2015 NCWIT Summit – Plenary I, The Glass Slipper: Leaning In… to the Evidence of Gender and Professions by Karen Ashcraft
May 19, 2015
BOBBY SCHNABEL: Hi. As that picture says, I'm Bobby Schnabel. I'm one of the three co-founders of the National Center for Women and Information Technology, along with Lucy Sanders and Telle Whitney. I'm also the Dean of the School of Informatics and Computing in Indiana University I was at the University of Colorado, but then Lucy kicked me out, but more important than who I am is who you are. All of you are change leaders in the area of women and information technology, and we thank you for that. By far the biggest purpose for these meetings is to help you in that role. to help you with the information and techniques that will allow you to do an even better job as change leaders. As Lucy referred to, as not only being able to admire the problem understanding the issues that we face today, but understanding the research, and the successful approaches that allow us to move beyond that. Our first speaker is a person whose research does precisely that. Gets us beyond tired assumptions that we've been dealing with into new realities, new techniques of moving forward. So, Dr. Karen Lee Ashcraft is a Professor of Communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her research examines organizational and occupational formations such as identity, culture, and mode of governance, and is guided by an interest in relations of power and difference, particularly gender, race, sexuality, and class. She has published approximately 50 articles and chapters on these and related topics in journals, and communication, and management, among others. By the way, I should also mention that she is also the sister of Catherine Ashcraft, who is a longtime researcher at NCWIT and looks nothing like her. [Laughter] it's my great pleasure to welcome Karen Ashcraft to the stage.
KAREN ASHCRAFT: Good evening! That response is appropriate. Very nice. I want to begin by acknowledging that this microphone is trying to crawl up my nose.
KAREN ASHCRAFT: I'm pretty sure if it happens, you're my witness that I tried to fight it off.
KAREN ASHCRAFT: I want to thank you all for being here, and for joining in the shared goal of enhancing the status of women in tech. It has been such a pleasure for me to get to know this organization, and it's a delight to be here, and hear stories of the successes that NCWIT members, allies, partners, all of you in this room are facilitating right now. Tonight this talk is really about preparing for success. Hmm. Kind of a weird term, really, when you think about it. I'm not just talking about preparing for success. I'm actually talking about bracing for success. Now that's not a very positive view. Kind of a typical, really, in the ways we talk about success. Success is achievement, mission accomplished, celebrating, time to reap the rewards... We tend to talk about success as kind of a happily ever after story, and I want to tell a different story today, and think about what we might do about it. Specifically, I want to make the claim that success, when we're talking about growing the presence and participation of women in male-dominated professions, can actually present problems, roadblocks, challenges, dangers, as the sign suggests. And, if that's the case, it's better for us to know about those, and reflect on them in advance, rather than be caught by surprise. So, that's what I mean when I say "Prepare for success." I mean, taking a closer look at our assumptions about happily ever after. To do that, I want to start with what I would regard as a great current example of the kinds of happily ever after stories we tend to tell about women at work. I'm going to refer to this as a fairy tale, and you'll see why in a moment, but let me hasten to qualify something about Lean In and projects and books of this sort. I in no way mean to dismiss this or single out this tale. I know that it helps lots of people, as texts of this sort often do. I know too that there are novel themes in projects like Lean In. For example, the focus on men, and relational supports, and the kinds of changes that male advocates might provide, which underscores the current tragedy and loss that Sheryl Sandberg faces. So, in no way do I mean to single out this text. Rather I want to use it as representative of a really long standing trend which I would refer to as a tradition of gender self-help. Ways that women are told they can advance themselves at the workplace. I want to suggest that this is an important cultural fairy tale that we tend to tell. So, what is that fairy tale? Well, when I read Lean In, I don't know how many of you had this reaction as well.. I had a profound sense of deja vu that this was some ground that I had traveled before, or somebody who reads these kinds of works, but also studies this for a living, and what is that ground? Well, in this work women learn how they share, as a group, habits that can hold them back. How to counter these and succeed in the workplace. When you think about the most desirable workplaces in which they want to succeed, well, what characterizes those workplaces? You're going to face some lingering bias. You might say some unenlightened members. Perhaps you might face demanding expectations. But women can rise to these challenges, and the more who do, the more who lean in or whatever the term du jour. The more we lean, and the more these will cease to become fairy tales. These fairy tales will come true. I want to reframe this for you as a fairy tale that invites us into a relationship that I'm going to describe as cruel optimism. Now, think about this term for a moment please with me. Thank you to Lauren Berlant for her work on this term. The notion of cruel optimism captures our emotional attachment to contradictions, certain disabling contradictions. If I could define it for you, cruel optimism is attachment to things that we count on to improve our condition, when those things only ensure that our condition actually remains the same. That is, those things block the very thriving that we seek. Now, as it relates to campaigns like Lean In, Lean In circles, and so forth, I think that what's happening here, crucial to the concept of cruel optimism, is that we don't just believe it, we get so attached to it, again, at that level of affective investment, so that I start to feel like my difference as a woman is part of the problem...or solution. We hear both. I can be the change if I'm just more savvy, if I'm just more skilled. Together, if we lean in, our individual transformations can make a revolution. In all likelihood they will not make that revolution, and I don't mean to be depressing. It gets dim, and then it gets bright. I promise. So, why am I so dismal about this? Because nearly 50 years of research evidence suggests an extremely painful truth, which is this: that when women collectively, rather than just individually or in small numbers... When women collectively succeed in male-dominated professions, it tends to lead right back to gender inequality. A disturbing, painful truth. You could see why I've called it that. So, I'm going to elaborate what I mean by that, and sort of talk about how that works, and what we can do to combat that, think through it... But I want to suggest, first, that preparing for success, for me, means being careful what we wish for, literally. Careful about the fairy tales we tell, and how we go about pursuing them. So, that is my goal for this evening, to move from a condition of what I've called cruel optimism to a kinder optimism. To tell a new fairy tale, and invent new magic. So, to do that, let's prepare for a couple of things. Like I said, it's going to get a little darker, a little grim, and then we will revisit, step back, think about how we can take action toward this. So, as we pursue the Grimm, there are some key terms that will help us here. So, I want to ease into what social scientists know as a system, and it's important that we think systemically to address this. A system of occupational segregation. How many of you are familiar with that term? Okay. I think I see two hands. Right on. All right. So, let me make this as simple as possible, which is occupational segregation is about the concentration of certain bodies in certain kinds of jobs. So, the first term that we need up here...if the slide shows...there it is... is a sense of what we mean by segregation and integration. So, those terms should be fairly straightforward. If you have a segregated occupation, that means when it comes to gender or if we're talking race, that it's largely same sex, same race composition. If it's integrated, that means you have, for example, more men and women working together. Now, I don't know if you will find this surprising as I always do when I think about the statistic, but as of the early two-thousands in the US, and this system holds around the world as well — we could talk about that later — in the U.S. 90 percent of men and 88 percent of women can expect to work in jobs that are largely populated by the same sex. That's over eighty five percent. That's what largely populated means, in other words, preponderance of same sex. Now, that's shocking to us, because in some ways it doesn't fit our everyday experience. We work in workplaces where we see plenty of men and women often, but we don't think about the division of labor that concentrates those folks into particular lines of work. So, it's a little bit misleading I think sometimes. So, I mentioned this because it's just important to note the extent of segregation. Now, aggregate figures we can always debate. Happy to talk about that, but that figure should be striking in terms of the extent and persistence of occupational segregation over time. We can also note occupational segregation occurs on two different axes, horizontal and vertical. Horizontal primarily has to do with the distribution of people into different kinds of jobs, and vertical as it sounds, is about sort of the hierarchy of those different jobs. So, if I could read a kind of simplifying quote from cross and badger hole, they say, "Gender segregation in the labor market operates horizontally, and vertically. Not only are men and women allocated qualitatively different jobs..." That's horizontally. "The labor market is marked with women overwhelmingly concentrated at the lower levels of most occupational hierarchies, in terms of wages, of salary, status, and authority. So, that's vertical. It's crucial to note that there are kind of different ideologies associated with each. So, horizontal segregation distribution into different kinds of work tends to operate or thrive on really a premise of gender difference, and a kind of essentialist notion of gender difference. That is, men and women have different skills, and aptitudes, and strengths, and so they're better suited to different kinds of work. So, that faith underlies this kind of horizontal system. Vertical segregation, in some contrast, is more about male primacy or an assumption that men have a natural affinity or skill for authority. Right? ...for being in positions of power. So, they work on different logics is the main point about that. A third set of terms that will help us — and I think this one is really important to latch on to the stories and examples that I'll offer in a moment — is two forms of occupational segregation. So, it's typical that what we hear, I've even used these terms, same sex, same race, that we're thinking about segregation in terms of demographics or bodies, basically physical segregation. That certainly is an important form, but there's another really important form of occupational segregation, and that is symbolic, and by that I mean sort of the codes, and imagery, and the way we sort of depict the character or quality of the work if the work itself sort of has a gendering to it. Those two forms of segregation, physical and symbolic, can be overlapping, but they can also be independent. So, there was a researcher in the medical profession who showed how, in the specialty of surgery, regardless of whether the actual surgeons were male or female ,all of the vocabulary was that the work of surgeons takes balls and strong hands, as kind of masculine bodily imagery that's used, even when it's women who are doing it. So, that's an example of the kind of symbolic and physical in their relation and potential separation. So, with this three set of terms, basically separate or together, is it horizontal or vertical, are we talking physical or symbolic, I think that's enough kind of for us to work with in talking through some of these patterns. So, before I present the daunting truth, let me give a caveat that all of those of you with your own expertise in this audience will know. that is, when you've studied some things for a decade or two, you know all the mind-numbing nuances of that thing, and I don't want to do that to you tonight. So, just so you know, my task here is to present you with a kind of straightforward vision of how this works, but please know that I am open to, and ready to talk about, any variations and things of that sort. We just don't have time to do justice to that tonight. So, I want to talk about two patterns, broadly speaking. The first is common patterns of segregation, and common patterns of integration, and these will lead us toward understanding how this kind of painful truth works. Let's talk first... I'll put both of these up about common patterns of occupational segregation, and the first has to do with professionalizing. So, here's my kind of summary of loads and loads of research. If you want to raise the status of an occupation, and I mean that informally in terms of prestige, but I also mean that in terms of formal institutional kinds of professionalization, so where you're codifying knowledge, and controlling credentialing, and all that sort of thing. The dominant overt strategy, and the term here is 'strategy', that has been used in the US and elsewhere over the last hundred years is 'masculinization.' So, most of the professions that we know and love today originally found their footing as professions by pursuing an explicit strategy of masculinization. I would give you some examples of that a little bit later. In some contrast, feminization has never — and scholars don't say this very often — never been associated with enhancing occupational conditions or value. So, when you think occupational segregation is important to understand, that those strategies have been ex elicit, that gender has been used to actually create and erode professional value, and that sometimes also those are consequence of economic processes which produce and limit that value. So, there are important variations to note here. For example, we should already be asking the question, "Masculinized?" ...but it's not association with all men.. which men? Right? So, in most every case of professionalization by masculinization, the emphasis has been on white, heterosexual, upper-middle class, highly educated, sometimes Christian. There's lots of different variables that mattered at different moments in time, but we're talking about a very specific form of masculinity, and that's an important thing to note, and the same thing applies with feminization. Also note, when I'm talking about masculinizing and feminizing I don't just mean populating the profession with male bodies. I mean depicting the work, characterizing, capturing the work as “manly work,” and that that is a strategy to make it seem elite, and — particularly relevant to this audience — to make it seem technical, and scientific. So, those are a couple of patterns to note. Let's talk a little bit about patterns of integration. So again, I'm going to talk about two, and you'll be familiar with both of these. This stuff is kind of the heart of what I think NCWIT is often working on. So, one pattern of integration has to do with what's called job infiltration. That basically means that a few, like, either individuals, token sort of members — have success. So, you can point to pictures of success, but it's relatively few people who have crossed that divide, as opposed to a kind of critical mass of folks. You're still talking about minority majority relations. Now, many of you may know this. How many of you...I know everybody's familiar with the glass ceiling. Am I right? But how many of you have heard of the glass escalator? Yeah. Good. A good third. Okay. So, a crucial thing to notice here is that how a token experiences job infiltration depends on whether you're in male dominated or female dominated work. So, many of you know that women in male-dominated professions often experience everything you know about. Chilly climates, glass ceilings, control, and exclusion from networks, those kinds of struggles. This is not the case for men in female dominated work. Christine Williams has done beautiful line of research on the glass escalator, as opposed to the glass ceiling What the glass escalator is is the experience of many men, let's say in nursing or elementary school teaching, or it's secretarial admin work, of being sort of gently nudged out of the job, and up into upper administration, or managerial ranks as if co-workers, clients, and managers and alike are just not comfortable with men in female dominated work. So, what a contrast, in terms of the token experience depending on which sort of work you're in. Again, we need to ask the question "Which men?" because there is a lovely set of studies, depressing but important, that show that the glass escalator is actually as much about racial bonding and kind of heterosexual bonding as it is about gender. That is, men of color rarely experience the glass escalator. So again, thinking in terms of nuances about gender, which women, which men, which kinds of masculinities, and femininities, is a very important thing.Okay. Now, what if we go from infiltration (a few people have made it over), and we get to what's called a critical mass, or a trigger, or tipping point? These are the terms that are used. So, it's hard to say, I should just acknowledge, when an occupation reaches that critical mass. You can't say it's 4o percent, and you can't give a number, because historically it's contingent and it's highly variable by kind of different factors in the situation. The key here is perceived tipping point, and when it is the case that an occupation reaches a critical mass of what was once a minority group, we're talking here specifically about gender, there are three possibilities, and these are not mutually exclusive. They often lead to one another. So, here we go. Oops. I backed...I backed out of them...Okay. The first one is that you will start to hear talk and identification of feminization threats. So, people will start to say, "Oh, so this is like this is kind of a trigger to resist." for example, among pilots, which much of my research has been long before they reached a tipping point, and they haven't by any means yet there began to talk about what was considered to be an empowering form of leadership that was being instituted by various agencies. That it was being experienced by pilots as feminizing their role. So, pilots would put a lot of energy into saying, "Yeah, it looks like a nurturing caring leadership style, but I am actually a benevolent scholar, like, I'm generous. Right? So, I gave you that example as re-masculinizing efforts, kind of at the interactional level, where people are perceiving feminization threats, and responding to it by carefully re-masculinize the work. So, that's usually a first sign that something, some discomfort, is afoot in terms of integration. A second thing that happens is what's called re segregation, and it grows out of that re-masculinization that I'm talking about. People start sort of getting really specific internally about differentiations among the work. So, in the case of tech, for example, you might say, "Well this is really close to the user." These are human concerns, as opposed to, "This is highly technical labor." In medicine it's about creating all kinds of...acknowledging all kinds of specialties, and then those become gendered. So, medicine is often used as a case in point. So, as the occupation of physician became diversified, what you actually had happen was resegregation within that occupation, among specialty. So, you can expect to find women concentrated in certain lower valued specialties. So, re-segregate is another possibility as is occupational flight, and this is when you have a mass exodus of men from the occupation, as has happened in several cases. PR stands out at the moment. So, the tipping point leads to basically going to more valuable pastures. The occupation becomes feminized, and various kinds of decline can be associated with that, tangibly. So, I want to underscore, I've said it a couple of times already, that these patterns cannot be reduced to majority minority relations, and I know that's tempting. Right? Because we think, "Well, that's how we can help people understand what this experience is like, and identify with, that everybody's been a minority in some situation." The glass escalator, if nothing else, should make that point very clear. It is not just about majority or minority, it is about gender, race, and other differences, and again, let me underscore that point which points to I think a more sobering truth, that feminization has never been associated with an increase in value. Both of those things suggest to us it is not about majority minority relations. So, they lead us to a few points that I think has to change the logic of how we think about social change when it comes to occupations, collective social change. First, we have to acknowledge that the desirability of an occupation, like the nature and value assigned to the work, depends in large part on who does it, which is a daunting proposition to realize. In fact, there's a researcher by the name of Thomas Kovac Debbie who shows that whenever a line of work of any kind comes to be associated with a typical practitioner, you can expect two processes to kick in that mutually reinforce one another, and I've indicated those here as status closure, and status composition. In a nutshell, status closure means that job will start getting reserved for certain people, and that happens not just on the ground level at the workplace. It starts happening through education. It starts happening in the creation of human capital, but the status closure refers to the job getting reserved for that typical practitioner status. Composition refers to the job actually being shaped. Shaped by its association with that practitioner. In other words, how much autonomy the job gets, whether or not it's supervised, whether it has career paths into sort of more advanced places, whether it has some kind of authority over other jobs, wages, earnings, status. All of these things begin to get shaped around the typical occupant, and with that concept, Thomas Kovac Debbie is pointing out that we discriminate against occupations, not just people, and this is a point we so often lose when we're trying to get more and diverse women into an occupation. We forget the occupation has already been valued by its masculinity, and so this is like a really critical tension to acknowledge and contend with. The bottom line here is that occupations are known... This is like my sort of memorable phrase for myself: Occupations are known by the company they keep. When I say that I mean that occupations too, not just people, take on social identities, and if you doubt that, listen to the stories of professional people of color attending conference gatherings just like this one, and being mistaken for servers. listen to stories of male secretaries frustrated with the number of people who will come up to them when they're sitting in the secretarial space and say, "When will the secretary be back?" Jobs have social identities, and it is on the basis of those associations that we come to know them, and value them, and revere them, and want to pursue them, and that is a difficult truth to process. Okay, this is... We're really nearing the end of the negative slides, I promise. So I thought you'd like this one: The upshot is ouch. Okay. what can we say about occupational segregation as a result of some of these patterns and findings? We can say it is global and intractable. It looks different in different environments, but it has been an incredibly difficult thing to move, and most scholars agree, it is not destined to fade away. It is not some holdover of lingering sort of past discrimination. We can also say that it is at the root of most of the workplace inequalities that we care about. Authors of Occupational Ghettos, an interestingly titled book by Charles and Grusky, maintained in a very detailed exposition that occupational segregation is the smoking gun of most gender workplace inequalities. We can also say occupational segregation thrives on belief in gender difference, or what I've called here essentialism. That is occupational segregation depends on, begs for, wants us to maintain faith that women are either different, or they could be the same, but to stay locked into that paradigm. For that reason I would argue you cannot fight occupational segregation from a gender difference versus sameness paradigm. You cannot. Again, to quote Charles and Grusky, because I think they summarized this kind of intractable situation so well, they say, "Rather than viewing sex segregation as a residual that is destined to wither away under contemporary egalitarian pressures, it is best regarded as an organic feature of modern economies that is totally ideologically consistent with gender egalitarianism, as the latter is understood today. In this sense there is a deep structure to sex segregation that makes it a viable long term feature of modern economies, even as pressures for equalization mount in other domains of the gender stratification system. Charles and Grusky, in the same spirit of my argument today, maintain that this belief in fixed gender differences, kind of stable expectations, is at the root of this problem, and with me they would say, “It is not enough to 'lean in'" just a little bit more, one more time" So, following other famous people who have said this long before me, my premise here so far has been that sometimes you have to be cruel to be a little kind. You've got to kind of see some of the traps that we continually get seduced by to think our way out of them, and work, and act our way out of them. So, the cruel optimism that I've described here is asking women to either use or suppress, sometimes in the same sentence, their difference in order to succeed in a job that is already defined against them in the first place. This is what I would describe as cruel optimism. So, here's the moment in this talk where I want to turn the corner. So, I've been working on this for well over a decade. I've been studying issues of occupation, and organization, and gender, and race for 20 years, and I have worked hard with many other people on a new fairy tail, which I mentioned at the outset. So, I want to describe that to you today, and it's one that accommodates the evidence, that starts from the place of the evidence that I've tried to summarize for you today. I refer to this as of the glass slipper. ...Now...Kitschy, perhaps... And of course you're probably already thinking, "What? Cinderella is so gendered! Yes" it is. Play with that. Enjoy it. There's all kinds of ironies there I intend for us to work with, but what is really the idea of the glass slipper? That a shoe made for a specific person became the universal measure for who can be a princess? This is what I want to explore. How is it that an image made for specific bodies then is sustained as the measure of who fits that occupation, and what can we do about it? So, with the term the glass slipper, or as a concept, or metaphor, I'm trying to explore how durable associations between occupations and certain kinds of bodily imagery and people, how those things arise, how they circulate among us like brands. So that we feel, when we see a uniform or we think of a kind of working, we immediately get the image in our head, and identify with it, or dissociate from it, or think that's not me, and how a host of institutional things lines up behind that, including wages, including career paths, including a number of other things. So, I want to suggest to you, and give you two examples that happens, at least historically, it has happened through the crafting of what I will call figurative practitioners. When I say figurative what I mean is it may or may not be the actual practitioner in a job. May or may not be the typical incumbent, but it is the associated practitioner. Right? So, what people think of when they think of the occupation. So, I'm going to work with what I've called... I know I'm taking a fairy tale metaphor pretty far. We'll see how far you'll go with me. I want to talk about two sort of magic moments when the glass slipper was invented. My own research, as I mentioned earlier, has been in the context of commercial aviation for the last decade, but I will also talk about — thanks to the work of many other historians — the case of computer science. Computing, in particular...in both of these cases, we see the ways in which gender and other forms of difference kind of intertwine to invent professions, to invent desirable work. Let me start with the aviation case, and these...I'm going to give you for each case just a slide that kind of creates an overview, but I want to talk through it, and tell you a story. You can see the the points of the case, but it's really the stories that make it come alive. Many people think, in the case of commercial aviation... By the way, what binds these two cases is that in the beginning it was not self evidence by any means that commercial aviation was actually technical work or that flying would become like the elite work of professionals. That was so not self evident, and the same is true of computing, and so the question is: how is that status invented? So, let's start with commercial aviation. Most people, if they were asked why today are still well over 90 percent of pilots men and largely white men, they would give numerous answers. Probably you're thinking to yourself... Probably World War II affected the labor supply, training through the military, these kinds of things. But this is not the case. It's a far more complex picture, and it occurred long before World War two. So, if we were to say, "Let's talk about early images of aviation in the 20th century." So, around the 1920s you had all kinds of masculine imagery. There was the intrepid Birdman. I don't know if any of you will have ever heard of this... Its sort of like a circus performer rock star guy who would perform death-defying feats. There was the world war I ace, who brought a more kind of serious face. There was the Hollywood celebrity pilot, the Barnstormer. Barnstormers would kind of fly into a region and sort of perform a little show, and give people lessons. So, they were a little less rockstar, a little more homegrown...and then airmail pilots. Let's give you an image of the latter. That's the airmail pilot on the left, and I want you to think about him as I describe the particular kind of masculinity around which all of those images I've just described tend to converge, and that is a masculinity that emphasizes physical and sexual prowess, rugged individualism, debonair courage, lust for adventure, this kind of thing. I think a snippet from Fortune magazine sums this up well. They observed of pilots in the early days, something has kept these chaps young and it isn't asceticism either. When they play poker, they play all night, when they smoke, and smoke too much, when they drink their glasses leak, and when they make love complaints are rare.
KAREN ASHCRAFT: Okay. So, you might think well that solidifies it. There's the image of the pilot, but this was actually quite bad for business, because you don't want to — certainly as a routine mode of transportation — get on a plane with a daredevil. Right? So,o this was something that began to be noted by a lot of commentators and industry folks. And the industry responded with two campaigns, and those campaigns eventually collided to ensure the place of women in the cabin, not the cockpit. So, briefly let's talk about the first campaign, which is the lady bird or the lady flyer. So, you will probably be thinking — those of you into U.S. pop culture — Amelia Earhart, but there were a host of fliers in this category. This is another image of aviators that circulated in the early 20th century. Flight at this time was also thought of, not just in the ways I described earlier, but as an artful activity that liberated women could participate in. These lady flyers, and as I said there were more proportionately women pilots at that time then there are now. Another thing to consider: They were deliberately used by industry constituents to sell the safety of planes. They were touted as the personification of modern womanhood. They were featured in a media blitz, they got all kinds of attention, they were told as they exited planes to like apply lipstick publicly, and flirt, and be feminine. Why would they do this? Deliberately used by industry constituents to sell the safety of planes. You can see the message captured up there. The idea was flying isn't hard, and these ships are so sturdy they don't need a great pilot. Right? One commentator noted as early as 1912, the inventors see a chance for a new spectacle, and the exhibition field, and they reason that if a woman can handle a machine, it gives confidence in the safety of flight. Some 20 years later, the New York Times magazine observed lady birds. They will all tell you, with an identical twinkle in eyes that are gray, blue, Brown, that they are valuable in promoting aviation, because the public believes if women can fly, it must be easy and safe. In effect the lady flyer became an explicit means of shaming a male public into purchasing planes, flight lessons, and passenger tickets, but it had unintended consequences for commercial transport in particular. So, general aviation was using this strategy, the Lady Bird, but commercial aviation was getting concerned, because as one commentator noted, this deals a wallop to the idea that fliers are pretty tough birds. They are not. They are highly coordinated sensitive types. Girl pilots have a singular delicacy. The long fingers and slender lives of physically sensitive people. So, this is starting to raise questions about what kind of work is this, and who does it, and how complex is it, and is it really that valuable anyway? So, commercial airlines and the budding pilots union were extremely concerned, and they responded with the second campaign, which I will refer to here as the professional pilot. It's important to know that during this period — again, heavily happening like from about 1922 and almost settled by 1935 — the airlines and the union collaborated to remake the pilot from the image you see on the left, the airmail pilot, that cut a rugged individual, to the professional figure — of course you know the movie probably — on the right hand side. This was explicit. This is one of those examples of the masculinization campaign that I was talking about that the association with which men matters. So, the real effort here was to recreate the pilots as a professional with technical and scientific credentials. How was this done? Through of course rigorous training programs, manuals, etc. But a huge part of it focused on an overhaul of the pilots body, toning down the blatant sexuality with a sort of officer suit. That's what it was mimicked after. They created an intercom system so that there would be distance, and you would hear the authoritative voice. There's all kinds of specific documentation on this, and this is one of the things I spent a great deal of time in archives trying to demonstrate. It is important to notice this is a particular breed of white professional masculinity: commanding, civilized, rational, technical, heterosexual. They would actually, in ad campaigns, work hard to show that captain's wedding ring. Also paternal... It had a profound payoff for airlines and the industry in general. So, it is worth noting as we conclude this case that these two campaigns, the Lady Bird and professional pilot, you can kind of imagine what happened when they began to collide in the late 20s, early 30s. Specifically, if we are to look ahead, you will see on the right hand side Helen Richey, who was the first female airline pilot, hired in 1934 in the U.S., pushed out by 1935. Committed suicide 11 years later because she couldn't find aviation work, and there would not be another female airline pilot for 40 years in the U.S. This this is how powerful masculinization can be to secure the identity of work. Well, we have a kind of eerily similar case when it comes to computer science, and I don't know how many of you know this history. If I could just mention a couple of things for those of you interested in following up on it, there's a book, Gender Codes Anthology, of basically historical research on the gendering of computing, which really powerfully makes this case. So, I'm just going to make mention a couple of examples from this first, and by way of comparison, it's worth noting that in computing it was actually initially coded. Didn't have the ladybird thing come in later. It was initially coded in early 40s to mid 50s as women's work. Again, this theme if she could do it it must be easy work. Anyone can do it! Right? So, it's easy. It sort of wrote. Its clerical. These are sort of menial tasks, but also a message given to women was "It's better than your other options like nursing, or you know education, maybe being a teacher. This is more exciting. It has some glimmers of opportunity." You could see that this lasted obviously. This picture, the Susie Meyer campaign, comes from the late 60s, as you might notice from the aesthetics. So, it lasted. This notion kind of lasted well past its time, but with the persistence of computer girls, and you saw an example of that earlier as well, in film that was shown. So crucial to this, like in the Susie Meyer campaign, was kind of talking about the work as if it's at best an art. It's like how to plan a dinner. I mean this is actually what's said. It's like planning a dinner or following a recipe. This is work that anyone can do, but that you could put your special touch on. Something else is also happening at that time, and really by the late 40s to mid 50s you're starting to see the emergence of a figure some of you may know well. The lone wolf of computing. This is the idea that you have these kind of genius figures who are like doing some sort of — and this was a term — black magic or dark art. So, you notice there's also sort of mystery and racial coding that's happening there, but these are the characters that are off in garages like who knows what they're inventing...these feats of genius. So, these two images kind of started to compete, because the lone wolf was a more masculinized image. Well, as you could see in the case of aviation, neither of these were good for business either. So, who wants to be this kind of lone wolf character was a nonconformist, a sort of outsider as some folks portrayed it. I'm trying to remember what this particular source is, but the description is "The lone wolves of tech are egocentric and slightly neurotic. They border on a limited schizophrenia. Right? So, it's not exactly an image that makes other men say "Yeah! I want to be part of that!" So, you're having a hard time attracting labor that way. That it's coded also as women's work is a bit confusing. It's also hard to rein in the lone wolf, and standardize, and codify the knowledge. Right? Key to this moment in this profession is a labor shortage. So, the industry explicitly decided to target men, which is what you see represented here. At this time, again I've referred to masculinization as a strategy, but at this time everyone was clear. Everyone was quite explicit about the fact that if you want to attract male workers, you have to make it a real job. This is that status composition that Thomas Kovac Getty Debbie was talking about. For example, a British aeronautical research department explicitly observed this. Boys generally preserve preferred laboratory work to computing due in large part to the absence of any recognizable career in computing or of any suitable specialist courses or qualifications. If these could be made true, it might be possible to make commute computing into an attractive career for some boys. Did you hear that? It might be possible to make computing into an attractive career for men. A notion that sort of now seems a bit ludicrous. So, in this period of time they began to say you don't have to have technical skills, men. The truth was many of those men were going to be trained in technical skills by the women who would be displaced by them. Who would actually receive stipends for doing that training, but no opportunity to go into the profession itself. You don't need to be trained you don't need experience. We're calling all executive types, leaders, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, brainiacs. That's the type of masculinity we want here and the technical staff will follow. I'm reminded of a period of time in aviation when I came across a series of ads that explicitly said "no experience necessary." Any pilot cannot imagine that. No experience necessary. "Clean-cut Anglo American types preferred." Talk about explicit. Right? So, ultimately this led to a situation by the early 70s — and I'm abridging here for the sake of time — by the early 70s, where we began to see one of those internal differentiations that I talked about, where people are saying there's the difficult, complex, scientific, technical work, and there's the human user side, and those began to get gendered such that the technical work was with more elite masculinity, and the kind of user focus associated more with feminization, though not necessarily women. Just a softer task. So, that began to get settled in the 70s, and what lingers today is a kind of tension between this lone wolf who turned into a sort of geek nerd sort of image, and the more professional highly-trained IT specialist masculinity, and those two have been in conflict for some time. You see in both of these examples patterns that we discussed earlier. The common patterns of segregation and attempts at integration. So, I want to just say a couple of things about what we have learned from these two illustrations of making the glass slipper. How the wand was waived to make an occupational image that some people would seem to naturally fit, and others not fit. First, lessons learned. The nature and value of the work of any occupation is at some level invented. It is not intrinsic to the work and that is a difficult thing to acknowledge, as I said a moment ago. Second,we use embodied social identities. So, of course things like gender, race, sexuality, other variables come to matter certainly, but we use sort of imagery around those things. That's what we mean by embodied. Both embodied and kind of imagery about bodies. We use that stuff to brand occupations, and as we do that we start activating affective responses. I want to be that. I can't imagine being that...and all of the things and values that follow. The particular branding history of any particular occupation matters. As you can see, there is something very different about the lone wolf sort of geeky nerdy figure than there is about the Playboy Pilot. Like sexuality is playing a really different role. So, if you're going to think about kind of changing the system, understanding the particularities of those histories is very important. Following from that is an acknowledgment that it requires what I have tried to model here as a pluralistic or an intersectional approach to difference. The upshot of this is when it comes to occupational genderings. Gender never works alone. Never. The question is always what kind of masculinity and femininities. It is always difference in the plural intersecting with race, sexuality, class in particular. So, if I could just offer one refrain, it might be: Say goodbye to Mars and Venus. No more talking in terms of fixed essential gender differences, two camps, binary understandings...It's simply not how it works. Certainly not how it has worked historically. A couple other things we could say is if you want to see where the glass slipper hides out, take a look at descriptions of job skills, requirements, tasks that masquerade as neutral. Take a close look at those. Wendy Faulkner in engineering has showed how often aspects of technical jobs are played up that discourage certain populations, but actually do not characterize the actual content of the work. Right? So, it's a really important site for examining this. Many of us know from trying — from having token experiences, if we could refer back to that term — that faking it in terms of the glass slipper takes a lot of extra work and puts a lot of additional burden on people who are minorities in a profession. What we rarely talk about is how fitting, having the glass slipper just slide right onto your foot, is an artificial privilege, and a privilege that must also be debunked, and examined, and demystified. So, that's what the power of a glass metaphor is about, as if we need a new one. We have glass everything: ceilings, escalators... But the idea here is that while these kinds of privileges can be invisible, we can make them transparent, which is what we're kind of trying to do now. Tour the interest of making them fragile and breakable. So, I want to conclude by just talking about a few things related to ways we might break the glass slipper. So, trying here to pull out of cruel optimism, and invite us into a different sort of relationship of kinder optimism. Now, I know that most of the people in this room, in one way or another, are change leaders for this cause. I want to first address all of you regardless of what your kind of capacity or setting might be as change leaders. Then I'll be a little bit more specific about different kinds of change leaders. So, I want to suggest...Well, I think the first idea here is not controversial. I want to suggest that one of the lessons of the glass slipper is that we must promote a more constructive motivation for the goal of enhancing the status of women and girls in any occupation. One example of what that motivation might look like is one that I think many of you adhere to. That is that computing and technology...that the technologies available to us in the world should reflect the plurality of the world we live. So, we need to multiply difference in creators, and not just users. Right? So, that's a motivation I suspect very few of you would find controversial. But more controversial would be a couple of things: That we should avoid, as tempting as it is, the motivation... Tech jobs are desirable, and women and girls deserve inclusion. Now, the reason I suggest avoiding this motivation is because the parentheses there is what is often hidden. Inclusion in what? In the spoils of prior masculinization. As I've tried to show here, that is a rationale that is a kind of cruel optimism, that it is already doomed. It's a rationale that has its own undermining already at work. A telling illustration of that is how much more energy we give in this culture to enhancing the status of women in male-dominated arenas, but not the reverse. Not enhancing the presence of men, though there are some associations. I'll give an example of one in a moment. There are some associations that do this, but not enhancing men's presence in what's designated as women's work. I think that that disparity that gap right there shows you the ways in which we, and I include myself in this, are already seduced by the masculinization of value. We've decided that those arenas don't have that much to offer, but why doesn't nursing, and elementary education, and a number of other sort of women's work arenas... Why don't those services also reflect the plurality of the world we live? So, careful thought about motivation for success is something that I would suggest is in order. Now let me speak specifically to organizational change leaders in the room. So, most scholars who study this sort of thing make very clear that the ground-level is the most optimistic site for change. That is, organizations where jobs are actually assigned and valued. Right? So, the ground level of organizations. The ground level of education. I know we have educational alliances in this room. That's another place where these sort of glass slipper moments are happening and getting reinscribed. Certainly even networks among groups that are trying to support one another, like women's networks for professions, these are all places where these sorts of changes can occur. So, let me mention a few...I know it is a bedrock assertion of NCWIT, and I share this assertion. Social change of this sort is about fixing environments and not fixing people, necessarily. That is focusing on the systems that will allow people to flourish. When I say people, I mean difference in its widest most plural multiple spread. So, toward that end I want to focus on a few environmental things that are not always said, or even when we know them, these are sins we tend to commit that we could really commit ourselves to doing otherwise. One of those has to do with no longer assuming gender difference. A phrase I've come to develop in working with different groups is at best you know tendencies, not destinies. Right? Tendencies not destinies. That idea is to encourage as much sort of curiosity as possible about who people are. Not assume that, okay, women tend to be better at this, in these differences. So, discouraging tired stereotypes, and adopting a sort of stance of humility, curiosity, and openness about difference in all the ways it might manifest. Difference grows out of life circumstances and inhabiting certain bodies, but you never know where it will go and how it will show itself. A second thing — and I actually have templates — I'd be happy to share with folks if this is something of interest later, but you can do quite a lot of work to raise awareness of how glass slippers are operating in your environment. Again, NCWIT does a lot with unconscious bias and institutional barriers, and I would suggest to you that the glass slipper is an example of something that inhabits both spaces. That it is a cognitive schema that we bring to our assessments of who does and does not fit certain kinds of work. It is also deeply institutionalized in systems of reward in descriptions of jobs and in various other ways. So, lots of suggestions about how you can raise local awareness, because glass slippers tend to operate locally. So, a third and again perhaps more controversial notion has to do with cultivating what I would call privileged traders. Now I think in this organization, or set of organizations, that male advocates, male allies has become a focus. Now, that's important work, and I want to suggest that the idea of privilege traders shifts that just a little bit. So, with the notion of a privilege trader, you are getting rid of the idea of help. Right? A parallel I might make is to anti-racist work, where as a white woman I do not assume that being an advocate means helping. What I assume is that it means sort of demystifying and debunking the privilege that many white women walk around with. That is something that I can assist with. I cannot be trusted, and to know that, and to show that to others, and how that process works — that is what being, for example, a male advocate can entail. Again, I would love to talk about that more. Finally, I would suggest revaluing some feminized communication practices that we tend to think of as weak speech, and advocate more fluidity of communication habits among members. As an example, I might say I do not want to see another assertiveness training workshop for professional women without seeing a workshop in how to be demure for men.
KAREN ASHCRAFT: We could all benefit from a bit more provisionalism and hesitancy in our speech. That's not weak speech. That's good relationships. Right? So, there's a sense in which expanding what options communicatively are open to people. Workplace environments are extremely important. Last point, and I know maybe not so many of you work in this, but there are a number of specific tasks for rebranding change leaders. That is those like NCWIT staff, for example, who are focusing on changing sort of the image of the work. Let me actually just cut forward to an example which might be the best way to show this. So, this is the American Assembly for Men in Nursing. A recent poster that they've developed, and you'll notice here that what we have is a recoding of the work in nursing. It's an adrenaline rush. Okay, cool! So, you're destabilizing characterizations of work practices. That's interesting, but they're getting restabilized. Can you see how? When the body of a man is associated with adrenaline rush, you have just reinscribed that sort of binary rather than opening opportunities. Again, I have several examples I wish I could share with you, some from Scandinavian contexts which really I think twist our ways of thinking in interesting ways... But you can sort of relax our understanding of what practices go with certain people by focusing on coding practices in a really interesting, what I would call queer, way. Developing a queer eye for rebranding. That's a teaser. We could talk about it more. The bottom line is this: Whatever your capacity and environment as a change leader, remember this: No matter how hard they tried, strained, and sweat to squeeze that foot into the shoe, the ugly stepsisters were not going to make it. The shoe didn't fit. It was made not to fit. To eliminate them from the running. It was made against them. So, it doesn't make sense and seems a little bit cruel to keep telling them 'lean in'. You can't lean into a shoe that doesn't fit. What's kinder is to pick up the shoe and say, "Who is this damn thing designed for in the first place?" Shatter it. Widen it. Grow it Make it reversible. Okay, my shoe metaphor is breaking down. You get it. Proliferate the number of shoes in the closet. In other words, ask the question: “How can we make the slippers of this occupation as functional as possible for the work that needs to be done while open to the widest number of people?” That's what it means to prepare for success. So, thank you very much.
KAREN ASHCRAFT: Okay good. I think we have a little question time if people have questions. I have a little difficulty seeing some of you with the lights, so be bold. I didn't mean to say be assertive.
KAREN ASHCRAFT: Over here..Speak wherever you are. Okay. There!
Audience Member: I’m not sure if I've internalized all this very fascinating discussion, so let me test it. So, following the kinder approach, and taking computing as an example, it results in attracting and recruiting more women into the field. How do we know that the same effects — you'll provide the technical term — don't still occur when more women and more men see more women walking into the field?
KAREN ASHCRAFT: Okay, great! So you are internalizing. In other words, that is actually my point... is that that should be a concern right now at the moment of success that NCWIT is in. Attracting more women. Beginning to show the numbers. Research shows that you can expect that to be followed with some of those options that we talked about. Right? So, I am suggesting preparing for that to occur and anticipating what that might look like. I can give you some of the Scandinavian examples, perhaps to illustrate this. So, it is common in, especially U.S. social change programs of this sort, to focus on diverse images of people doing the work. Right? NCWIT does this often, and many organizations do, show more women in tech. Represent it and they will come. Now that they come, we start to see the work, the arena, the practices as something women can do, and potentially feminized. So, I've done some work with, of all things, the Norwegian Air Force, who is trying to work just this issue without diminishing the quality of the work, but without also propping it up on masculinity. Right? At the same time, getting out of that trap. So for example, at their recruitment videos they used to show images of death-defying rescue stunts — this is for a rescue squadron — performed by largely men to heavy-metal music. Everything about it says testosterone. The work and the body is doing it. Yeah! Then they would show patients being attended to, usually by women, in more caring softer music. So, they decided make all the practitioners in the video gender ambiguous, so it's not clear who it is we're even promoting. Focus on the practices, and reverse it. So, they ended up substituting for the death-defying stunts, which are still like 'woah' watch... They put symphonic, soaring, intimate music with that and then put the caring shots, the shots of patients being delicately handled, to the heavy metal. I mean, is a queer eye or what? Right? That kind of doesn't even make sense, but on the other hand it got people thinking about...they had all these focus groups... It got people thinking about what does it take? Why are they doing those death-defying stunts? Yes. It's also about service. So, it destabilize the gendering of the task, the gendering of the practice, and that's what I'm suggesting that affiliate organizations put some effort on.
KAREN ASHCRAFT: Yeah!
Audience Member: You spoke about a motive for women and girls entering technical careers, and one that you suggested to not use was to have them enjoy the spoils of high income. I'm wondering what’s wrong with that if you only have a female audience?
KAREN ASHCRAFT: Yes, so I love that addendum to the question, because I want...Did I cut you off? Okay. I want to first acknowledge that different logics and rationales can be adapted to different audiences. That's the case, and that's part of persuasion. As a communication professor, that's something we believe in. So, I definitely acknowledge that there are some rationales that can be used in certain scenarios. What I am advocating is the danger of fully embracing that. It's like saying there's a labor shortage. You need women. You have just put out a reason to not need women when there's not a labor shortage. Right? So, it's like it's one of those sort of self-defeating things. You could also point out to that audience... When you say these are desirable jobs, these are jobs that make high income, this is sort of regarded as a growth sector, and extremely preferable work. You could tell them that is in part because of its association with certain populations. So, take care. It's something that could be acknowledged and engaged. I guess what I'm suggesting is be wary of uncritically embracing whatever rationale of the day opens the door for women, because, like for the lady birds, exactly what open the door is what shut it for 40 years. The exact same thing. That's what I'm trying to create, some caution around. It's a great question.
Audience member: Can I propose we have an Ashcraft sister ask me anything to follow up on this? I think that would be amazing. So, my question is staying on the motivation. I hear often the motivation of the people who make technology should represent the same plurality of the people who use it. The thing that often follows that is a reinforcement of this essential nature of women. We need women getting this work because they're collaborative, and you can't do the work without these essential characteristics of women. So, how do we have that same argument, but not rely on essentialism?
KAREN ASHCRAFT: Okay. I love that question. What if I...I would love to have a full conversation about this. but let me make this tweak. It is precisely because you do not know the direction difference will take that you need to have it...If that makes any sense. It is not it is not because women bring X. Ok well then we know exactly how this need... then we just get a certain... Right? But it's precisely because you do not know. Difference is indeterminate, not essentialist. Not fixed. That you want to grow the pool of possible difference, and in doing so destabilize the notion of women itself. That's a little academic, but the idea is not to think of women as a homogeneous group. To be arguing, sort of subtly pushing, against that.
Audience member: I’m with TIME incorporated. So, I'm curious. One of the things that really helps us in this sort of a situation where we're trying to make improvements is a role model. Is there a particular field that you think has overcome this gender bias better than the others? Because I'm not very much hope in the cycle that you're here.
KAREN ASHCRAFT: Yeah. So, there's a couple of things to say. Close to home for me would be the case of professors. So, as that occupation became diversified, you also saw a re-entrenching of disciplines. Right? So, that resegregation pattern again. However, in many disciplines such as my own that integrated pretty well, like close to 50/50, what you do not have is a figurative practitioner. What you do not have...It's very difficult to come up with like the image of this kind of professor, a communication professor. People aren't sure what to think and the occupations that have an in-determinant figurative practitioner tend to be the most successful. This is why I'm suggesting to focus on the practices, not the practitioner. Don't show us new bodies that need to get in. Actually try to keep shuffling the bodies, if that makes sense. So, there are several integrated... and I can share these sources with you as well. There are several integrated professions, but you must be cautious about seeing those as formulas. It's so contextual because there's so many things that sort of are factoring into that. Definitely some conclusions like the one I just shared can be drawn from those. Thank you so much.
BOBBY SCHNABEL: Hold on a second. So Karen, thank you so much for a really interesting and thought-provoking talk. We appreciate it, and a little gift on behalf of NCWIT.
KAREN ASHCRAFT: Alright! Thank you very much!
BOBBY SCHNABEL: Now I think we're going to have some quick interior redecoration here. So, Lucy hadn't actually warned me that I need to be able to give you tourist tips like she just did, but I can add one more based on one day's experience at Hilton Head. For those of you who like to either walk or run heading out to the first floor and out to the sand, there's hard packed sand that goes for miles in either direction. It's just wonderful for either of those two things early in the morning, and then you have to be here by 8 o'clock.