Pew Research Center (Parker & Funk, 2017) reported on research into gender-based discrimination in the workplace. That report indicated that working women are significantly more likely than working men to experience such discrimination.
The Pew report made the usual error of limiting its inquiry to forms of potential discrimination that matter especially to women. This post provides a brief illustration of the illogic at work in such research.
Pew reported particularly significant differences between men and women on the questions of whether the employee has experienced these things, on the job, because of their gender:
- Earned less for doing the same job
- Treated as if not competent
- Experienced repeated, small slights
- Received less support from senior leaders
- Been passed over for the most important assignments
This post does not explore the bias introduced by survey questions that cue people to respond in a manner consistent with their gender. Another post discusses that, and other aspects of the Pew research, in more detail.
The focus here is only on these female researchers’ elementary error in calculating the degree of workplace sexism, as a whole, based solely on criteria that would tend to be of concern primarily to women. That is, Pew substantially failed to inquire into forms of gender-based discrimination that would be of concern primarily to men. Here are some male-oriented possibilities that the researchers might have presented to male and female employees, with the question of whether they had experienced these things from colleagues and/or superiors in the workplace:
- Asked or expected to handle physically dangerous or difficult tasks
- Given less latitude to depart from meetings or other tasks without explanation
- Expected to work longer hours or to be more available
- Not given the same family-related scheduling flexibility or leave benefits, or being disadvantaged or abused for considering or exercising such benefits
- Ridiculed, excluded, shunned, or otherwise disadvantaged or abused by individual colleagues of the opposite gender, or by a clique composed primarily of colleagues of the opposite gender
- Workplace environment more supportive of clients of the opposite gender
- Corporate policies, training sessions, or other materials providing unequal attention to concerns of the opposite gender
- Treated as potentially dangerous to employees of the opposite gender
- Unequal scrutiny of gender-appropriate interest in persons of the opposite gender
- Received disapproval rather than support when expressing emotion
- Observed a colleague of the opposite gender being hired, retained, supported, or promoted due to supervisor’s sexual interest
- Expected, by supervisors or colleagues, to pursue workplace opportunities to earn money for the benefit of a nonworking spouse or partner
- Subjected to sex-based anatomical disparagement (e.g., general workplace acceptance of references to someone being called “a dick” or “a prick” vs. someone being called “a cunt” or “a twat”)
- Assumed, in the case of a supervisor or senior employee, to be more likely to be predatory or exploitative
- Being ignored or ridiculed when complaining of unwanted physical threat or contact (by a supervisor or colleague of either gender)
- More likely to receive belittling treatment (e.g., considered weak or confused) and/or less likely to be believed or taken seriously when objecting to any of the foregoing.
Harvard Business Review (Cassino, 2016) exemplifed the last point with the extreme claim that there is “no evidence” that men face gender discrimination. Cassino said, for example, that he could not understand why men might disproportionately oppose laws mandating employer coverage of parental leave — which, while potentially costing all employees, would obviously tend to be enjoyed by women, including some who would exploit the opportunity to its maximum expense (see e.g., Scheiber, 2015).
It was perhaps not surprising that Kim Parker and Cary Funk, the two women responsible for the Pew study, would fail to recognize the anti-male bias of their research. It was no less predictable that Gillian White at The Atlantic (2017) would swallow that research whole, with nary a critical thought. For instance, White did not pause to consider why Parker and Funk would find that “reports of discrimination increased significantly for women with postgraduate degrees.” White was content to settle for the non-explanation that this outcome was “counterintuitive.”
But, if we can pause to help White do her job, it actually should not be too hard to think of reasons why women with graduate degrees — women like Parker and Funk, for instance — might be more likely to complain of discrimination in the workplace than women who do not have graduate degrees (summarizing, here, a more extended discussion in the other post):
- Women who have been marinated in feminist ideology for years in graduate school may be more likely to invent or exaggerate perceived sexism.
- As either cause or effect, people who have spent so many years in college and grad school, commonly entailing repeated relocations from one university or city to another, are typically less able and willing to invest in solid and enduring human relationships and, as such, may have a reduced ability to understand and care about the perspectives of people unlike themselves.
- Extensive exposure to academia may inculcate argumentative values: it may seem ethical to spew every half-credible accusation, in situations of potential conflict, and expect others to sort out the truth.
- People who go to grad school tend to be competitive, which sometimes translates as “insecure.” That is, individuals with graduate degrees may be more likely to seek excuses for their career shortcomings — and articles like White’s certainly do help to make sexism a convenient excuse for elite female students who are not keeping up with elite male students.
- People tend to seek graduate degrees due to ambition, and as such may be more likely to make immoral decisions that suit their own purposes, such as taking advantage of the opportunity to inflate and exploit claims of sexist treatment leading, overall, to certain advantages for women in the workplace.
- Women with graduate degrees may be more sensitive because they have been more victimized. That is, allegedly liberal graduate professors, proclaiming their support of women, may actually be taking greater sexual advantage of women who are relatively younger, less likely to be married, and/or more tightly bound to this one career opportunity, compared to most women in the working world.
- Some women in graduate school are probably quite willing to accept and exploit sexual opportunities for improved grades that are not open to their male clasmates — but then, after the fact, due perhaps to conscience, or perhaps to a perceived opportunity to milk the situation for further advantages, such women may reinterpret their experience as victimization.
The point is not that any of those possibilities is true. We won’t know without relevant research, which I am not going to explore here. Instead, I will now hand White’s job back to her, with the suggestion that she try harder next time. It was dismaying that a person in her position would accept uncritically a sexist conclusion that she, herself, realized did not make a lot of sense.
The general point is that these sorts of so-called researchers and reporters perpetuate a deeply ingrained societal tendency to subject men, as a whole, to levels of abuse far more pervasive and destructive than those which women endure. Such sources endorse the assumptions that of course men should be the ones to do the heavy lifting, metaphorically as well as literally, and that they are brutes offensive to female sensibilities. It is not a far reach, from there, to the longstanding female endorsement of crushing prison sentences for men and wartime sacrifice of male lives. In short, the most palpable sexism uncovered in such articles is that perpetuated by these privileged and biased researchers and writers — and, not incidentally, by men who find it personally advantageous to say what such women want to hear.