WCW Blog

The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

Women's Soccer and the New Feminist Power

soccer ball

Women's Soccer and the New Feminist Power

We are in a fresh feminist moment, highlighted thanks to FIFA. Hang with me while I explain.

It is obviously ridiculous that the payout to the U.S. Women’s Soccer team for the World Cup victory is $2 million; the German men got $35 million last year. The $2 million is almost cute, considering it’s the same amount as the alleged bribe paid FIFA exec Jack Warner for his vote to make Qatar the 2022 World Cup site.

For a long time money has measured worth. I’m sure Warner, former FIFA President Sepp Blatter, and others could prattle on about why women don’t deserve a big payday: women’s sports are not big time. When you consider low ticket prices, turf fields (rather than grass), shabby player treatment (competitors stuffed into the same hotels and practice venues), it hardly looks like the big-money (men’s) World Cup event of July 2014.

For years, FIFA has treated the Women’s World Cup as an afterthought. When the U.S. women last won, in 1999, there was so little publicity that people only found out because Brandi Chastain whipped off her jersey, spurring debate about whether it was appropriate to show a sports bra in public.

Things are changing. The fashion forward will note that bras have officially become shirts (now they’re called “bralettes.”). The Women’s World Cup final became most watched televised soccer game in U.S. history. Commemorative t-shirts are selling out online. Carli Lloyd could earn $2 million (that number again!) just in commercial deals following her hat trick in the first few minutes of the game, the fastest ever in World Cup history.

Suddenly, rather than looking powerful, FIFA looks dumb and stale. For guys with a nose for cash, they are leaving a lot of it on the table. (You can’t watch a replay of Lloyd’s half-field goal online without viewing a commercial first.)

There is a big problem with the economics of how women are paid in sports (and elsewhere), which FIFA is helping to make obvious. I don’t want to say that money doesn’t matter (it does), but the U.S. women are playing out their power in a fresh feminist image that is a celebration of female skill and dominance. The effect is to make low wages look absurd. In much the same way that women have quietly come to own college campuses and advanced degrees, female athletes are demonstrating their clear-headed brilliance.

This isn’t about anger. It’s about proficiency—on the field and off. The U.S. Women’s World Cup win comes at a moment when “feminist” is no longer a dirty word among the under-thirty somethings. It comes as muscular Serena Williams is proving to be so dominant that I caught ESPN talking heads debating the other day if she might be the greatest athlete of all time. Who was it? LeBron, Michael, or Serena?

We have reached this moment through an interesting détente between old-time feminists and young women. We have don’t have to choose between sport girl or girly-girl: I saw an eight-year-old at a men’s soccer game wearing a party dress—and cleats. This new feminism is about pink and sparkles and mettle, all at the same time. It is Serena tough. U.S. women driven. Amy Schumer sarcastic. And Taylor Swift nice.

Pop star Swift, like the U.S. women’s soccer team, has amassed a base of girl fans and built an empire by reaching out and preaching friendship, self-respect, and girl-to-girl support. She has embraced stuff that is sweet: cats and cookie baking. But don’t be fooled. She was the one who forced Apple to change its payment policy to artists by threatening to withhold her album 1989 from iTunes (Apple fussed, then caved). That is power.

So when Swift invited the Women’s World Cup team to the stage before 60,000 fans during her concert at MetLife stadium following the team’s ticker tape parade in New York City, it was a visual demonstration of the new feminist might. It was women reaching out to one another and recognizing that success in one venue amplifies value in another. The bedazzled love—and support—suits them both. Blatter once famously said that the only way to get people interested in women’s soccer was for the players to don very short shorts. Now, he—and FIFA—just look out of touch.

Laura Pappano is writer-in-residence at Wellesley Centers for Women, a journalist who frequently contributes to the New York Times, and author of several books including Playing with the Boys: Why Separate in Sport is Not Equal>

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Equal Pay Day & A Woman's Worth

78centsEqual Pay Day & A Woman's Worth

April 2016 Update: The wage gap cited has improved by 1% point since this article was originally posted in April 2015.

What is a woman worth? On Tuesday, April 14, 2015, we celebrate Equal Pay Day, a day to acknowledge the continuing gap in wages between women and men. By now, we are all familiar with the statistics – women employed full-time, year-round earn only 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. While some of this gap is attributable to differences in worker’s education, training or experience, about 40% of the pay gap can be attributed to discrimination.

What does this familiar narrative mean for individual women? Let’s start with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). While girls have closed the gap with boys in high school science and math, women are losing ground in engineering and computing. While Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, recommends leaning in, Gamergate reminded us of the challenges and open hostility that women can face in tech fields.

Over one-third of women are employed in the health and education fields; four of the top 20 occupations for women in are these fields--elementary and middle school teachers, secondary school teachers, registered nurses, and nursing and psychiatric aides. Even in these heavily female occupations, men outearn women. For example, “males in nursing outearned females by nearly $7,700 per year in outpatient settings and nearly $3,900 in hospitals.”

blogpullquoteEqualPayService occupations, such as maids and housekeeping cleaners, personal care aides and child care workers, are the lowest paid of all broad occupational categories. This disproportionately affects the earnings of women of color; while 16% of all women work in service occupations, 24% of Black women, and 27% of Latinas, are employed in service occupations.

How do we fix this? There are a few proposals on the table right now that would go a long way to address this gap. First, raising the minimum wage would affect women who are disproportionately employed in low-wage occupations. Second, ensuring equal pay for work of equal value, and putting teeth into the Equal Pay Act, would reduce wage discrimination [link ]. Third, providing paid parental leave for all workers would make it possible for mothers with young children to stay competitive in the labor force, and for parents to participate equally in raising their families. Wouldn’t it be great if we never needed to celebrate Equal Pay Day again?

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Wellesley College.

April 2016 Update: The wage gap cited has improved by 1% point since this article was originally posted in April 2015.

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Valuing the Ideological Roots of Women’s Athletics

Feb6ImageValuing the Ideological Roots of Women’s Athletics

Did those female gym teachers back in the early 1900s actually have it right? No one wants to return to bloomers and half-court basketball, but the coalition of female physical educators who ran women’s sports and fought takeover by the NCAA (which took control of women’s college athletics in 1980) were onto something. Their message--that sport should be about self-development, social skills, and fair play--sounds pretty great right now.

They found competition unseemly (that's a problem), but their broad recognition of college sport as a life and community-building pursuit is worth a reprise given the mess that has become the NCAA-led college sports world.

Right now we’re in the midst of soul-searching about what college sports should look like. A spate of lawsuits ask about the “student” status of student-athletes and whether they should be paid. Last month, the five wealthiest conferences--Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific-12, and Southeastern--began a new era of freedom from many NCAA rules, gaining leeway to give more money to players. Where will this go? Will more universities develop athletes instead of scholars? (Some already do.) Will only marquis players get extra money? Will non-revenue-producing sports look expendable in a more commercialized environment?

The Knight Commission recently polled DI college leaders on their interest in exploring alternative models for competition and administration for some sports. Ambivalence won: 43 percent of respondents were interested; 37 percent weren’t. There’s a lot to figure out--and little consensus on where to go.

The college sports debate, let’s be clear, is a male conversation. It is ruled by big-time sports--football and men’s basketball--and the economic disruption they have created in the academic system. This is about competition and money. No wonder Cardale Jones, the third-string quarterback who just led Ohio State to the inaugural National blogpullquote WomensAthleticsChampionship, was confused when he arrived on campus. His 2012 tweet: “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”

If Cardale did not come to “play SCHOOL,” why should Ohio State--or any big time program--be other than a semi-pro team? While we’re here, what role should college football--with it's concussion and brain damage record--even have in higher education? The conflicts are moral, but dollars will rule.

The gym teachers saw athletics as integral to school; the problem today is precisely that they are not. High-powered programs with big revenues (most lose money, but a handful make a bundle) operate as independent commercial enterprises. The wealthy programs pay coaches what their peers in the NFL and the NBA earn. (Sometimes more!) Cardale Jones does have a point: He was brought to play football and bring money and success to the program. You can’t blame players for wanting to be paid. But is this the point of college sports?

As we celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day, we typically cite participation statistics and recognize how far women have come. But we ought to value the ideological roots of women’s athletics, not as a shameful past of milk-and-cookies patsy play (though it was some of that), but for the wisdom of recognizing the hornet’s nest of unbridled high-stakes competition on what should be the virtues of athletics play in a college environment. The athletic field offers lessons in teamwork, leadership, persistence, skill-development, problem solving.

A study I did with colleagues Allison Tracy, Ph.D. and Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. showed that this message is getting lost. We gave 828 college recruiters a detailed survey to explore how they valued varsity sports experience in judging candidates for entry-level corporate jobs. They saw the obvious--college athletes excelled at teamwork, which they considered a key trait--but did not recognize skills such as time management and organization required to play college sports. Interestingly, they did not rate male or female athletes differently.

Anyone who has called herself an athlete recognizes the personal benefits of sport. Money has become a spoiler in the conversation (heck, Olympic athletes are not “set” financially--far from it). It’s time to see that the payoff of college sports can come without ESPN “Game Day,” academically questionable athletes, or coaches paid far more than the university president.

Find that value on women's teams, in locker rooms, and at games that garner little attention, but build durable skills. Sure it’s embarrassing to recall a beauty “Queen of the Court” crowned at halftime or college contests that mixed opposing players to limit competition and hard feelings. But maybe the men steering the future of college sports should consider the great goods that women and girls have been bringing to the games they play--for years.

Laura Pappano is the writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College and an experienced journalist who writes about education and gender equity issues in sports.

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Is Stress Making Us Sick?

pensivewomanIs Stress Making Us Sick?

Recently, NPR, with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health, released a poll that found that one-quarter of Americans reported that they had experienced significant amounts of stress in the previous month. That level of stress is similar to levels found in earlier polls. But is this much stress making us sick? The poll found that 70% of people experiencing high levels of stress reported that they were sleeping less--not getting enough sleep can negatively affect health. Other research tells us even more about the possible health consequences of too much stress and our capacity to cope with it. One of the top three sources of stress in the NPR poll, for individuals reporting high levels of stress, was stress from work problems. We know that jobs that are very stressful, with too much to do, can contribute to health problems, but only when those demands or challenges are not offset by the resources and authority to make decisions about the work. In fact, jobs that are very challenging--and in which workers have the authority and resources they need--are good for our health. The bad jobs are those with heavy demands that you can’t address or that never end--or those jobs that have no challenge whatsoever, that involve repetitive or boring work, with no say over what work gets done when. Not surprisingly, in the NPR poll, people in lower-paid jobs, with annual incomes under $20,000, reported more stress from work problems than did those with incomes of $50,000 or more (64% of low-income individuals reported work stress, compared to 57% of higher income people).

Another factor in whether stress makes us sick is whether the stress is chronic or from a single event. Certain life events are very stressful, such as the death of a loved one or divorce; one-in-six people reported that the most stressful event in the previous year was the death of a loved one, and fewer than one-in-ten reported a life change or transition, such as divorce, was the most stressful event. However, ongoing stressful conditions, such as chronic health problems, being a single parent following divorce, or poverty, are more likely to blogpullquoteStressMakingUsSickwear away at our health and wellbeing. The NPR poll found that individuals with a chronic illness were more likely to report high stress in the previous month (36% compared to 26% overall), as were individuals living in poverty (36%) and single parents (35%). These chronic stressors tax our abilities to cope with stress. For those individuals with high levels of stress, problems with finances was one of the main sources of stress, and this was especially true for those living in poverty (70% reported financial stress), those with disabilities (64%) or in poor health (69%), and for women (58%, compared to 45% for men). Chronic stress can lead to wear and tear or allostatic load, which can suppress immune function and lead to susceptibility to disease.

The other major contributor to stress, according to the poll, was having too many responsibilities overall. While this can mean different things to different people, it’s interesting to note that women were more likely than men to say that this was one of the reasons they were so stressed in the previous month. One life situation that can give us that overload feeling is combining employment with raising a family. While many men and women find that combination to be beneficial – would you give up your family or choose to stop working? – there are circumstances when the combination can be a negative. Women and men can experience strain from the stresses of too much to do at work and at home. However, because women tend to spend more time in family labor than do men, women with young children and not enough support or resources at work or at home are particularly at risk.

Poverty, bad jobs, too many responsibilities— these can all contribute to poorer health; these stressors are not randomly experienced by everyone, but rather fall more heavily on those with less advantage and opportunity in their lives. In a 2010 review of the latest research on stress and health, Peggy Thoits argued that the greater exposure of members of less-advantaged groups (women, race-ethnic minorities, lower-income and working class individuals) to chronic or high stress was one of the reasons that we find poorer health among women, race-ethnic minorities, lower-income and working class individuals. There are many possible responses to this reality, but central to that must be recognizing the health consequences of high levels of stress and addressing some of the underlying stressors, such as inequality and injustice.

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Wellesley College.

 

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Enough with the Excuses—Corporate Boards Need Women

womenboardsEnough with the Excuses—Corporate Boards Need Women

The controversy surrounding lack of women on Twitter’s board of directors as it is going public with an IPO, has rekindled interest in diversity on corporate boards. In research conducted at the Wellesley Centers for Women, my colleagues Vicki Kramer, Alison Konrad and I showed that having a critical mass of three or more women improves board governance. Catalyst (2007) and McKinsey (2012) subsequently reported that companies with diverse executive boards enjoyed significantly higher earnings and returns on equity. When there is a business case to be made for greater diversity on boards, the usual excuse is that there are too few qualified women, buttressed by the small number of female CEOs. But let’s look at the facts: not all male board members are CEOs. A board needs diversity in professional expertise as well as gender, race, and nationality. People making excuses for high tech companies’ lack of female board members point to the small numbers of women majoring in computer science. Again, not all male board members of high tech companies have technology backgrounds. In fact, most blogpullquoteRuralAfricamembers of Twitter’s board members have undergraduate degrees from liberal arts colleges: one has a degree in English; another in Asian Studies. Couldn’t female experts in entrepreneurial management, intellectual property law, investment management contribute, for example, contribute positively within such a governance structure? It was smart of Twitter to include diversity of educational and work experiences on its board. Twitter (and all corporations) needs to stop making excuses and go for greater diversity, by including female, minority, and international members on its board.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. is an associate director and senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College where she studies women's leadership and co-led the Critical Mass on Corporate Boards study.

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Reflections on the March on Washington

Reflects on the March on Washington:

Social Scientific Perspectives on Making Change in AmericaBlogMarchCrowd

Yesterday I attended the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington with two members of the WCW staff. We had been in Washington, D.C., for a series of meetings--indeed, we had just met with a liaison to the White House Council on Women and Girls earlier that morning--and we wanted to be a part of this history. The fact that my own mother had been a civil rights activist in the early 1960s was part of my inspiration to attend this event and share in the national moment on reflection on how far we had or hadn’t come in terms of meeting the deeply enshrined American ideals of equality and justice.

WCWHSWHCWGDuring the flight home, as I reviewed the day’s remarks by three U.S. Presidents-- Carter, Clinton, and Obama--vis-à-vis the poignantly articulated and enduring dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., I began to think about a social science perspective on progress towards our shared civil and human rights goals. Of course there are political and philosophical ways to think about achieving equality and justice, but how does the achievement of these ends look through lenses of psychology, sociology, education, or economics, for example?

The work we do at WCW is geared towards social change, yet our methods revolve around empirical social science research. Research not only informs action here, but it also allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of action using evidence. As I mentioned in one of our D.C. meetings, WCW is a kind of “evidence factory”--we are in the business of generating the kind of evidence that shapes effective policy and sound action programs. And it is no accident that, these days, everybody from activists and advocacy groups to philanthropists and Federal funders are seeking evidence that the actions they engage or invest in actually make a difference. Social-change oriented research organizations like WCW are key players in this equation.

Tomorrow, I will post a blog that takes a deeper look at some of the ways that social science research--including work by WCW scholars--informs social justice questions. Over time, I’d like to enlarge this dialogue about the role of research in social change, and I hope you’ll join me by adding your comments and reposting our blogs on your social media channels. By staying in conversation and creating a buzz, together we move the needle on the issues we all care about!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

 

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Women, Employment & Health

WomenEmploymentHealthWomen, Employment & Health

This commentary appears in the Research & Action Report, Spring/Summer 2013 Volume 34 • Number 2 (forthcoming), published by the Wellesley Centers for Women.

When we think about employment and health, we often think about high risk jobs and occupational safety. The recent deaths of first responders in Massachusetts and Texas highlight these serious concerns. However, many workers are exposed to unhealthy conditions that, while not lethal, seriously affect their health.

Trends in the new economy of downsizing, job instability, increased workload and longer hours have led to rising concerns about the health consequences of occupational stress. While both men and women experience stress-related illnesses, women are twice as likely as men to suffer from these consequences due to unhealthy working conditions. Jobs with heavy demands and little latitude in managing or meeting demands are particularly stressful, and women of all races, as well as men of color, are more likely to work in jobs with this combination.

blogpullquoteWomenEmploymentHealthWhile women’s participation in the work force is quite similar to men’s, the occupations and environments vary greatly. In 2009, 44.6 percent of women worked in just 20 occupations, and most of these occupations were heavily female, such as nurses, teachers, maids and housekeeping cleaners, health aides, and clerks—most of which have higher emotional demands. We need to ensure that researchers are examining the effects of emotional work so that employers can identify and implement ways to reduce the stress of these emotionally demanding jobs. In addition, women in the health and education field experience more nonfatal occupational injuries than would be expected in the general workforce; typical injuries include low-back pain, asthma, and exposure to infectious, biological, or chemical hazards.

How can employers and policymakers protect women’s health?

Women need the same protections that men do—standards for workplace health and safety, regular inspections and monitoring of injury rates, and research to develop health and safety practices. However, all too often, women, and women’s occupations and health concerns, have been left out of the funding priorities for research and innovative practices.

But other workplace factors have negative health implications for women employees, too. For example, as women are so concentrated in a select set of occupations, this results in some workplaces where women are not well represented and where they may be less empowered. Research shows that these women are more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace—nearly one-quarter of women report having experienced sexual harassment and 58 percent have experienced potentially harassing behaviors at work. We know that sexual harassment affects psychological well-being and increases psychological distress. Since we know that women are at greater risk for sexual harassment, especially in workplaces that have a climate in which workers believe that reports of harassment will not be taken seriously or will not have consequences for the harasser, it’s essential that employers implement and enforce policies that create a climate that promotes equity and respect and does not tolerate sexual harassment.

Additionally, workers—women and men—have families. Their responsibility to care for young children or aging parents does not end when they enter the workplace. However, despite the increasing involvement of men in caregiving, women still bear a greater burden. For example, married mothers take on almost twice the hours of married fathers each week to address family and home responsibilities. Caregiving for children and aging parents also falls more heavily on women’s shoulders.

How does this affect women’s employment and their health?

Work and family balance issues are a health risk for women with children... Read more of Marshall's commentary>>

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an associate director and senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and studies women and employment, with a focus on working conditions and health and work-family systems, as well as child care policy and early care and education. She authored the chapter, “Employment and Women’s Health,” in M.V. Spiers, P.A. Geller & J.D. Kloss (Eds.), Women’s health psychology (46- 63). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

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