Gender has not gone away

Many progressive organizations, and individuals as well, are feeling so beleaguered by the current climate of austerity politics and neoliberalism in general that equity issues can get short shrift. I think, however, we ignore them at our peril. And from a union perspective, now may be a good time to seek gains that don’t have obvious budgetary implications. Though mind you, the solution recently arrived at at UBC has a clear price tag:

  • UBC gives all female tenure-stream faculty a 2 per cent raise.” James Bradshaw. The Globe and Mail (2/2/13): The initiative “comes as a result of a series of internal equity studies that found female professors of all ranks were paid $3,000 less on average, a discrepancy that could only be explained by gender after accounting for other factors.”

But there are many areas of employment practices that could better address issues of gender equity that are not so directly related to pay. An excellent opinion piece in yesterday’s NYT lays out some of the issues:

  • Why Gender Equality Stalled.” Stephanie Coontz. The New York Times (16/2/13): “Today the main barriers to further progress toward gender equity no longer lie in people’s personal attitudes and relationships. Instead, structural impediments prevent people from acting on their egalitarian values, forcing men and women into personal accommodations and rationalizations that do not reflect their preferences. The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall.”

Coontz links to a study by Jody Heymann, dean of the school of public health at UCLA, of “work-family reconciliation” acts in nearly 200 countries. Heymann’s focus is the U.S., but even a cursory glance at the study reveals that the situation here in Canada is not that much better. For example, Coontz reports that

A 1997 European Union directive prohibits employers from paying part-time workers lower hourly rates than full-time workers, excluding them from pension plans or limiting paid leaves to full-time workers. By contrast, American workers who reduce hours for family reasons typically lose their benefits and take an hourly wage cut.

Canadian workers, too.

Coontz is interested in the social and psychological repercussions of hitting those “structural impediments”, hitting the “wall”:

This is where the political gets really personal. When people are forced to behave in ways that contradict their ideals, they often undergo what sociologists call a “values stretch” — watering down their original expectations and goals to accommodate the things they have to do to get by. This behavior is especially likely if holding on to the original values would exacerbate tensions in the relationships they depend on.

A fascinating argument. Also of interest are the myriad ways in which other jurisdictions seek to affect “work-family reconciliation.”


Gender balance can make universities better.” Curt Rice. University World News (9/2/13):258: “It’s not that improving the quality of the university workplace generally will necessarily make it better for women. The truth is just the opposite: making universities better workplaces for women will improve institutional quality for everyone.”