“The universe of subtle ways that obstacles and hindrances might impact a woman’s career.”
That is how California Western’s Professor Jessica Fink defined gender sidelining in a recent interview with Sandra Guy for the cover article of the latest edition of the Society of Women Engineers Magazine.
The article, Dismantling the Glass Ceiling, explores a variety of factors that contribute to the persistence of the glass ceiling including identifying and addressing gender sidelining and re-examining the role of recruitment and hiring practices.
Professor Fink, who used the term in her Stanford Law and Policy Review article, Gender Sidelining and the Problem of Unactionable Discrimination (2018), told Guy that this phenomenon is “everywhere in virtually every working environment.”
“It’s all the non-legally actionable stuff that can get in the way of a woman’s advancement—some might be intentional obstacles, some may be unintentional,” said Fink.
Guy writes that Fink had noticed that photos of Bill Clinton accompanied several newspapers’ front-page stories about Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the first female major-party candidate for president. She also noted the controversy surrounding media coverage of U.S. Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky’s new world record and gold-medal accomplishments in the 2016 Olympics. In one newspaper, Ledecky’s wins were printed as a subheadline beneath a primary, large headline about Michael Phelps’ three-way tie for a silver medal.
Guy cites examples found in Fink’s work of sidelining in the sciences, where female scientists have sometimes not only failed to receive proper credit for their work, but also have been held to a different standard than their male peers. In the arts, female artists remain underrepresented in terms of having their work showcased by major museums, while women in the entertainment industry face different expectations than men in terms of appearance and career longevity.
And, in the corporate world, continues Guy, Fink noted that female workers often have more limited access to leaders and opportunities for growth are frequently evaluated differently from their male peers.
“We need to really take steps to strengthen the relationship between men and women at work,” said Fink responding to Guy. “I think simply recognizing this is a problem can go a really long way. It’s not going to be a magic bullet, but it’s an important first step. After all, decision-makers know they’ll have to justify their decisions, and C-suite management is comprised primarily of white men.”
Fink does not believe the workplace slights should be legally actionable, writes Guy. “It’s far too subtle of a problem,” she said. “The law is not a precise tool to deal with issues like this. A lot of these scenarios are far too nuanced to fall into that bucket. Civil rights law—specifically, Title VII, which prevents gender discrimination—wasn’t intended to address every snub you can imagine.”
Another step would be to ensure that women are hired for and promoted to leadership positions, both in the workplace and in academia, Fink said.
She noted that “placing women into positions of authority counters entrenched stereotypes regarding whether and how female employees can lead.”
Read Sandra Guy’s complete article Dismantling the Glass Ceiling, here.