Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Feminization of the Field - Gender Imbalance

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on................."

I ran across an article on the Ladders website that noted the vast differences in the words that men use on their resumes vs. the words women choose.

'The study analyzed over 200,000 resumes from around the world in four key job sectors — financial services, IT, management consulting and retail — looking at the lexical, syntactic and semantic differences in the text that distinguish male and female resumes from each other. The results found that 90% of the Top 10 words men used in male resumes are powerful proper nouns and nouns. Interestingly only 68% of the Top 10 terms on female resumes use the same."

The book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, popularized the notion that society has acculturated men and women in dramatically different ways, resulting in the gender's experiences, expectations, thinking, and behavior being markedly different from each other.  To be sure there exists many still unexplained biological and learned differences that may account for how men and women approach life and living differently, despite the predominance of similarities between the genders.

The culture has always placed different pressures on the genders, imposed different restraints and limitations, inflicted different expectations and awarded different privileges and rewards.  Men have generally benefited from society's preference for male dominance and leadership, and the relegation of women to child rearing and homemaking.  It is really only recently that women have been given equal opportunity or equal access to the countless ecosystems in which men dominate - challenging the traditional roles of men as hunters and women as gatherers; men as in charge, women as the followers.  The world has long suffered immeasurable damage from the limitation of decision making residing almost exclusively in men.    

So it is not surprising that men and women are conditioned and programmed to see the world differently.  Each gender brings different life experiences and different perspectives on any and all decision making.

Despite the causes of our differences, whether by nature or nurture, like any demographic category, men and women do bring different assets and liabilities to the table.  

In the arts, we have been trending, for decades now, in a different direction.  Rather than fewer women in the ranks of arts administrators, including leadership positions, there are more women employed than men.  We suffer that imbalance within our staffs, and likely on many boards too.

According to an American for the Arts study cited in a GIA study on arts workplace diversity authored by Antonio Cuyler:

"Americans for the Arts (2013) studied the salaries of arts managers who work in local arts agencies (N = 753). Approximately, 86 percent of the full-time respondents self-identified as white, and 72 percent as female."

As increasing numbers of new hires in the field have graduated from an arts administration program, that imbalance is likely to continue for the foreseeable future as women far outnumber men enrolled in university arts administration programs.  According to a report on the feminization of the field authored by Erica Weyer Ittner:

"In 2010, 70 percent of the individuals attending arts administration programs in colleges and universities were women (Gaskell).  As women become the primary jobholder in a particular field it is deemed feminized, or gendered."

The feminization of a field has often been accompanied by it being patronizingly regarded as less important than a male dominated area.  Indeed, public funding for the arts may be negatively impacted because elected decision makers regard it, and its nonprofit status, as simply inferior to the private sector and not the equal in terms of value as male dominated enterprises.  Women, and the arts field, have had to confront that kind of prejudice for a long time.

But any endeavor dominated by specific demographic groups faces the challenge that's its institutional memory and its organizational perspective is thereby compromise and limited, and, as a result, it decision making apparatus lacks perspective and depth.

Diversity is a lofty goal for two principal reasons:  1) the fairness and equity social justice issue - i.e., no group should be excluded from sitting at the decision making tables anywhere.  Society benefits from all demographic groups being represented and having input access, and 2) decision makers, organizations, communities and society itself all benefit from having differing perspectives, differing life experiences represented at the decision making point - including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age and gender

And so, we must ask whether we have lost or are losing, to some extent, the male perspective in the nonprofit arts -- as fewer males are in, and are coming into, the field?  That may be ultimately unhealthy, in the same ways that any inadequate representation - of whatever demographic category - is.  Having primarily only one gender perspective hamstrings all our decisions and limits us - in way we might not even fully understand or appreciate.  It's simply unhealthy for a female skewed ecosystem to dominate the field, much as it is for a white male dominated cohort to dominate it.  If we are to do a credible job at truly engaging our communities and providing services to the whole of our society, we need to get to an inclusive balance.

So we need to examine the reasons why the arts administration field grew to be female dominated, and ask questions such what are the short and long term trends?;  how can more of a balance be achieved?; and what are the predictable negative and positive consequences of the trend continuing?  We need to know the extent to which the female domination of the sector is at the lower ranks, and not in the higher leadership positions; whether or not pay inequity still exists between the sexes, and to what extent, in our field, and the extent to which comparative low pay vs. other fields keeps people of both sexes from entering the arts; why more men are not enrolling in, and graduating from university arts administration programs; and how we can move to a more balanced gender situation in our field -- at all levels -- while, of course, making progress on all the other diversity fronts that challenge us.

We need data and numbers and then a more intense examination and look at the situation, its ramifications and what we can and should do about the challenges.

Real and full diversity isn't easy.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit