Guelph Student Researchers Tackle Workplace Gender Discrimination
Friday, March 25, 20161 Comment
The gender wage gap has been a topic of debate for years. In basic terms, it is argued that in general, women earn less than men, and when women begin to dominate a field, the average earnings decrease. However, the gap is not without critics, who are fast to deny discrimination, blame the gap on women's lack of negotiation skills, and post articles saying the wage gap no longer exists.
To university students, this debate may seem irrelevant. Most students work for minimum wage and have little to no opportunity for negotiating their salary. In past years, when the topic emerged in online discussion forums popular on campus, there was always an overall feeling that the argument isn't relevant.
However, an open letter from Hunger Games celebrity Jennfier Lawrence, and popular feminist campaigns such as Amy Poehler's "Smart Girls" and Emma Watson's "He for She" have brought these issues back to the public eye with an urgent energy. Just yesterday, GlassDoor released a report claiming "the gender wage gap is real" and claiming to demonstrate that women face discrimination in compensation, citing research from their senior economist and data pulled from the website itself. So how do students feel about the gender wage gap now?
Guelph researchers are on the cutting edge of this research. We caught up with Sarah Carver from Dr. M Gloria Gonzalez-Morales' Occupational Health and Positive Psychology lab to learn more about the current Psychology research on the topic. Carver is a fourth-year student, studying the gender-wage gap for her undergraduate thesis.
Carver, accompanied by a team of research interns, is studying student opinions on gender discrimination in the workplace, with a focus on the gender wage gap. The team leads focus groups for undergraduate students, and are taking a qualitative research approach to look into the issue further.
Carver cites multiple sources of inspiration for this project. “It’s always been my interest to look into diversity and inclusion in the workplace." Carver said, "So I think both my passion for feminist issues and social justice issues in general, and also my history with working on topics related to workplace issues more broadly helped me to narrow down this topic for my thesis.”
However, many student workers may not even notice workplace discrimintation in their own jobs, since they are at a point where they can negotiate their salaries. Where should students be looking more critically at their employers? “I think definitely an obvious one is dress code, so oftentimes, girls are taught that when you’re wearing specific clothing that may be deemed provocative or not workplace-appropriate, you are being detrimental to male work levels or attention." States Carver, "Often they’re taught that wearing revealing clothes can be distracting, or seen as not appropriate because of these implications. But it’s really teaching girls that the way they dress can affect boys’ education, and not getting to the root of the problem. It’s simply teaching boys to be responsible for their own behaviour.”
We spoke with another student external to the lab, who wished to remain anonymous, about her experience working as a server in her home town. Jobs in the service industry, especially as a waitress, are notorious for over-sexualizing female employees and requiring them to wear impractical outfits. Although she works for a chain with a good reputation, I was curious to know if she noticed any gender discrimination or objectification in her workplace or uniform. “I work as a server in two different areas, I work in the bar and the dining room." She disclosed, "In the dining room the uniform is the same as males. However in the bar it’s quite different: in the bar the girl servers wear a black dress and then male servers..." Her face changed as she realized how her sentence would end, "men don’t actually work in the bar.”
As I mentioned this conversation to Sarah Carver and discussed the topic further, I asked if her research experience was having an effect on her perception of past jobs. Carver currently works as a server as well, but expressed that she really enjoys her job and finds that the chain she works for is very considerate of their employees of both genders. However, Carver stands by her stance. "When you’re exposed to these ideas and literature, it can definitely make you realize that gender discrimination does exist and it does affect the way we treat male and female workers. I think an important part of educating student opinions is to expose them to different theories and having them reflect on their own experiences.”
Ultimately, Carver hopes that her study will open conversation rather than force students to feel a certain way about the issue. “I definitely want participants to feel open and comfortable in their own opinions. I don’t want to shape anyone’s ideas because I think that everyone does have their own unique experiences. I don’t want to feel like I’m shoving my opinion down anyone’s throat. I hope they’ll gain insight from sharing opinions, hearing new ideas, and open a dialogue. I hope they will feel confident and comfortable to debate issues without being forced into a particular idea.”