volume 41, number 2
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

Achieving Equity
By Aaron Sullivan, assistant editor

Rona Kaufman Kitchen
speaks on Job-
Protected Leave

Society’s progress toward the sometimes elusive goal of gendered equality in the workplace was under review on October 20. “Achieving Equity: Women, the Workplace, and the Law,” the second annual conference hosted by the Faculty Senate Committee on the Status of Women, met at the Gittis Student Center to explore the advances and challenges of gendered equity here at Temple and in the academic workplace generally. Key themes included the often invisible nature of discrimination today, the particular challenges women face as care-givers and mothers, the academic mission and standards of Temple University, and choices the faculty and administration face when deciding how to continue the pursuit of equity.

Law Professor Marina Angel’s keynote, “The Glass Ceiling – Now a Glass House?” explored the trials women continue to face when attempting to “have it all”: both a serious career and a growing family. Though such a path is possible for women today, it remains difficult and Angel worried about the future of the upcoming generation of young women, who she felt were largely unaware of the gender discrimination that still exists in America today and all too likely to blame themselves for the effects of societal and professional discrimination.

Angel’s address paid particular attention to the situation at Temple University. She noted the rising percentage of NTTs among the faculty, the growing emphasis on funded research, the potential threats to the tenure system, and the vulnerability of NTT and contract faculty. The final point was particularly salient, she noted, since women faculty at Temple are overwhelmingly in contract positions. In the final analysis, Angel’s perspective was, by her own admission, pessimistic. Concerned about the unrealistic expectations of her female students and the general trend of university politics and economics, her address called for greater transparency and a greater sensitivity to the iniquities that still exist and the challenges that loom in the future.

Panelist Sandra Sperino, also from the Beasley School of Law, and Natasha Abel, of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, each addressed issues of continuing discrimination in the American workplace. Abel focused on instances of sexual harassment, and her presentation provided a useful and coherent vocabulary which allows for a fuller expression of the types of harassment one can encounter. Sperino’s talk addressed the less visible issue of structural discrimination, and though from the school of law, she suggested that there was currently “no legal response” to this problem, since the legal system remains focused on issues of intent and the existence of a recognizable “bad actor.” The structural discrimination Sperino described is defined by the absence of “overt discrimination,” but nonetheless results in a low percentage of women in high-level positions. It takes the form of biased perceptions, subtle double-standards, reduced opportunities, and other minor slights which, though difficult to recognize individually, add up to a substantial disadvantage for women in the workplace. Though there are no simple solutions to this problem, Sperino heralded the power of information gathering efforts; structural discrimination, though hard to see in specific cases, appears readily in broader studies of male and female advancement.

The other panelists, Rona Kaufman Kitchen of the Duquesne University School of Law, and
Amal Bass of the Women’s Law Project, focused on the issues women face with regard to balancing workplace responsibilities with motherhood and other acts of care-giving. Kitchen detailed the workings of the federal Family Medical Leave Act, explaining both the qualifying events and the entitlements specified by the law. She went on to compare the limits of job protected leave allowed in the United States with that allowed in various other western nations; the U.S. did not fare well by comparison.

Bass focused more directly on the issues of pregnancy and motherhood, highlighting “the rights women have and the rights they need.” She paid particular attention to the legal requirement that employers offer pregnant women “equal accommodation” with other employees experiencing similar physical challenges. Bass also described the newly passed Affordable Care Act which, among other things, requires that employers accommodate women who wish to express breast milk with an opportunity to do so in a sanitary and private environment. Bass depicted the act as one recent step toward securing the rights women need in the workplace, but certainly not the final step.

The final two sessions of the conference brought a more precise look at the status of women in academia today and a focus on how the university, and society generally, can move forward. John Curtis, Director of Research and Public Policy for AAUP, presented a wealth of data which demonstrated both the current gendered balance of the academic workplace and how that balance has shifted over time. Curtis’s analysis of his many charts and graphs indicated that significant strides have been made over the past few decades. For example, more than half of university degrees at all levels, including doctorates,
are now awarded to women, and the gender gap in faculty employment has largely closed.
However, inequities still exist with regard to questions of seniority, tenure and pay, among
others. Furthermore, the long-term trends suggest that the climb toward gendered equity may be approaching a plateau well short of the summit.

Melissa Gilbert, CLA, explored how such surviving inequalities could be addressed in her aptly titled talk “Paths Toward Equity.” In short, Gilbert advocated a “gender integrated approach” that not only sought to apply standards of performance equally for both men and women but also consciously evaluated the gendered nature of those standards. Furthermore, she called for Temple to evaluate how the standards with which it evaluates its faculty relate to its mission(s) as a university. In this, Gilbert echoed some of Angel’s
earlier concerns over the apparent conflict between Temple’s quest for funding, dedication to research, and pursuit of the “Conwellian Tradition.” Gilbert, somewhat less pessimistic than Angel in her analysis, believed that these many missions might yet be viewed as synergistic rather than antagonistic.

Though most attendees came and went as their schedules allowed, a respectably sized audience remained throughout and the sessions were generally well received. Joyce Lindorff, chair of the Faculty Senate Committee on the Status of Women, assures us that another conference is being planned for next year.

The conference presenters have graciously offered to make their PowerPoint presentations and outlines available electronically for those who were unable to attend or wish to review their findings with more leisure. Please see this article on the Faculty Herald website (www.temple.edu/ herald) in order to access these rich resources.