Sexism abstract

Gender and Union Leadership

A few years ago, I published a study about gender and union leadership. I wanted to explore the challenges women face as they try to attain leadership roles. I had noticed that many organizations have plenty of policies that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion – but the policies alone were not enough to ensure an inclusive environment. I was interested in how the day-to-day interactions with the people in our work groups and union offices made us feel either welcome or excluded. Here are some of the quotes from the union leaders I interviewed.

- Michelle Kaminski

  • Mixed messages:

    One woman of color who worked in a male-dominated occupation felt that the same people who supported her also undermined her. She recalled:

    “They made sure to check in frequently. I would get calls from the [staff] representative, just to touch base that I was doing well in the facility. I was the only female in [that position], and they kept a “big brotherly” eye out for me… [But] when it came to comparing me to the others, I was always [second-best]. They were supportive, but I also knew where my place was in the group, which was, I was still a female… I was getting mixed signals all the time.”
  • Rewards for success?

    Both the women and men in this study were successful union leaders. But the men were more likely to be recognized by higher-ups for this. For example, one of the men was told to “be ready,” because a higher-level position was opening soon. It would require a move to another city, and he was advised to make whatever preparations were necessary in his personal life so that he would be able to take advantage of the opportunity.

    In contrast, a woman of color in a similar union had been very successful leading a campaign to fight against employer cutbacks and demands for concessions. The campaign lasted about a year. And while she did receive praise from the higher-ranking union leaders, she did not receive a promotion. She said that it would take some risk on the part of the union leadership to promote her, because she “did not fit the traditional mold of a union leader.”

This was an exploratory study, and these are just a few examples, so we can't say how common or uncommon these experiences are for individuals.

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Citation: Kaminski, M. & Pauly, J. (2013). Gender and union leadership: A force field analysis. In Gendering and Diversifying Trade Union Leadership, Sue Ledwith and Lise Lotte Hansen, Eds., pp. 47-66. New York: Routledge.

Category: Race, intersectionality, gender

The Fifth Season, a novel by N. K. Jemisin

THE FIFTH SEASON, a novel by N. K. Jemisin

Sometimes facts and figures just don't reach us the same way a story does. There are a lot of novels that focus on race. One we recommend is The Fifth Season. It's a science fiction story, based in a world with a caste system founded on the abilities people are born with. You'd think having a special talent would be a good thing, right? That's not necessarily the case in this book. In 2016, Jemisin became the first Black author to win the prestigious Hugo award for science fiction for this work. She won it again in 2017 and 2018 for the second and third books in this trilogy. It's a dark, but compelling story, and helps us understand the inner psychological experience of discrimination.

Category: Race, intersectionality, gender

STILL I RISE by Maya Angelou

If you’ve ever felt worn down by mistreatment in the workplace because of your race, gender, or other status, check out this clip of Maya Angelou reciting her poem, “Still I Rise.” It always gives me hope.

- Michelle Kaminski

Watch the video

Category: Race, intersectionality, gender

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