A Labor Day editorial: Gender inequity somehow hangs on

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted8/31/2014 1:01 AM

As Labor Day 2014 nears, it would be fair to say that women are making progress in the workplace.

The role of women is less stereotyped than it was a generation ago and certainly much less than two generations ago. A woman today is apt to have better career options and opportunities than her mother or grandmother did. The pay gap continues to be a reality but there are hopeful signs that in some cases at least it is narrowing.


It also would be fair to say that the progress has been painfully slow and that much more of it is needed.

While politics sometimes bends statistics to support vested interests, it is nonetheless clear from most analyses that women continue to average less pay than their male counterparts in almost all occupations. Beyond that, despite strides made in lower-level management, the sparsity of women in the board rooms and executive levels is startling.

Inroads are being made, but there is so much further to go.

It is difficult to say what precisely the solutions to this may be.

We suspect that these disparities are not the result solely of overt gender discrimination. In fact, while we may be unrealistically hopeful, we suspect biases probably aren't as overt and intentional as they used to be.

More likely, we think, gender inequity could result in part from more subtle stereotypes that may be deeply ingrained in, well, all of us.

There was a fascinating report that's been making its way around the Internet after first appearing in Fortune and then later in Slate. It summarized the findings of Kieran Snyder, a leader in high tech, who analyzed 248 performance reviews and found that the tone of the reviews was much more likely to be critical of female employees than of males.

The word "abrasive" came up as a criticism in several of the reviews. But always in describing women, never in describing men.

What Snyder labeled as "personality criticism" was part of the assessment of male employees in two reviews. It was part of the assessment of female employees 71 times.

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The biases suggested in Snyder's review are relatively subtle but hugely significant.

As significant, the performance assessments by female supervisors displayed the same jaundiced disparities as those by male supervisors.

The implication is that gender inequity may not solely be a matter of males safeguarding their power.

The implication is that these perceptions likely are endemic to our culture in general.

To change that, all of us must challenge our own assessments, our own expectations, our own hidden stereotypes.

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