HHS Senior Addresses Sexual Harassment and Sex-Based Underrepresentation In “Women in the Workplace” Presentation

HHS senior Molly Cook and three classmates from her gender studies class at Dartmouth College gave a presentation about women in the workplace in November.

HHS senior Molly Cook and three classmates from her gender studies class at Dartmouth College gave a presentation about women in the workplace in November.

Sexual harassment. It’s a term that is all over the national news right now, with many well known figures’ histories of sexual violation and/or misconduct becoming known to the public, including those of Hollywood figures like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, TV hosts such as Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, and politicians like Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, and candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore of Alabama. Hanover High senior Molly Cook, who is taking a gender studies class at Dartmouth College, and three of her Dartmouth classmates (Katrina Yu, Bruna Decerega, and Celine Guan) sought to examine the issue and get the audience to consider new questions while giving a presentation titled “Women In The Workplace” at Hanover High on November 7th.

The presentation covered a variety of topics, but remained rooted in a focus on sexual harassment targeted at women and certain minorities in their working environment and the its effects on the underrepresentation of women in certain professions and in leadership positions.

The students started out with a short introduction to their interpretation of the “glass ceiling,” which they defined as “the invisible barrier that prevents many women and minorities from advancing into senior and executive management positions within organizations.”

They also offered their definition of sexual harassment: “Any unwelcome sexual advance, or any physical or mental attacks… based on a person’s sex.” Decerega added that it could be a “constant source of stress… that affects both the victim and the workplace environment.” She offered a number of examples to show her point, the fact that interviews between Dartmouth alumni and prospective college students are now required to take place in public spaces after reports of sexual harassment in private homes during those interviews emerged. She also showed how widespread the issue was across many industries, ranging to the notorious accounts of Harvey Weinstein’s actions to sexual harassment by a manager at a Chipotle restaurant.

After this, Guan took center stage to discuss her findings on the underrepresentation of women in certain professions and leadership positions. She pointed towards gender disparities in higher education as one source, as saying that there are “way more guys than girls” in certain classes at Dartmouth, such as in mathematics and economics. “There are microaggressions and and biases that prevent women from advancing in early parts of education,” Guan continued; in her view, inherent biases over the involvement of women is particular areas of study were primary causes of those disparities. Guan also mentioned the “lack of mentorship for women” in many workplace environments made it harder for female workers to gain the personal experience that helps workers rise into higher positions. She added that biases held by employers (such as those that cause employers to “interpret self-advocacy as bossiness” and to have negative views on employees’ pregnancies) were holding many female workers back too. She added that one’s race can also lead to them encountering more discrimination, saying, “Black female respondents [to a survey] often said they had much less organizational support than white respondents.”

Cook used this as an opportunity to explain that the glass ceiling does not affect all women and minorities in the same way. She referred to a 2001 study by professors Stella Nkomo and Ella Bell that revealed different groups’ perceptions of the glass ceiling analogy. In it, many African-American women said that the glass ceiling was more like a “concrete ceiling,” while some African-American men used the term “brick wall”. Other analogies included a description of the glass ceiling as a “two-way mirror” by some Hispanic-American respondents and as a “broken ladder” by Asian-American respondents. She also noted a 2015 study by academics Lisa Miller and Eric Grollman that showed pervasive discrimination against transgender workers.

This led Cook to ask the audience, “How might the knowledge that there are different glass ceilings which limit different minority groups change the way we attack the problem?” One student, HHS senior Sophie Dunn, answered, “It shows that there is not one general rule for everyone… We need to be more understanding and conscious not only of one’s own biases but also of how they will affect the workplace.”

Cook went on to ask whether using the glass ceiling as a common metaphor was useful in uniting people to the cause of combatting underrepresentation of women and minorities in certain areas. Teacher Margaret Caldwell seemed to think so, citing the January 2017 Women’s March movement.

Cook finished the conversation by saying (in response to a teacher’s question about improvement) that things have still gotten better, as the number of female executives has increased in recent years. Various areas of study at Dartmouth such as engineering have also seen more female students.

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