Personal Musings on Gender Discrimination and Inequality

In so many ways, this is an amazing time of the year. It feels so peaceful and wonderful to enjoy this time before the struggle to get out in the snow and the piercing cold really settles in and the next few months feel dreary and hunched and dark. So as the semester winds down and we finish up, I find myself reading, contemplating and comparing some of the things learned this semester learned along with my choices, my life and those around me. My thoughts have drifted back to focus more on gender discrimination, harassment, the wape gap and gender inequality at work.

Gender discrimination at work is a challenging topic and how gender affects the work place and work flow is something that I am still not sure I understand even after the readings. The one thing I feel pretty sure of is that I think most of us do not really understand how gender affects them in the work place and how to change it. I have worked for a few different places and have lived in a few different states and even though I have been working for over two decades, I do not really understand entirely how my gender as a woman has affected me in the work force. I can only be pretty sure in a few ways of direct consequences and the readings suggested a few more for my contemplating.

One of the statistics mentioned this semester was that 88.50% of women believe that they have faced harassment and discrimination in the work place. I have dealt with some harassment myself and was fired when I was 23 years old and complained to a supervisor about a co-worker. One month later I was denied unemployment payments even though I had excellent performance reviews for the three years before. I took that experience very personally and only the readings that suggested that some others have been denied benefits for the same reasons suggested to me that the experience might have been more about my gender than me personally. I have managed to work pretty hard to keep to myself and to try and keep myself separate at work because I haven’t wanted trouble for myself and the only female supervisor I have ever had wasn’t a very satisfactory experience for me. I feel like my idiosyncrasies are more accepted by males and so I find that I feel more comfortable in female sparse environments. When I think back, I find that most of the harassment I have received has been from women unless it was overtly sexual… then I tend to have troubles with men. I seem to be doing very well at my current job and I work almost exclusively with men… I wonder how much of my difficulties with women has less to do with my difficulties with communication and more to do with preconceived gender roles by myself and my female coworkers.

I have also found that the gaps in my employment due to family concerns has potentially caused me some significant wage loss… although I do wonder how much of that can also be placed on my lack of easily definable job skills. I do not have a degree and have been trained by on the job or by personal study for many of my jobs. I am definitely a women working in a blue collar job- I am told I am a professional, but my work is fairly physically demanding and I have flexible changing schedules, and even though I am full time, I have very few benefits for it… even my health care comes from the medical marketplace. “Because a blue collar woman learns most of her visible skills on the job rather than in the classroom… she must undergo her training in an extremely vulnerable situation… (as such) there are few visible skills by which the entry level female blue collar worker can be assessed. In situations such as this, where there are few cues available to evaluate ability, evaluators tend to rely more heavily on external characteristics such as gender as a means for judging a worker’s competence.” When I re-read this statement, I thought about how easy it has been for other co-workers to claim my accomplishments for themselves and I can see how my communication challenges combined with that could make me look like an under-desirable employee. I found myself sad but also a more motivated to work hard to stay in the job I am in. I do not make enough, but I am comfortable and respected and that feels pretty awesome and comfortable. Having the stability and less stress makes the financial trade off worth it for me for now.

I too have thought that prejudice and discrimination against women in the workforce has been steadily decreasing over the years so the studies listed (Cox and Harquail 1991), (Stroh, Brett and Reilly 1991) were a bit of a surprise to me. I find myself wondering again how much of my experiences are very much based in my gender and less my personality, behavior, or job performance. I’d like to take more time over the break and chat with friends about this topic and their experiences and see if maybe I can develop a deeper understanding about how it affects me and the people I interact with – both male and female. That seems like a nice interesting survey to conduct. : )

Reading about occupational stereotypes and gender stereotypes in the work place held very few surprises for me. The major surprise was how much I do seem to buy into and live / make decisions based on my acceptable and assimilation of these stereotypes. I hated being a stay at home mom and felt like what I did was fairly useless and my self-esteem was very beaten during this time. In the back of my mind I do not see myself as worth much unless I do have a job and I do tend to see my wage as what my worth as a person is. I do see many occupations as being more gender specific and I can find myself surprised when I am caught in a stereotype assumption in which I have made an unconscious assumption about who someone is based on their work or title (such as doctor) and then discover the person doesn’t fit into the image I made in my mind. One thing I feel like I have picked up from the reading is that while society suggests that the genders are becoming more equal in the workforce, the confidence that women feel (myself included) in being treated as equal is pretty low and we are far more likely to be convinced that each of us is making informed and objective decisions while the organization is making subjective decisions…. I feel like all of us are making pretty subjective decisions and judgments…. We just do not seem to recognize it all the time in ourselves. I have a lot of changing in my thought processes to accomplish.

what are your thoughts and life experience on gender discrimination or harassment? How has it affected your life?

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