Women share stories of sexism in the workplace

By ANNA GORDON | December 7, 2017

The Career Center and community service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega co-sponsored a panel titled “Women in Leadership” on Thursday, Nov. 30. The event featured three women from different professional backgrounds who shared challenges they faced in their careers and ways they worked to overcome gender-based obstacles.

The panelists were: Jeannine Heynes, the University’s director of women and gender resources; Karen Fleming, a professor of biophysics who advocated for the Women of Hopkins exhibit in the Mattin Center; and Illysa Izenberg, a business consultant.

Heynes stressed the importance of understanding the intersectionality between women’s issues and other minority issues.

“Part of tackling the issue of bringing women into the workplace is to talk with women who identify as women of color, as trans women, as women with disabilities, as gender non-binary individuals,” she said.

She said that including women from underprivileged groups is crucial when evaluating policies to eliminate sexism.

Izenberg mentioned how women are sometimes complicit in a sexist work environment, reflecting on how her female colleagues reacted to her getting engaged.

“Literally the second I put the ring on my finger, the attitude changed around me,” she said. “It was like, ‘okay, who else can do this task, because we can’t count on Illysa.’”

Izenberg also emphasized the importance of female unity and urged women to champion one another.

“All too often it happens where a woman will say something in a group and it doesn’t get discussed,” she said. “And then 10 minutes later, a man will say the same thing, and all of a sudden it becomes very important. Your job is to say, ‘I’m so glad you picked up on what so-and-so said.’”

Fleming gave advice on how to deal with sexist comments in the workplace. She believes that the best solution to people commenting that women are incapable of doing work as well as men is simply to ask them for evidence or academic studies.

“I worked with a guy who claimed he knew for certain that women dropped out of the workforce to have babies,” she said. “It turns out that they’re doing a study now of all the women who have dropped out of the workforce mid-career, and he’s involved in the study. It turns out that the study shows his point of view was so wrong.”

However, Fleming also believes that people should be mindful of how they call out colleagues, especially when they are not being intentionally sexist.

Instead of being confrontational, she said that saying “I don’t understand” in response to a sexist comment forces the other person to reevaluate what they said.

Students like senior Alizay Jalisi felt the advice the panelists gave was useful. Jalisi particularly appreciated Izenberg’s comments on unity between women and the way Heynes emphasized the importance of intersectional dialogue.

“I definitely appreciated the uplifting words that the panelists had to give for women, regardless of whatever their goals may be,” Jalisi said.

Sophomore Jahnavi Kola felt that the panel helped her think practically about how to further her own career goals.

“It was really inspirational to hear women who are strong and very accomplished in their fields,” she said.

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