Women in the Workforce Panel Seeks to Educate, Empower

Last Thursday, the Colby Feminist Alliance in conjunction with Students Organized for Black and Hispanic Unity (SOBHU) and the Women of Color Alliance (WOCA) hosted the Women in the Workforce panel, which served as an opportunity to discuss the role of women, especially minority women, in the workplace.

Representatives from both the faculty and staff of the College served on the panel, which included: Faith Kagwa, Assistant Director of Campus Life; Hemangini Gupta, Faculty Fellow in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Denise Walden, Associate Director of Admissions and Multicultural Enrollment; and Lauren Lessing, Mirken Director of Academic and Public Programs for the Colby Museum of Art.

“The event itself was a part of the month long programing on feminist labor issues,” commented Maggie Burgos ’17, president of the Feminist Alliance. “Our primary goals were to raise awareness of issues faced by women in the workforce in our own community, allow for a safe space to share experiences, and provide students with advice about challenges that people of non-dominant identities may face as they move forward in their careers,” Burgos said.

Inequality in the workforce has been a central cultural issue of late. The panel provided an opportunity to explore some of these issues. The panel discussion, moderated by Burgos, Liz Brady ’17, SOBHU Liaison and board member, and Karunya Nathan ’16, President of WOCA, explored the implications of starting a family on career mobility, breaking into the workforce as a minority woman, and expectations of women of minority and immigrant backgrounds in particular.

Lessing, who is in charge of outreach and programming for the Colby Museum, described the misunderstandings between managers (who were and are often male) and females. Lessing highlighted multiple misunderstandings with managers and directors from her career, outlining how even the female-dominated field of art provided very little for the majority of its workforce.

A recent study conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. and published in The Wall Street Journal found that women were underrepresented at the bottom level of most companies where women fill, on average, 45 percent of entry-level positions. However, the disparity only grew as one progressed up the career ladder, with only 17 percent of women occupying a C-suite (executive) position.

One panelist discussed her struggle in receiving the opportunity to prove herself. She highlighted that in her experience as a minority woman, she often felt overlooked and marginalized. She further discussed how she felt required to “go the extra mile to convince people that [she] deserved this job.” The thread of conversation shifted then to focus on the impact of race, gender, and sexuality on everyday interactions and how they affect expectations, both societal and familial.

Societal expectations serve as constant pressures for females in the workplace. “The ways that womanhood and motherhood get linked to each other is often something that creates difficulties for women,” said Burgos. Most commonly we find societal expectations of motherhood affecting women’s role in the workplace. Burgos commented, “things like not having paid-maternity leave, the difficulties of finding good and affordable child care, and the stigma surrounding breastfeeding in public, all work together to discourage female participation in the workforce compared to male participation.”

For members of immigrant families, familial expectations will often shape one’s career. Gupta, a South Asian immigrant, discussed the conflict she experienced while pursuing a career in journalism and academia. She commented how she felt her family was pressuring her to become a “wealthy doctor or successful lawyer.” Gupta continued referencing the struggle she had throwing off expectations and “showing that [she] was more than just a gender and societal norm.”

For many women, cultural and societal norms will transform their experience in the workforce. The Women in the Workforce panel served to  illuminate many of the struggles faced by women in the workforce on a daily basis, and through collaboration, attempted to develop solutions and advice for young women.

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