To create equity, fix the workplace so women share power, panelists say

Elizabeth Crowley, Kate Black, Sherrell Dorsey, Claudia Pagon Marchena, and moderator Molly Hensley-Clancy
“Tapping Power” panel featuring (left to right) Elizabeth Crowley, Kate Black, Sherrell Dorsey, Claudia Pagon Marchena, and moderator Molly Hensley-Clancy. (Photo credit: Ashley Fan)

Eight women and a transgender activist at the forefront of their respective fields, ranging from politics and media to business and technology, convened to discuss the intricacies of gender equality in the workplace for the “How Do We Fix Work? Jobs, Gender, and Power” symposium held in Luce Hall on April 9.

The Poynter Fellowship symposium began with an interview of broadcast news anchor Gretchen Carlson, then featured speakers in two themed panels. The first panel, “Tapping Power: Solving Problems of Pay, Promotion, Representation,” focused on the goal of achieving equal opportunities for women in politics. The second panel, “The New Workplace,” considered the present and future of an evolving workplace, and how women can improve existing work cultures through entrepreneurship.

The opening interview, moderated by Yale Daily News Editor-in-Chief Britton O’Daly ’20, addressed Carlson’s experience of sexual harassment and assault at the start of her broadcast news career, which impelled her become a vocal advocate for women in the workplace and to author the book “Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back.” Instead of advice for women to fix themselves to fit in the workplace, this conversation was about how to fix work itself, she said.

Gretchen Carlson and Britton O’Daly
Gretchen Carlson and Britton O’Daly (Photo credit: Ashley Fan)

We want to explore, in this panel, what secrets enforce and continue to reinforce inequality and gender discrimination and sexual harassment, and whether or not workplaces have actually begun to change,” Carlson said.

The first panel, moderated by Molly Hensley-Clancy, national politics reporter for BuzzFeed News, highlighted women in the political sphere. Elizabeth Crowley, co-founder of 21 in ’21, a New York City-based nonprofit with the goal of electing at least 21 women to the New York City Council by 2021, spoke of the importance of women holding local office positions. Kate Black, a federal policy advisor, described three main obstacles to women running for office: the challenge of raising money, being asked not to run because women are not seen as natural leaders, and feeling unqualified to run.

These obstacles are further compounded for women of color because of a problem with the “diversity pipeline” during hiring in political offices, added Claudia Pagon Marchena, legislative correspondent and staff assistant at the office of Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. People of color are often unable to get their foot in the door in the same way as others do, such as through unpaid internships, which impairs their effort to attain higher positions, she said.

It’s not enough for [Congress] members to hire people of color; [they] need to put them in senior positions where they have influence, where they are working on issues that directly impact communities that they represent,” Marchena said. “Diversity at the staff level is important because staff members have the ear of the [Congress] member. So when [they’re] considering policies like what should the U.S. do in Puerto Rico, what should a woman’s reproductive rights look like, [they] need members of these communities there to inform policy.”

The second panel shifted to women in entrepreneurship and business, and removing barriers to allow women to rise to decision-making positions where they can implement changes to the workplace with women in mind. Jennifer McFadden, lecturer and associate director of Entrepreneurial Programs at the Yale School of Management, emphasized the importance of women as business leaders, because women tend to care more about environmental, social and governance issues, she said.  

“My whole theory of change is… implementing what we are trying to do here at Yale, [which is] trying to pull women through the process of launching new ventures so they are prepared,” McFadden said. “I don’t think things are going to change until there are more women at the top, period, end of story.”

Addressing a question about how men currently in these positions of power have reacted to the #MeToo movement, Courtney Connley, a careers reporter at CNBC Make It, argued that the movement pushed men to self-reflect but it should not be an excuse to avoid incorporating women in the workplace outright, which would be a “cop-out.”

[There were conversations] during the #MeToo movement about how we need men as allies,” Connley said. “Men [were] saying how they are scared to mentor women, and they are scared to be allies to women or speak up. [But] we know that with men dominating a lot of fields, if [they’re] not open to mentoring a female colleague or sponsoring her, then her access to get to the top is very limited.”

Alex Poon, transgender activist and product manager at Wayfair, a home goods e-commerce company, has seen both sides of the workplace as a transgender man. Poon observed the noticeable difference in how co-workers treated him — before beginning his physical transition, some of the people on his team at IBM treated him as a woman and undervalued his work, but after his transition, people left him “a seat at the table,” he said.

As a woman in the tech field, Sherrell Dorsey, data journalist and CEO of ThePlug, a daily tech newsletter, and BLKTECHCLT, a North Carolina hub of tech entrepreneurs of color, views the gender pay gap in the context of a world that is increasingly being automated. She envisions a comprehensive approach to prepare and equip women for a rapidly developing economy.

We have to approach this conversation around pay gap from a multi-pronged and multi-tiered level,” Dorsey explained. “We’re talking about education, access to free community college and free training, particularly in the subject areas where workforces and recruiters are looking for the kind of talent that we’re currently not producing here in this country. The reason why that is super critical is, as we’re talking about increasing pay for individuals, we also have to talk about increasing skill sets that are going to be fit for the economy of the future.”

This symposium was organized by journalist Laura Pappano ’84, a 2018-2019 Poynter Fellow at Yale and co-sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism at Yale and the Women Faculty Forum.

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