International Women’s Day 2012-Are We Still Relevant?

I was recently interviewed by a reporter for the Durham College newspaper. One of the questions she asked me was, “Why is BPW still relevant today?” Good question. After all, equality for women is old news. All the battles have been won. Women are everywhere in the workplace, at least here in Canada. So what’s left to fight for? Unfortunately this is not the whole picture. Negative attitudes about women’s abilities persist in our society even today and in subtle and pernicious ways. What is worse though is that they are happening not because of overt prejudices that are easy to see and call out. They are instead being influenced by subconscious biases, biases of both men and women, of which most are not aware.
A group of prominent psychologists developed a computer program to measure such subconscious biases. The researchers chose a series of men’s names and a series of women’s names and words such as work, office, career, and words associated with the home such as children and family. As the series of words appear on the screen, one at a time, participants were asked to press the “e” key for words associated with men or work and the “i” key if they associated the word with women or family. As the participant’s worked through the list, the time it took to hit a key was measured. They were then asked to go through the list again switching; “e” for men or home and “i” for women or work. The researchers found that it took a vast majority of both the men and the women participants longer to complete the second round than the first. This is because people, both men and women, find it easier to associate men with work and women with home than vise versa. This shows the power of subconscious beliefs, judgements and associations even when they oppose our consciously held opinions. If you want to try the test yourself, log onto www.implicit.harvard.edu and take the gender/career test yourself. One of the missions of BPW is to continue to challenge such assumptions and subconscious biases. To raise our awareness of them as they cause all of us to act in ways not in our best interests.
Women still only earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn and in both 2008 and 2010, more than 30 percent of companies had no women senior officers. Women held just 6.2 percent of top earner positions at public companies in 2010. Yet companies that have a balance between the genders are found to be more profitable. Much more. Try a difference of 112% between companies that have no women and ones that have at least 30 % in their top positions. That is a significant amount of profit that companies are leaving on the table because they are not taking the promotion and leadership development of women within their company seriously.
And then there is childcare. It is wonderful to see changing areas and even nursing areas in the women’s washrooms for mothers. They were unheard of when my children were little. But there is one glaring assumption here that many have missed. Is it only mothers who go out in public with their children? What are the young fathers to do when they take their babies out in public? Where do they change the diaper? Where is their quiet space to feed her and rock her to sleep when she gets fussy? Why is it assumed that only mothers need this space? Are not men parents too? And what about daycare? What are the fathers to do with their young children while they are away at work all day?
These are just some of the serious issues that our society has yet to address properly. And until we do, BPW will still be relevant.