by Paula Kavathas, Associate Chair of Academic Affairs, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Professor of Laboratory Medicine, Immunobiology and Genetics, WFF Steering Member
Gender parity encompasses not just equal opportunity but equal treatment. An important piece of legislation was the NIH Revitalization Act PL103-43 passed in 1993 that mandated the inclusion of women and minority groups as subjects in clinical trials. The justification of the legislation was that “Because research was to provide scientific evidence leading to a change in health policy or standard of care, it was critical to determine whether the intervention or therapy being studied affected women, men, or members of minority groups differently” (National Institutes of Health (NIH) website). Previously women and minority groups could be excluded as subjects in clinical trials. In some instances, the recommended dosages for drugs that were tested on men only were not appropriate for women. This legislation was possible in part by the increasing influence of women in the congress and in society.
For more on gender inequality and medicine, see The Drug-Dose Gender Gap in The New York Times today.
In a recent New York Times article by Steven M. Davidoff titled, “Seeking Critical Mass of Gender Equality in the Boardroom” from September 11, the author points out that “[t]here’s a remarkable lack of women in corporate boardrooms around the world.” That women are missing from many corporate boardrooms is incontrovertible. This begs the larger question of why do we need women represented in these spheres? – the corporate world, academia and politics. Why aspire to gender parity? Why do we need to have women included in the public sphere? What does the inclusion of women’s voices bring to the table, the boardroom, the classroom?
Here at Yale women are still only 24% of the total tenured faculty across the university and women of color comprise 4% of the total tenured faculty. This while our undergraduate student population hovers around equal numbers of men and women. We all benefit from being part of teaching, learning and working environments that reflect our diverse world.
In democratic societies we depend on the representation of multiple voices. And democracy hinges on inclusion and the recognition of diversity and by design seeks to provide equal opportunity for all. In March 2012, we organized a conference at Yale entitled Parity as Practice where participants discussed definitions of parity and how it operates in different domains and cultures around the world. The aspiration for gender parity should not rest on the outcome of whether the inclusion of women on corporate boards or politics or academia produces results that are helpful or conducive to women. Women, just like men, are not a monolithic group; one woman cannot speak for all and there is richness in inclusion of a plurality of voices. The reason for inclusion of women is that they are half the world and therefore deserve a place at the table, every table in fact.
As the current chair of WFF, I invite you all to share your thoughts, ideas and perspectives on this question as the inaugural theme for our blog.
by Allison Tait, 2011-2012 WFF Postdoctoral Associate
Priya, in her post, notes that women “are half the world and therefore deserve a place at the table, every table in fact.” Democracy is a strong and cogent rationale for demanding gender parity. And fulfilling the promise of democratic equality for all groups, including women, has always been this country’s challenge. The fact that women constitute less than a third of many powerful groups – 31% of federal district judges, 24% of Yale’s tenured faculty, 20% of the U.S. Senate, and 3.6% of the Fortune 500 CEOs – represents a significant democratic deficit and an artificial state created through discriminatory law and social practices.
Bridging this democratic deficit by increasing the numbers of women in the public sphere has been a major undertaking for feminist progressives in the last half-century – with many good results. Title VII has helped women succeed in the workplace, chipping away at hiring and promotion practices that keep women out of work or working in what are perceived to be gender-appropriate (and lower-paying) jobs. Title IX has guaranteed women access to certain education rights. Awareness and regulation of sexual harassment in the workplace has brought change and liberalized family law has equalized household power, giving women more rights and bargaining power within marriage.
by Kimberly George, 2012-2013 WFF Postgraduate Associate
One utilitarian argument for gender parity is that we need the expertise and contributions of all genders in order to create organizations that flourish. In other words, not to aspire to gender parity—or, just as importantly, equality based on race, sexuality, class and multiple forms of ability— inevitably means the loss of talent in our institutions.
I find this argument persuasive, but I also want to slow it down for a moment and examine a small piece of the psychology of how talent is lost in hierarchical environments that lack diversity. Within this how might be clues as to the human costs at stake when we we fail to create more equal spaces for a multiplicity of identities.
To begin with, let me suggest that not only do environments without parity miss out by not using the existing skills and expertise of significant portions of the population, they simultaneously set up a system in which much of the talent is not seen, named, or nurtured in the first place. Said another way, unequal systems don’t “mirror” back equal possibilities to all people. Instead, certain positionalities and ways of being in the world are mirrored back as legitimate and powerful, while others are marginalized and overlooked.