On International Women’s Day for workplace equality women should strive for real sisterhood
My experiences with discrimination from women bosses, the Queen Bees as a graduate student
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
On March 8, International Women’s Day, women all over the world celebrate the achievements thus far and the long journey yet to achieve equality with men. International Women’s Day is all about equality, especially in the workforce. The Socialist Party of America first organized a day dedicated to women, with the first day observed in the United States in 1909. In 1910, “Luise Zietz of Germany’s Social Democratic Party” proposed at the International Conference of Working Women a day for women with Clara Zetkin seconding the motion.
First observed in Europe, the day women demanded equality politically first with suffrage and in the workplace expanded worldwide with a United Nations resolution in 1975 creating the modern International Women’s Day “celebrating the economic, cultural, political and social achievements of women,” while protesting the inequalities that remain. This year the theme is #BalanceforBetter emphasizing equality for women in their work and professional lives. Still, International Women’s Day is about “celebrating and supporting women.” As NBC News aptly put it, “The day isn’t simply a celebration — it’s a call to action for everyone to continue to push for complete gender equality.”
International Women’s Day has taken on a different and special meaning in the age of #MeToo. In the second year of the #MeToo movement over 900 women have exposed sexual assault and harassment by over 200 men in power, according to the statistics. The year 2018 was a banner year for women and has been called “the Year of the Woman,” for the historic firsts women achieved in politics and acquiring rights in third world countries that have long relegated women to inferior status stifling their rights. Of the 200 powerful men that fell, women replaced them in their posts on 54 occasions. Of the most prominent men exposed and ousted, the New York Times reported, “Forty-three percent of their replacements were women. Of those, one-third are in news media, one-quarter in government, and one-fifth in entertainment and the arts.”
In December 2017, Pew Research Center published a report entitled, “Gender discrimination comes in many forms for today’s working women,” the data was compiled just before the break out of the #MeToo movement. According to the study, 42 percent of women have experienced gender discrimination. As Pew notes, women “report a broad array of personal experiences, ranging from earning less than male counterparts for doing the same job to being passed over for important assignments.” Pew identified eight areas of discrimination.
The major form of discrimination remains the pay-gap between the genders. As Pew indicates, 25 percent, “One-in-four working women (25%) say they have earned less than a man who was doing the same job; one-in-twenty working men (5%) say they have earned less than a female peer.” Educated women experience more discrimination on the job. As Pew notes, “57% of working women with a postgraduate degree say they have experienced some form of gender discrimination at work,” while “40% of women with a bachelor’s degree” also experience discrimination. The most experience a pay-gap, among “women with family incomes of $100,000 or higher, 30% of them say they’ve earned less than a man who was doing comparable work.”
While women have surpassed men in education, they only earn 80% of what men earn for the same work according to the US Census Bureau, while the United Nations puts the global number at 77 %, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development OCED puts it at 18.2 % down from low of 17.45 % in 2014. The OCED points out, “Male median earnings are more than 20% higher than those of women in Korea, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States.” These numbers are so high, despite “Almost all OECD countries legislate to ensure equal pay for equal work regardless of gender.” According to a 2017 OECD report, entitled “The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle,” “Women’s labor force participation rates have moved closer to men’s rates over the past few decades, but in every OECD country women are still less likely than men to engage in paid work. When women do work, they are more likely to do it on a part-time basis, are less likely to advance to management positions, are more likely to face discrimination, and earn less than men. The median female worker earns almost 15% less than her male counterpart, on average, across the OECD — a rate that has barely changed since 2010.”
Only 23 percent of nations have passed laws promoting pay equality. Canada is one of them, at 18.2 % they have the “8th highest gender pay gap,” out of 43 countries surveyed, while women represent 35.5 % of all managers. Canadian women “earn 69 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2016” for all work and “an average of 75 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2016” for full-time work. Statistics Canada notes, “Pay inequality between women and men is a persistent phenomenon. According to data from the Labour Force Survey, women in Canada aged 15 and older earned $0.87 for every dollar earned by men in 2017, as measured by average hourly wages.” As Canada’s Women’s Foundation notes, “Women also make up the majority of Canada’s minimum-wage workers, and a third of working women make less than $15 per hour.”
The wage gap still exists although Canadian women are more educated than their male counterparts. According to Statistics Canada “Census of Population, the proportion of women in Canada aged 25 to 34 who had at least a bachelor’s degree rose by 25 percentage points between 1986 and 2016, from 15.7% to 40.7%.” In 2016, Statistics Canada determined that women compromise 56 % of students at post-secondary schools, colleges, and universities. However, after they graduate university with a bachelor’s degree they earn “an average of $69,063 annually” as opposed to men, who earn $97,761 annually. When Canadian women do reach the pinnacle of career they are almost never paid the same as men, with only three of the top 100 paid CEOs are women.
The second greatest form of discrimination involved competency in their job and then slights. Pew explains. “Women are roughly four times as likely as men to say they have been treated as if they were not competent because of their gender (23% of employed women versus 6% of men), and they are about three times as likely as men to say they have experienced repeated small slights at work because of their gender (16% versus 5%).” Sexual harassment is also high in the workplace, In an ABC News/Washington Post survey, 30% of women experienced unwanted sexual advances at work. In another survey, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, “35% of women said they have personally experienced sexual harassment or abuse from someone in the workplace.”
Men have long been the enemy and seen as the main reason women could not ahead in the career, enter leadership positions and break the glass ceiling. Every survey compares women’s position to that of men, looks at discrimination and harassment women experience from men. Although they are made the big bad, men are not the only ones preventing women from succeeding and getting ahead in their careers. Women have a long history seeming to enjoy tearing other women down from the mean girls in school to the gossiping, hypocrisy, and backstabbing in social situations other women can be a woman’s greatest ally or greatest foe. In the workplace, the situation is no different.
A 2017 Deloitte study proclaimed, “Women leaders are role models and mentors to other women and girls.” In 2018, only 4.8 percent of chief executives in the United States were women, 24, in 2017 there 32, the most ever. According to a 2018 Deloitte study found that women are included in only “15% of corporate boards” worldwide. However, women in leadership positions have long wielded their power, protective of their token place they hinder younger women from getting ahead and reaching their heights. University of Michigan psychologists gave the phenomenon a name calling it Queen Bee syndrome, 45 years later they are still a problem. They “described a woman in a position of authority in a male-dominated environment who treats subordinates more critically if they are female.”
In 2017, psychologists Henry Markovits, Evelyne Gauthier, Émilie Gagnon-St-Pierre, and Joyce F. Benenson conducted a study finding “High-status males invest more than high-status females in lower status same-sex collaborators.” Benenson, a psychologist based at Emmanuel College determined “women have a really hard time competing with other women.” The term is viewed as sexist claiming men share some of the responsibility. Psychology Today called “the Female Boss” as being “regarded as a cross between Cruella De Vil and Bigfoot,” and a majority of both women and men “prefer a male boss over a female boss.” These Queen Bees are a problem, we see them as Cruella De Vil types such as Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada but most do not seem to be overtly trying to thwart women’s ambitions; it is far more subtle.
Recently, as I was I doing research I came across a finding aid I wrote for the Abraham de Sola Fonds when I worked at the McGill University Archives nearly 15 years ago as a student in the Masters in Library and Information Studies program. The university must have digitalized the copy and posted it online, for years I wanted a digitalized version of the copy McGill had on file. I was shocked to see how I was barely given authorship credit my name placed at the end of a list of names of authorship. I was marked as an afterthought, not acknowledging the work I had done from the start to completion of the project.
The slight highlights the discrimination I experienced from what can be perceived as a pleasant female boss. The slight led me to think back, at my experiences when I was a graduate student in the Master's program in Library and Information Studies at McGill and how women in leadership positions in libraries hindered my career the most. Unlike most studies of women in leadership positions and the Queen Bees, librarianship is traditionally a female profession; there is no need for the protectiveness that women in business experience. I find the women bosses I encountered seemed intoxicated with their power and with behavior that countered the message and ideals of institutions they represented.
At the start, there was a female doctoral student supervisor at the McGill Rare Books and Specials Collections, who saw the younger student as a threat and used the few cataloging errors I did as a first-semester graduate student as I way to get me off the project so she could keep it to herself. There was the real Cruella DeVil type, who fired me when she forced her employees to mark in an advance the pay sheet as to when I would work and then I could not because my Mother was sick. She did this although she had been battling a serious illness. As further punishment for my “unprofessionalism” at the old age of 23, she made sure to blacklist me at the university library with her friend who was in charge of hiring, although I offered to make up the time in the new semester.
In my second year, I desperately wanted a coveted reference position that was the stepping-stone to entry academic reference position. Being the only one with an art history degree in my class at the Department of Library of Information Studies, I hoped I would land a spot as one of the two students chosen for reference positions in the Blackader-Lauterman Library of Art and Architecture. I was excited for my interview only to have one of the most embarrassing experiences of my young career by the hands of a much older and experienced female director of the art history library.
In what was an otherwise routine interview about my skills, degree and work experience. The director referred to me being a volunteer research assistant to a male professor at the university since my undergraduate days. She patted my knee twice and told me if I stopped associating with the professor, I could have the job. What she did would be called sexual harassment, slut-shaming, character assassination, and any other trendy term to deny me a job because she made an assumption without any proof that I was involved with a professor.
We often make assumptions about women and men working together or being friends that there has to be the sexual aspect. Case point, the recent social media innuendo surrounding Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s Oscar performance for their Best Original Song “Shallow” from their movie A Star is Born that their performance proved something more was going on between the two actors. As bad as these assumptions are in the entertainment industry it’s even worse in academia, where every young woman seems suspected of sleeping her way anywhere in her career. I refused to give in to the director’s pressure but I was not strong enough to report it. In the end, she gave the jobs to two other students that had never even taken one course in art history never mind possessed a major and spent their undergraduate years researching in that same library.
In my last semester in the Masters in Library and Information program, I wanted more experience in archives and I embarked on a student position in the university archives. I was given a project to catalog and create a finding aid for the Abraham de Sola-Evelyn Miller Fonds. Miller, an amateur historian and volunteer archivist collected copies of documents related to early Canadian and American Jewish history and of her great-grandfather Abraham de Sola (1825–1882). De Sola was the leader of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Shearith Israel in Montreal and a professor of Hebrew and Oriental Literature at McGill, he was a rabbinical authority. His sons Mendola, Gershom and Clarence succeeded his influence in the Montreal and Canadian Jewish community, with Mendola continuing his father’s position at Shearith Israel and Clarence was the founder of the Zionist movement in Canada.
From February to August 2004, I cataloged every item, document, copied and original, photos and research notes the late Evelyn Miller had collected, a treasure in early North American Jewish history. The experience and my long interest in Jewish studies and Jewish history from my days in Montreal Jewish day school experience prompted me to apply and be successfully accepted to the Masters in Arts in Judaic Studies program at Concordia University. I originally wanted to write my Master’s thesis on Clarence de Sola and Canadian Zionism but was deterred by a mentor. My work on the archival collection led to an exhibition, which I organized and curated with the archives director, which was held in the Redpath Museum in June 2004. Up until that point, the project and exhibition was my greatest professional achievement.
I found out that spring when I handed in my pay slip with my hours and pay rate, which was $9 an hour that my peer, that a female classmate in the Library and Information Studies program also working at the archives was earning double than me, $18 an hour. In 2004, in the province of Quebec were McGill is, the minimum wage was $7.45, at a university with a Bachelors degree and at the cusp, at receiving a Masters Degree and two months after it was granted I was being paid just $1.55 above the minimum wage. We were equals yet I was earning half her salary for the same work. She was just one year older than I was, had just a bachelor’s degree in history besides the current degree we were pursuing. The only difference was that she had taken a few more archives courses than me but as I learned, the hard way in my attempt for the art history reference post, credentials do not matter.
We talk about the difference in pay rates between men and women in the workforce who have the same education and experience and are outraged we should feel the same way even its two women not being paid equally for equal work. I went to archives director another woman and she gave me what now seems like unrealistic reason, individuals funded the projects, there were just not enough funds to pay me more. It was her choice to pay two women with the same experience for the same work such a difference, I cannot believe McGill would have agreed had they known. It was discriminatory plain and simple and violated the Canadian Human Rights Act, which guarantees pay equity. When the director told me there were no funds to pay me beyond July, I stayed on and even worked for two and a half weeks at the end of the project in August without pay to complete the project. Her excuse was an absurdity in a rich university like McGill, who helps their students and recent graduates with jobs all the time.
Now 15 years later with the published finding aid posted on McGill’s website, I discovered there was money to pay someone to work on the project, just not to pay me, not even for the time I spent on it. Despite my work throughout and a successful exhibit, favoritism was in play, the other female student continued on to edit the project and then received starring credit for the finding aid leaving me without even the credit I was due. Denying credit is a faux-pas not only in the work world but it happens more often but especially in the academic world, where taking credit away from an author and giving it to another is akin to plagiarism.
At the same and indirectly linked, I applied for the archivist position at the Jewish Public Library. The previous summer I had an internship at the library as part of a Canada Works grant, cataloging their Jewish Canadiana collection, I was told it would take two years more to complete it; I completed a first run of the cataloging that summer, in just over two months. In the rush to apply for jobs as graduation approached, I handed my application at the Jewish Public Library to the director, who flat out told me I would not get the job because I did not have enough Jewish Studies education, as the ad said the position required.
Apparently, going through the Jewish day school system, graduating fluent in Hebrew, taking a Jewish Studies major in addition to my CEGEP degree (Quebec junior college), and winning a scholarship for my marks. Taking Jewish studies courses as part of my Bachelor’s degree in university, then being accepted into a graduate degree program Judaic Studies and being offered a fellowship in Canadian Jewish Studies was not enough. I later discovered my female colleague, who earned double I did at the McGill University Archives received the job. Ironically, the Jewish Studies requirement was just a means for discrimination, the colleague was not Jewish but more importantly, she did not have any Jewish Studies education, language requirements or was even from the Montreal community. I am not claiming to be the most qualified, I knew someone in our class, a Jewish man our age that was more qualified for the position because of his better language skills but the woman director chose to lie and discriminate in her reasons for not hiring me or even wanting to consider me for the position.
I look back at my professional experiences while a graduate student and see how much the women in leadership positions were so possessive of their power they either hindered, discriminated or elevated those they preferred. Their actions were no less ruthless than the men who are always demonized. In fact, male bosses rather than women have helped me more in my career. In an ideal world, more women in leadership positions should want to cultivate the next generation of women to succeed rather than hoard their success. There should be a sisterhood but even the Women’s March’s leaders are rife with discrimination, anti-Semitism, racism, and homophobia. Until women help other women succeed, there cannot be equality we have to deserve it. In the next year instead of just plotting the downfall of powerful men, women should strive to be positive, help their fellow sisters and most importantly be kind.
Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA in History and Art History and an MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in Judaic Studies at Concordia University. She is the author of “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” and contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is a journalist, librarian and historian and a former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She has over a dozen years of experience in education and political journalism.