup. At a previous restaurant, a manager even told her and her coworkers they would “make better tips if [they] wore makeup.”

“Based on my own appearance—weight fluctuations, makeup versus no makeup, jewelry versus no jewelry—there’s a definite difference,” Katie says. She adds that she was passed over for the most lucrative bartending shifts at her previous job after overhearing her managers say they wanted “cuter girls” to bartend instead.

Multi-billion dollar industries also market fad diets and anti-aging products to women. Both Katie and Jeeva, 24, a bartender and member of UNITE HERE, the union representing hospitality, hotel and airport workers, worry about aging. “As you get older, as a female bartender, your tips can go down,” Jeeva says. Katie says she “hope[s] to leave [the service industry] in the next 10 years, before I get too ugly.”

The grooming gap’s effects are compounded for women of color. According to Restaurant Opportunity Center, restaurant owners look for workers who are “clean-cut, [have] good hygiene or a professional appearance, all potential code words for race.” For instance, Black women spent $473 million on relaxers, weaves and other hair care in 2017, in part because of racist ideas that natural Black hair is not professional or attractive. Black workers annually spend nine times more on hair and beauty products than other workers.

For transgender women, too, there can be an added layer of work, stress and self-consciousness. Autumn, who transitioned while at her current publishing job in Washington, D.C., says she quickly realized how much time and energy it takes to perform femininity for work. She used to spend 20 minutes to get ready in the morning, but now takes at least 45 minutes. Autumn adds, “I have to do things that cis women don’t have to… [but] it’s gotten easier with time and practice,” like tucking and dealing with facial hair. Because she presents extremely femme, Autumn says she hasn’t dealt with enforcement around her appearance, but other women workers around the country have been disciplined and even fired for appearing insufficiently feminine. Women workers have sued—and won—over gender discrimination that manifests as attractiveness discrimination.

Nat, a trans woman who works at a union in the Washington, D.C., area, says, “I didn’t feel like I was allowed to be a woman if I liked masculine things. It delayed any kind of self-reflection” about gender and identity “for such a long time.”

At work and in the world, all women—cis and trans—feel the pressure to conform to normative standards of femininity and attractiveness. But the solution to this problem isn’t to throw away all the eyeshadow or take out a new line of credit for weekly manicures. The solution is to organize together.

“Building your union in the workplace is also about tackling the social issues that are directly applicable to your economic experience,” says Nelson. Because they were organized and had a voice in management’s ear, AFA-CWA flight attendants were able to relax and modernize aspects of their dress code. Prior to 2006, newly hired female flight attendants were required to attend a one-day training with a makeup artist (while men had the day off). Women were also encouraged to buy makeup if they didn’t have any, since female flight attendants were required to wear makeup. There are still appearance standards “that put a greater burden on women than men,” says Nelson, but there’s no longer a makeup training day, and no requirement to buy or wear makeup.

Because the vast majority of union contracts include language around wages, promotions, discipline and firing, the ways in which unionized women workers move up (or down) in a company are clear. They don’t have to wonder if they’re being pushed out because their boss doesn’t like the way they look—every infraction must be documented and explained. And because union workers receive raises based on seniority, gendered gaps around wages and promotions are far less likely, which gives women workers more freedom to ignore unspoken pressures around grooming, and a vehicle to further expand their rights at work.

Regardless of whether a workplace is unionized, workers can still organize to challenge gender inequity on the job. There’s a nascent movement around organizing for workers to be paid wages for time spent commuting to work, since commuting is a necessity. The same could be said of the grooming that women do before leaving for work. Working women, in unions and outside of them, could organize around extra compensation for women’s grooming products, as well as the time spent applying them; Madison suggests a “stipend.” Women workers also could fight against the tipped minimum wage, which invites pay discrimination based on appearance and which predominantly affects women.

Ultimately, social understandings of beauty and the many ways they impact women’s working conditions are just a piece of a bigger, systemic problem: the larger impacts of a patriarchal society’s effects on women. Women are constantly bombarded with advertisements and images of the ideal woman: thin, white, cis and beautiful—ideals that, of course, carry over into the workplace. The vast majority of women do not fit into these narrow, normative archetypes of beauty, and they can lose out financially because of them. But there are clear ways to organize at work around these issues: by forming unions or by standing together and fighting for legislation that ends the gender pay gap and the tipped minimum wage.

Closing the grooming gap and engaging in the struggles that will be needed to fundamentally challenge these exploitative systems—in and out of the workplace—will not be easy. But when has the fight to create the world we deserve ever been easy?

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on January 2, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.

Caster Semenya gets reprieve from discriminatory regulations, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be

Wednesday, June 5th, 2019

On Monday, news outlets around the globe ran headlines reporting that South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya won an important court battle. The two-time Olympic champion in the 800 meters had filed an appeal last week to challenge the Court of Arbitration in Sports’ (CAS) ruling that she must artificially lower her testosterone levels in order to compete in her best events.

The Swiss Federal Supreme Court (SFT) provided Monday’s announcement on the matter, ruling that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) would have to temporarily suspend its testosterone regulations for Semenya, while her appeal awaits decision. As such, she is currently permitted to participate in competition without having to self-administer hormone treatments.

But while these headlines provide an optimistic spin on these events, they hardly paint a realistic picture.

First of all, the suspension of CAS’s ruling is very temporary — right now, it only lasts until June 25, 2019. Furthermore, this three-week grace period only applies to Semenya. Any other women with naturally-occurring levels of testosterone above five nanamoles per liter (nmol/L) are still required to undergo medical treatment to artificially suppress their testosterone levels if they want to compete in IAAF events from 400 meters to a mile.

It’s fair to say that this decision has left athletes more perplexed than ever.

“There’s widespread confusion and even panic among athletes and coaches about whether they can compete, at what level, and what this implementation means for them,” Dr. Katrina Karazis, a senior visiting fellow at Yale University’s Global Health Justice Partnership and co-author of Testosterone: An Unauthorized Biography, told ThinkProgress.

Semenya has been battling the IAAF for the right to run in the body she was born in for 10 years now, ever since she first burst onto the scene at the 2009 World Championships. In May, CAS upheld the ability of the IAAF to target athletes with disorders of sex development (DSD). People with DSD — a condition which is commonly referred to as intersex — might have hormones, genes, or reproductive organs that develop outside the gender binary.

CAS agreed with Semenya that the IAAF regulations were discriminatory. However, the majority of the people serving on that panel endorsed the decision anyway.

“The Panel found that the DSD Regulations are discriminatory, but the majority of the Panel found that, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable, and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the Restricted Events,” the ruling states.

In her appeal, Semenya’s team argued that forcing Semenya and other women with DSD to artificially suppress their testosterone levels is a human rights violation. However, on Tuesday, the IAAF released a defiant open letter to a group of women’s rights organizations that have opposed the testosterone regulations. The letter provides a window into the IAAF’s mindset, painting the members of the governing body as angered at having their wisdom challenged. And the IAAF is not only is it doubling down on its decision, it is doing everything short of explicitly calling Semenya a man along the way.

“It is not fair and meaningful for biological women (with XX chromosomes that lead to ovaries that produce much lower levels of testosterone) to compete against men,” the letter reads.

“The challenge that the IAAF faces is how to accommodate individuals who identify as female (and are legally recognised as female) but who — because of a difference of sex development — have XY chromosomes that lead to testes that produce high levels of testosterone, and therefore have all the same physical advantages over women for the purposes of athletics as men have over women,” it continues.

It is worth noting that if Semenya competed against the men, her time in the 800 meters would not put her anywhere near even qualifying for the Olympics.

“I am a woman and I am a world-class athlete,” Semenya said in her appeal last week. “The IAAF will not drug me or stop me from being who I am.”

For now, the IAAF will have until June 25 to fight this temporary suspension. If it does not get the suspension overturned, or misses the deadline, Semenya will be able to continue to compete in her best events in the body she was born in until there is a ruling on her appeal — a process that could take a year or more, depending on the SFT’s actions.

But this narrow ruling will have consequences in the meantime, as all other women with DSDs will have to either take medication, undergo invasive surgery, or abandon events between 400 meters and one mile if they want to continue to compete against women in elite competitions. If the temporary suspension is overturned on June 25, Semenya has stated that she will not take medication or suppress her testosterone levels in any way; she plans to compete in events longer than one mile, such as the 2,000 meters.

Semenya is scheduled to compete in one event in the next three weeks, the Meeting de Montreuil outside of Paris, France, on June 11.

This article was originally published in ThinkProgress on June 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs covers sports. SportsReporter CoHost  Tennis  Mystics   

The pay gap and sexual harassment must be addressed simultaneously

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

Over the past few days, more and more men have continued to resign or at the very least publicly confront accusations of sexual harassment, and this trend shows no sign of slowing down.

On Wednesday, former President George H.W. Bush apologized for groping actress Heather Lind (with a caveat that it was an “attempt at humor“). On Tuesday, Leon Wieseltier, former literary editor of The New Republic, apologizedfor “offenses against some of my colleagues in the past” after Emerson Collective, a for-profit organization, stopped supporting Wieseltier’s project, a new magazine. On Monday, a top labor executive who led the Fight for 15 campaign resigned. Former and current Service Employees International Union (SEIU) staffers told BuzzFeed that SEIU Executive Vice President Scott Courtney had sexual relationships with young female staffers who were later promoted. Last Friday, Lockhart Steele, editorial director at Vox Media, was removed from his position after a former Vox employee, Eden Rohatensky, wrote a post on Medium that led to a company investigation. (Rohatensky did not mention Vox or anyone at Vox by name but did say “one of the company’s VPs” put his hands on them and started kissing them.)

The alleged sexual harassment and assault has ranged from the entertainment industry to the financial industry. On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Fidelity, a financial services corporation, has its own problems with sexual harassment. Also on Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that 38 women came forward to accuse Director James Toback of sexual harassment. It took a few hours for the number of women accusing Toback to double, and now, the reporter says that a total of 193 women contacted him since his initial expose.

But if companies are going to tamp down on sexual harassment, they need to do more than spend money on sexual harassment training and hope that’s enough. As Vox reported, sexual harassment trainings have become a legal precaution more than anything, and the data shows that they are not effective at lowering incidents of harassment. Trainings often help people realize what counts as workplace harassment, but they don’t actually change change their views or actions. Instead of simply holding trainings and hope they work, employers must make it clear that there is a culture of accountability and transparency for everyone, even executives and people who consistently provide results for the company — or the “rainmakers.” They also have to ask themselves important questions about the performance review process and how it determines pay, because women’s lack of economic power in their workplaces often makes them vulnerable targets for sexual harassment. Are senior employees held accountable for their biases in performance reviews?

Brit Marling emphasized this point when she told her own story about sexual harassment and a meeting with Harvey Weinstein that sounds like so many others. As in many other cases, Weinstein’s assistant said the meeting had been moved from a hotel bar to his hotel suite. When she got there, Weinstein asked her to shower with him. She left the room, but as it all unfolded, Marling said she was very aware of the power he had over her career. She wrote:

Men hold most of the world’s wealth. In fact, just eight men own the same wealth as 3.6 billion people who make up the poorer half of humanity, the majority of whom, according to Oxfam, are women. As a gender whole, women are poor. This means that, in part, stopping sexual harassment and abuse will involve fighting for wage parity.

Last year, the gender wage gap widened, according to a March Institute for Women’s Policy Research analysis. The ratio of median weekly earnings for women working full time compared to men decreased by 1.4 percent. Even improvements in the economy don’t help women get better-paying jobs, since those usually go to men, in part because of occupational segregation that pays women less when they are in fields dominated by women.

Bias in performance reviews certainly doesn’t help. Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio, a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University, shared her findings on individual annual performance reviews and bias in Harvard Business Review. Cecchi-Dimeglio found that women were 1.4 times more likely to receive critical subjective feedback, not positive feedback or critical objective feedback and that traits that were considered negative in women were often interpreted as positive in men. Where a man was considered careful for taking his time on a project, a woman was told she had “analysis paralysis.” Women’s successful performance in the office was often perceived to be the result of hard work or luck rather than abilities and skills.

Cecchi-Dimeglio said that the solution to dealing with some of these issues of gender bias include using more objective criteria, making reviews more frequent, which appeared to cut down on gender bias, and using a broader group of reviewers. A 2008 study by Emilio Castilla focused on the impact of lack of transparency and accountability on performance appraisal and performance pay.It found that employers adopting merit-based practices and policies, which are meant to motivate employees and foster a meritocracy, can actually increase bias and reduce equity in the workplace if the policies have limited transparency and accountability. The study noted that some experts on performance evaluation practices say that there should a separation of performance appraisals and salary discussion, in part because employees will focus more on the monetary amount they receive than the feedback, and managers can “manipulate performance ratings to justify salary increases” they want to give to certain employees.

Another 2012 study also reinforces the idea that transparency and accountability are central to dealing with pay inequities. Janice Fanning Madden, a Wharton real estate professor and a professor of regional science and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, looked at the gender pay gap among stockbrokers.Madden found found that women were assigned inferior accounts, so they would earn lower returns and commissions, and as a result, they would be less likely to receive support staff, nice offices, and mentors. Using information about sales transferred by management from one broker to another, she analyzed performance and found that when women had clients who had the same potential for high commissions, they produced the sales results as men. This demonstrates the need for accountability for senior executives who are as subject to gender bias as anyone else.

Ariane Hegewisch, a researcher at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research who focuses on workplace discrimination, said that although Fidelity’s performance evaluation system, which women at the company have been critical of, may appear to be fair, it is lacking accountability for senior management. Hegewisch gave an example of a common problem in businesses and organizations.

“So the section heads have been told you have the power to assess people and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of control or monitoring of what they are doing,” Hegewisch said. “There are organizations where the HR department scrutinizes what section heads do and that has an element of performance accountability for those decisions, and that seems to be missing to some extent in the Fidelity system.”

Hegewisch added, “What it is interesting about this is that it was clearly not only women who felt aggrieved by this system. It was also some men who said it was unfair and led to inequitable outcomes and to favoritism.”

When it comes to sexual harassment claims, the situation is similar, Hegewisch added. People need to know that there is accountability for senior employees and rainmakers. There also needs to be transparency so that people know why someone left the company.

You can’t have the best designed systems if the culture is not supportive or the hierarchy is not seen as supportive. It will not generate the results that you want,” Hegewisch said. “We’ve told organizations to set up external complaint lines for sexual harassment cases. And then it turns out that in some organizations, they hand it over to HR and tell them who it is and nothing happens anyway.”

Even if a company is handling sexual harassment claims well, it needs to clear to employees what happened or why someone was dismissed. Of course, there are sometimes legal barriers to companies disclosing information about someone’s misconduct.

“If you do the right thing and pretend it was for a different reason, [it matters that employees] know about it and believe this was a way the company is backing them up when something like this happens. You have to be able to communicate it and if you can’t communicate it, you’re tying yourself up,” she said.

When it comes to reporting harassment, Hegewisch said, “There has to be some proof that people can take away that this is an issue that is serious that the company takes seriously.”

That means setting up systems to keep senior managers in check, not simply setting up a training for employees on what sexual harassment is. Since 2010, harassment complaints at the federal level stagnated or slightly rose, according to recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) data. The report explained that the sexual harassment training provided over the past few decades has not been effective as a prevention tool, according to an EEOC report.

Researchers also recommend that employers try to achieve a gender balance at every level of their organization to reduce harassment and that employers need to provide assurances that people who report harassment will not be retaliated against. They need to guarantee protection against non-employer retaliation and confidentiality of complaints, when possible. The policies on how to report harassment should be clear to employees and any training on harassment should include an explanation of what constitutes employer retaliation.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on October 25, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress. She covers economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Facebook’s gender bias goes so deep it’s in the code

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

A hurricane has been brewing at Facebook.

After years of suspicion, a veteran female Facebook engineer decided to evaluate what if any gaps there were in how female and male engineers’ work was treated.

She did it “so that we can have an insight into how the review process impacts people in various groups,” the Wall Street Journal learned exclusively.

Her analysis, conducted in September, found that female engineers’ work was rejected 35 percent more than their male counterparts based on five years of open code-review data. Women also waited 3.9 percent longer to have their code accepted and got 8.2 percent more questions and comments about their work.

Only 13 percent of Facebook’s engineers are women, 17 percent across all tech roles.

The identity of the engineer is unknown, but her findings sparked a whirlwind discussion of gender bias inside the social network after it was released last year. A group of senior Facebook officials led by Facebook’s head of infrastructure, Jay Parikh, conducted their own review of the engineer’s analysis and concluded that the rejection gap was because of the engineer’s rank rather than gender.

Facebook confirmed Parikh’s findings, calling the engineer’s data incomplete, the Wall Street Journal reported. Parikh said in an internal report revealing his analysis that while the gender component wasn’t “statistically significant” it was “still observable and felt by many of you,” and urged employees to take the company’s voluntary implicit bias training.

The report is the latest incidence of the tech industry’s rampant diversity and inclusion problem. In recent years, tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Yahoo have tried to tackle this by releasing annual diversity reports, which have shown marginal improvements in racial and gender disparities.

But Silicon Valley’s gender problem goes beyond the numbers. Facebook is the second major tech company this year to have potentially damning evidence of gender bias exposed by an employee. Earlier this year, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler detailed her experiences with sexual harassment and stalled career path at the company. Fowler’s story ballooned into a media firestorm, one that Uber still hasn’t recovered from.

Neither of Facebook’s analyses and methodologies have been independently verified, but the preliminary results and Facebook’s response fall in line with how companies have previously dealt with allegations of sexism. Past surveys and studies have found that men in tech often don’t think there’s a gender problem in the industry. And when women report incidents of sexual harassment as culturally pervasive, men have said they were unaware.

Hopefully, Facebook’s voluntary bias training, which stresses bias’ impact and how to get rid of it, will become mandatory.

This post appeared originally in Think Progress on May 2, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Lauren C. Williams is the tech reporter for ThinkProgress. She writes about the intersection of technology, culture, civil liberties, and policy. In her past lives, Lauren wrote about health care, crime, and dabbled in politics. She is a native Washingtonian with a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s of science in dietetics from the University of Delaware.

Twitter Regrets Throwing Frat-Themed Employee Party

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Twitter threw a summer soiree to rival all soirees Tuesday. The microblogging site hosted a college-frat-party themed happy hour for its San Francisco employees complete with beer pong, a keg, those iconic red Solo cups synonymous with underage drinking, and a proud banner that read “TW?TT?R ?R?T H?VS?.”

News of the party spread like wildfire after a female employee posted a picture to a women in technology group on Facebook. Fraternities and greek culture have become synonymous with sexism in the tech industry, which often referred to as the brogrammer culture that caters to white males and often excludes — or is hostile toward — women and people of color.

View image on Twitter

Twitter has since apologized for the party as spokesman Jim Prosser told Fusion, “This social event organized by one team was in poor taste at best, and not reflective of the culture we are building here at Twitter. We’ve had discussions internally with the organizing team, and they recognize that this theme was ill-chosen.”

The “ill-chosen” party theme marks the latest in a series of missteps regarding the company’s handling of gender-based issues — most notably a gender discrimination lawsuit. Former software engineer Tina Huang claimed Twitter’s promotion process was biased toward advancing male employees over female employees up for the same job. Women make up less than a third of all Twitter employees — only 10 percent in tech jobs — and hold 21 percent of management positions, according to the company’s 2014 diversity report.

Twitter has been at the center of the industry’s perceived ineptitude when dealing with issues of diversity internally and when it comes to implementing policies for issues that predominantly affect marginalized communities. The company has made strides to improve its policies and image by making it easier for users to promote rape and death threats, and other instances of online harassment.

But the company continues to struggle with internal diversity efforts, namely its hunt for a new CEO. After Dick Costolo stepped down in June, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey took over as interim CEO while the company searches for a permanent, full-time replacement. (Dorsey is also the CEO for Square, an online payment system.)

So far, the preliminary candidate pool doesn’t reflect users call for more diversity. The early list of hopefuls don’t include any women or people of color. Twitter has only one female board executive, Marjorie Scardino, who was hired in 2013.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on July 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Lauren C. Williams. Lauren C. Williams is the tech reporter for ThinkProgress with an affinity for consumer privacy, cybersecurity, tech culture and the intersection of civil liberties and tech policy. Before joining the ThinkProgress team, she wrote about health care policy and regulation for B2B publications, and had a brief stint at The Seattle Times. Lauren is a native Washingtonian and holds a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s of science in dietetics from the University of Delaware.

Jane Espenson on Getting More Women in the Writers’ Room

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Alyssa RosenbergJane Espenson, in a provocative and I think important essay for the Huffington Post, argues that the key to getting more women in the writers’ rooms of television shows is actually to walk away from the idea that women have something particular to add to the conversation:

Good writers can write across the gender line. We just can. And even those who can’t have undoubtedly convinced themselves that they can. So a male showrunner, confident in his abilities and those of his male writers, is probably not wringing his hands over how he’s going to get his female characters onto the page. By advertising ourselves as female character generators, we’re trying to provide a service that no one is clamoring for. Showrunner-dude is happy creating his own female characters. Making the case that there is a deficiency he’s unaware of is probably not going to resonate with him.

Even if you get such a showrunner to hire a woman, if you suggest that female writers have a specific (and limited) purpose, you are inviting those showrunners to feel they don’t need to hire additional women writers once they have one woman in the room; they have their female character generator, their lens onto the female point of view.

And beyond that, the argument leaves us with no basis to promote the value of women on a show with few or no female characters. In fact, it provides a frighteningly sound argument for not hiring us on such a show.

I actually think, if asked, that most male showrunners would say that they’re in agreement with Jane’s initial argument, that gender is not a legitimate factor in deciding not to ask someone to join their writing staff. But I do think there’s a gap between that theoretical agreement and actually seeking out women to work on a show. Dan Harmon’s said that it took an order from NBC programming head Angela Bromstead to get him to hire more women, an experience that ultimately convinced him that he wants to work with more women in the future. And I know he’s not alone in enjoying working with women.

I believe that Jane is correct that the best, most thoughtful male and female writers can create marvelous male and female characters interchangeably, that argument can as easily bolster the status quo as it can govern a more progressive future. But no one person, male or female, has the full range of experience with their own gender, or with people of the other gender—the more kinds of experience you have in a writer’s room, the more access you’ll have to the range of human life. And I think there are a lot of men who write female characters who are best flat and at worst are ugly distortions—and that there are more men who have the opportunity to write these sorts of depictions of women than there are women who have the chance to write stereotypes of men. Those men shouldn’t get a pass, and they shouldn’t get feedback that suggests that they’re doing just fine on their own. Because they’re not.

And if there’s absolutely no reason why white males need insights from women and people of color, why should they ever bother to hire them, especially if it means giving up job slots that otherwise would go to people who look like them? I wish I trusted more male showrunners to reach out from curiosity and a commitment to pure meritocracy, but the evidence just don’t particularly support that. Every major survey of women writers in television suggests that gains in that space are not durable: a single-year spike in the number of women in writers’ rooms tends to disappear, or even go backwards, in the next.

It might not pay to offend male show-runners sense of their capacity, but abandoning the argument that women and people of color have a definitive value add due to their experiences and perspective also means giving up a positive, substantive case for getting women and people of color—not to mention people of different class backgrounds—on writing staffs. I’d love it if we could peacefully talk our way into substantive gains in employment for women in television writing. But I don’t see the path to doing that without some difficult conversations.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on March 7, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture reporter for ThinkProgress.org. She is a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com and The Loop 21. Alyssa grew up in Massachusetts and holds a B.A. in humanities from Yale University. Before joining ThinkProgress, she was editor of Washingtonian.com and a staff correspondent at Government Executive. Her work has appeared in Esquire.com, The Daily, The American ProspectThe New RepublicNational Journal, and The Daily Beast.

Employee Rights Short Takes: Supreme Court Hears Equal Protection Case, Firing For Facebook Posts May Be Illegal & More

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

ellen simon

Texas Doctor To Collect Over 10 Million On Defamation/Breach of Contract Case

The Supreme Court of Texas cleared the way for Dr. Neal Fisher, a Dallas physician, to collect his 9.8 million dollar verdict against Pinnacle Anesthesia Consultants – an anesthesia group of which he was a shareholder and founding member.

Fisher sued Pinnacle for defamation and breach of contract when Pinnacle falsely accused him of alcohol and drug abuse after he raised concerns about an increasing volume of patient complaints and questionable billing practices. In 2007, a Dallas jury unanimously rendered a verdict in his favor. Last year the court of appeals upheld the verdict.

This month, the Supreme Court of Texas issued an order declining to hear the case which means that the verdict stands. With pre and post judgment interest, it is reported that Pinnacle will have to pay Dr. Fisher somewhere in the vicinity of $10.8 million dollars. Fisher has been recognized as one of the top five anesthesiologists in the state of Texas. For more about the case, read here.

EEOC Issues GINA Regulations

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued final regulations this month for purposes of implementation of the Genetic Information Non Discrimination Act of 2008 (GINA). Under GINA, it is illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants for employment because of genetic information. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

GINA was enacted, in large part, in recognition of developments in the field of genetics, the decoding of the human genome, and advances in the field of genomic medicine. Genetic tests now exist that can inform individuals whether they may be at risk for developing a specific disease or disorder. But just as the number of genetic tests increase, so do the concerns of the general public about whether they may be at risk of losing access to health coverage or employment if insurers or employers have their genetic information.

Congress enacted GINA to address these concerns….

The final GINA rules published by the EEOC on November 9, 2010 prohibits the use of genetic information or family medical history in any aspect of employment, restricts employers from requesting, requiring, or purchasing genetic information, and strictly limits employers from disclosing genetic information. Family medical history is covered under the Act since it is often used to determine whether someone has an increased risk of getting a disease, disorder, or condition in the future. The Act also prohibits harassment or retaliation because of an individual’s genetic information. For more about  the new rules and how to lawfully comply with them read here.

Firing for Facebook Posts About Work May Be Illegal

A Connecticut woman who was fired after posting disparaging remarks about her boss on Facebook has prompted the National Labor Board to prosecute a complaint against her employer – and this is big news. As noted by Steven Greenhouse in the NY Times:

This is the first case in which the labor board has stepped in to argue that workers’ criticism of their bosses or companies on a social networking site are generally protected activity  and that employers would be violating the law by punishing workers for such statements.

Dawnmarie Souza, an emergency medical technician was fired late last year after she criticized her boss on her personal Facebook page. The Harford, Connecticut office of the NLRB announced on October 27th that it plans to prosecute a complaint against her employer, American Medical Response of Connecticut as a result of its investigation.

The NLRB determined that the Facebook postings constituted “protected concerted activity” and that the employer’s internet policy was overly restrictive to the extent that it precluded employees from making disparaging remarks when discussing the company or its supervisors.

It is not unusual for companies to have comparable policies in place as they attempt to deal with  lawful restriction of social networking by their workforce and that’s why this news made a huge impact in the employment law world this month.

Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) restricts employers’ attempts to interfere with employees’ efforts to work together to improve the terms or conditions of their workplace. The NLRB has long held that Section 7 was violated if an employer’s conduct would “reasonably tend to chill employees” in exercising their NLRB rights and that’s what prompted the complaint.

You can bet that both employers and employees will be keeping a careful watch for the decision  which is expected some time after the hearing before  an administrative law judge currently scheduled for January 15, 2011. For more about it, read here.

Supreme Court Hears Case Claiming Unconstitutional Gender Bias In Citizenship Law

The Supreme Court heard arguments in Flores-Villar v. U.S. this month, a case which challenges the constitutionality of a law that makes it easier for a child of unwanted parents to obtain citizenship if the mother is a U.S. citizen rather than the father.

Ruben Flores-Villar was born in Mexico but grew up in California. He was convicted of importing marijuana, was deported, and illegally reentered the country. In 2006, immigration authorities brought criminal charges against him. At that time, Flores-Villar sought citizenship, claiming his father was a U.S. citizen. The request was denied by immigration authorities because of  a law requiring that a citizen father live in the United States for at least five years before a child is born in order for the child to obtain citizenship. Mothers need only to have lived in the county for one year for the child to obtain citizenship.

Flores-Villar claimed a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fifth Amendment claiming that the Act discriminated on the basis of gender. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found against him and held that the law’s disparate treatment of fathers was not unconstitutional. The last time the Court considered the issue of gender differences in citizenship qualification was the case of Nguyen v. INS in which the Court upheld a law creating a gender differential for determining parentage for purposes of citizenship. Flores-Villar’s attorney argued that Nguyen was distinguishable because it was based on biological differences whereas this case was based on antiquated notions of gender roles.

There is no doubt that this will be an interesting and important decision from the Supreme Court. For more about the case, including the Supreme Court filings, read here.

This article was originally posted on Employee Rights Post.

About the Author: Ellen Simon is recognized as one of the leading  employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States. She offers legal advice to individuals on employment rights, age/gender/race and disability discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment. With a unique grasp of the issues, Ellen’s a sought-after legal analyst who discusses high-profile civil cases, employment discrimination and woman’s issues. Her blog, Employee Rights Post has dedicated readers who turn to Ellen for her advice and opinion. For more information go to www.ellensimon.net.

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