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Activism & Action Our Voices Systems

The Seven Sins of Gender Washing

As someone who wholly embraced and participated the environmental and sustainability movement in the early 2000s (to the point of founding the World’s only Platinum LEED-certified dairy), the opportunity to hear Naomi Klein speak on the state of the environment and environmental debate in Canada on Oct. 17 at the University of Toronto was something I just couldn’t miss.

In her talk, Klein cited many troubling facts, but the most burdensome of these was that after 50 years of environmental activism and effort, as a society, we still struggle to make meaningful progress.

Even with scientific evidence and now actual lived experience of the impact of growing levels of green house gases on the planet, and even after the signing of the 2016 Paris Agreement, environmental activists like Klein remain skeptical. While 55 countries representing 38 per cent of the world’s emissions agreed to implement plans that will “limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change,” Klein argues that the targets are already at risk. Several countries continue to approve large scale industrial projects that will make this achievement mathematically impossible, she notes. Canada for example, played an important role in convincing leaders of the need for even tougher measures, yet recently approved an emissions increase of 43 per cent for the Alberta Tar Sands’ new fossil-fuel-based pipelines. In practice, this will increase Canada’s emissions well beyond the target set in Paris.

Furthermore, environmental watchdog organizations, like UL Ventures (formerly TerraChoice), an independent global science safety company, continue to call out case after case of greenwashing. The term “greenwashing” was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986 to describe instances in which a company, government or any other group promotes green-based initiatives or images but continues to operate in ways that damage the environment. In fact, according to UL, 95 per cent of green products assessed today are guilty of greenwashing.

While we are patting ourselves on the backs for our day to day efforts, Klein suggests, we as a society are not doing nearly enough. Yes, we can change lightbulbs, buy green products, build LEED-certified buildings, and ride our bikes to work in the snow. But it turns out that in the face of continuued approval of large scale, fossil fuel based industrial projects that serve capitalist, corporate and national interests, these individual efforts represent but a few colourful grains of sand on a 150-mile beach.

The environmental movement has learned it is up against something much bigger than political will. It’s up against the reluctance of us all, and especially of those in power, to give up our 21st century way of life.

Common Ground: From Greenwashing to Gender-Washing

While listening to Klein, it occurred to me that the gender equality movement (known more commonly as feminism) is a lot like the environmental movement.

The literature in both fields indicates similar causal roots (unequal power dynamics, capitalism run amok, neoliberalism), and both are deemed exploitative in nature. They are both wicked problems that require intersectoral solutions. Each domain is full of third-party certification opportunities to help consumers separate the curds from the whey (LEEDS, Green Globes, ISO 14001, WEConnect, and Buyup Index).

Taking this idea further, many similarities can also be seen in the ways that corporations and even governments pay lip service to these two philosophies to turn a profit, or a vote.

In 2009, TerraChoice developed its list of the “Seven Sins of Greenwashing”, which became a widely-used taxonomy to categorize common types of greenwashing activities. The seven sins are: Hidden Trade-off, No Proof, Vagueness, Worshiping False Labels, Irrelevance, Lesser of Two Evils and Fibbing. Categorizing practices like this helped consumers to recognize and understand different types of greenwashing activities so they could make more informed choices.

The seven sins list was indeed useful during my days as a sustainable enterprise entrepreneur. And so, I thought it might be similarly helpful to develop a “Seven Sins of Gender-Washing” list to help us all better identify gender-washing practices. The term “gender-washing” describes organizations that try to sell themselves as progressive on the gender equity front, when in reality, they are not.

Here goes.

  1. The Sin of Re-Skinning – A company that attempts to “look” like its work environment is currently gender progressive by ensuring its company website, annual report, and advertising copy has lots of women in the photos. It uses positive gender speak in its corporate communications, and content marketing output, yet when you check out the gender composition at the top it is 80 per cent, or worse, 100 per cent men.
  2. The Sin of Worshipping False Progress – Where corporations create special “We Love Women Who Work Here” days; buy tickets to women empowerment lunches for female staff; appropriate initiatives like the UN’s “HeforShe” campaign for commercial gain; or give to Oxfam’s “I Am A Feminist” campaign as part of a marketing campaign, yet internal organizational policies and day-to-day gender-biased cultural practices remain fundamentally unchanged.
  3. The Sin of Distraction – A claim suggesting the company is pro-gender equity, but upon digging deeper, you find the claim is based on a narrowly defined initiative without concern for the larger, more important issues. For example, in 2011, Walmart trumpeted its new Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, which involved a commitment to source $20B from women-owned businesses. Sounds good, however, this amounts to just 5 per cent of its overall expenditures. And, Walmart was already buying from some women-owned firms. The initiative came on the heels of a class action suit launched against Walmart by its 1.5 million female associates for its allegedly discriminatory practices.
  4. The Sin of Corporate Inconsistency – Where distant head offices write, implement and impose gender equity and inclusion policies, and promote this as progress, but their branch plant or satellite operations in other jurisdictions don’t follow suit and are not help accountable for doing so.
  5. The Sin of Positioning Basic Compliance as Leadership – Companies that tout government-mandated policies—like pay equity or parental leave—as gender-progressive initiatives; or Ontario organizations that send out press releases announcing they “have done away with dress codes” (meanwhile dress codes have already been deemed unacceptable by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 2016).
  6. The Sin of Irrelevance – A case where a company promotes the fact that 65 per cent of its employees are women, however they are all on the factory floor, are mostly hired as part-time workers with no benefits, and have no representation in senior management let alone on the board.
  7. The Sin of Only Counting Heads – A case where a company trumpets the addition of two new female board members or the promotion of a female manager to VP to change the ratio, not the culture. Sometimes, “non-trouble makers” or like-minded women who won’t challenge the status quo are chosen by design. This does nothing to change the culture or support inclusion. Appointees we hope to see serve as changemakers become mere headstones at the board table, and their ability to create change for all genders in the company is amputated-usually at the voice.

When it comes to the seven sin taxonomy, many may argue that perhaps these initiatives are not really sinful at all, but demonstrations of positive intent. The phrase, “Let’s not make the perfect be the enemy of the good,” comes to mind. As a colleague of mine said, “At least they changed the pictures on the website—it’s a start isn’t it?”

Once again, we can learn from our environmental movement counterparts. Yes, some organizations, keen to be perceived as market leaders in the gender equity space, might put the cart before the horse—a “fake it till you make it” approach—advertising where they want to be, and not where they are today. Sorry, but that still makes it gender-washing-until their policies and results catch up with their claims.

Do Organizations That Gender Wash Eventually Improve Authentically?

Furthermore, evidence from the green space shows that few companies ever actually move (willingly) beyond their greenwash-oriented status. Why? Turns out “the perfect” is not the enemy, it’s the business case decision-making framework.

To help organizations understand what being stuck in the short-term business case loop looks like, the sustainability field developed something called “The Maturity Curve”. Different consulting firms have customized different versions, but the core idea is the same. Becoming a truly environmentally positive enterprise is a journey. Points along the curve articulate the pros and cons from one state to another. It can help decision makers see that some returns take a long time to be realized.

If we apply the maturity curve concept to the gender equity space, it would look something like this:

slide1

 

As the chart illustrates, the reason companies in the environmental space actually never move past the compliance or market opportunity levels is because short-term returns are possible at those levels. Consumers eager to vote green with their dollars buy the products based on the ads, the green coloured package and superficial claims. Both believe they have done their bit.

Organizations that do want to make a substantive difference need to move up the curve. However, as you move up the curve, so do costs, and returns take more time to realize. Maturing takes investment. As we know, not all quarterly-earnings-oriented organizations can stomach a long return horizon. As a result, only a small percentage of organizations make the leap to the next stage of commitment.

This also speaks to the fact that that there is a limit to what we can truly expect from large corporations and institutions when it comes to changing the world. Few will ever, if at all, reach the fourth stage, unless these goals were part of the founding vision in the first place.

From Gender Washing to Gender Equity, to Action

So what does our understanding of green washing and role of companies in helping to drive environmental change tell us about the pace and nature of change we can expect in the gender equity space?

For starters, we can remind ourselves that real, deep social change happens at a glacial pace and is inherently complex. It involves changing institutions, culture, underlying, interlocking systems like capitalism and culture, versus just the products we buy or companies we work for.

We can also learn that individual efforts, such as “buying your way” out of a significant and fundamental social problem, make us feel good, but don’t do nearly enough. We must move from being consumers to becoming citizens again. As citizens, we can and should re-engage at political levels, read, think critically, stand up (on the street if need be, not just while sitting on your couch using Twitter), speak our truths, get uncomfortable, and take the time out of our days to contribute meaningfully to an intentional larger movement.

As Klein said two weeks ago, to really make a difference on these kinds of problems, we need an  intersectional collective, activist effort.

In her view, just as the colonialists saw their colonies and their natural resources as their own larder for growing their personal stature and fortunes at home, society has for too long viewed women as an inexpensive resource to exploit. Women have been used as “spare parts to fill in, versus lead[ers in] our economy.”

In short, we need to end our dependence on the extractive economy to save the planet, and similarly end our exploitation of women to advance society. And we need active, engaged and informed citizens, not consumers, to get there.

Now that would truly change everything.

 

Related Readings and Articles:

Entrepreneurs by Choice; Activists by Necessity” by Cynthia MacDonald

 

 

 

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Activism & Action Our Voices Systems

Why We're Feminists

Why-We're-Feminists-by-Valerie-Hussey-LiisBeth-Magazine

Curling up with the Sunday New York Times is a ritual that goes back to my teen years. A couple of weeks ago on February 21st, I pulled my favourite sections—the magazine, Book Review, and Sunday Review—and headed to a coffee shop to pass a few hours.
In that one issue of the New York Times, I read four pieces that show how far women still have to go to achieve equality. When people say that the feminist struggle was yesterday’s battle, I want to know how they’ve drawn that conclusion. Who told them that? What advantage does that person have in perpetuating this lie?
I feel strongly about feminism. Even the word is important to me. It has been manipulated and hijacked, as women’s issues often are in the mainstream. But we would do well to remember the simple dictionary definition of feminism: “social, political, and economic equality for women.” There’s hardly anything radical or threatening in that definition so I don’t understand why most people wouldn’t be comfortable being a feminist under that banner. But the term is used in so many ways that have little to do with addressing inequality and a great deal to do with undermining the principles of equality by distracting, labeling, and demeaning women (and men) who call themselves feminists.
I have tried to understand younger women who say they need to define feminism for themselves, to claim it and make it their own. But I don’t really understand. I agree that younger women—or any individual, really—should be able to define for herself how she wants to live her life, and the great thing about democracy is that we can each do that to a large extent. But what would the new definition of feminism be that would suit younger women, if not social, political, and economic equality? Those fundamentals capture virtually anything that someone might want to claim as their definition of feminism, no less fairness.

And for women who say they’re humanists but not feminists (they’re not mutually exclusive), it’s not an adequate response because humanism doesn’t address political and economic equality.

The idea that “power can be taken, but not given,” a quote attributed to Gloria Steinem, concludes with, “The process of the taking is empowerment in itself.” The operative element in this is action. If women are coerced into believing that it’s unattractive to be a feminist, they are relinquishing their own power. Hillary Clinton’s attempt to become the first female president of the United States is complex and complicated by the men around her, starting with Bill. Whether you like her or not, this woman is undoubtedly the most qualified candidate running for the office, but look how her campaign is being dissected and deconstructed in ways that a man’s would not.
Consider the piece “Why Sexism at the Office Makes Women Love Hillary Clinton” by journalist and lawyer Jill Filipovic. She shines a clear light on some of that complexity as it is playing out with younger women who are supporting Bernie Sanders. The irony is that Sanders advocates for all sorts of things that he could not deliver on, but the sheer fact of expressing himself garners support. Clinton contains herself to what a president could accomplish, with an eye to addressing the systemic barriers that women still face. Yet she’s criticized for being status quo. What Clinton understands are the systemic structures that need to be disassembled, and she knows that women need to take action to disassemble them. Men may do it with us, but not for us.
If Clinton doesn’t make it to the White House, I don’t expect that I will see a female president in my lifetime. There are many countries that have elected female leaders, and they espouse as wide a range of political views as men. But amid the hypocrisy of the US—land of the free, built on the Horatio Alger myth of success—ultimate success appears to be reserved for Horatio not Hermione. Women are not part of the national mythology. Isn’t that reason enough to be a feminist?
It’s important not to confuse feminine with feminism. One doesn’t cancel the other. You can be a feminist and be as feminine as you like. But if you want to understand what it means to have a paternalistic hand define your femaleness, then read the piece in The New York Times Magazine titled “Over Bearing” by Emily Bazelon. This fascinating—and frightening—piece is an excellent example of inequality being paraded as protection for women. Why is a women’s right to choose and have control over her own body being challenged and distorted in Texas and many other US states? This is not about protecting women; it’s about controlling women. It’s an attempt to remove a fundamental right from women under a guise that is not applied to other medical procedures because those don’t involve control of self. Abortion, more than anything, is about control.
Another piece, “It’s Not Cute To Be Scared” by Caroline Paul, focuses on girls and had me nodding in recognition and agreement. My father wouldn’t buy me a bicycle in 1958 because he couldn’t afford insurance (he probably couldn’t afford the bicycle either) and was afraid that if I fell off and hurt myself, he’d be unable to “protect” me. That was the same reason I couldn’t ride a horse or swim in the ocean. He projected all his fears onto me, his little girl. He had a pony when he was a little boy and he survived a broken arm when he fell off. He had a near-drowning incident, which forced him to become a good swimmer. And when he finally brought home a rusty old bike, he rode it down the street, sitting backwards on the handlebars. Who knows what provoked that prank? But he survived living, which most of us do, even when he took risks.
I doubt he would have been so afraid for me if I had been a son. When my own son was born, I promised myself—for him—that I would not let my fears hold him back. I explored the natural world without fear and encouraged him to explore it too so he would not assume girls were perpetually scared. I ran and played ball with him. We built a fort and a tree house together. I was the best Lego-assembler mom around. I’m still not a strong swimmer, but I took him for lessons when he was a baby.
The last New York Times headline that caught my eye, “The Female Pilots We Betrayed” by Sarah Byrne Rickman, is required reading to understand why feminism is important. It will break your heart while inflaming you with rage. Sometimes injustice is so raw that its reasons are hard to comprehend, and this is one of those cases. If any of the men with whom these women served could speak from their grave, would they deny their female comrades the dignity of recognizing their accomplishments? I somehow doubt it because their reasons would be ruled by meaningful experiences, not by ideology, policy, and prejudice. Read the article and then answer the question: are you a feminist? Do you believe in social, political, and economic equality for women? If you say no, then you will be indifferent to the women who served as pilots alongside men in World War II and the fact that the US Army prevents them from having their ashes laid to rest alongside their fellow veterans. If you can withstand the blatant unfair sexism and not feel enraged by the treatment of these heroes, then you really aren’t a feminist. And how sad for you.
 
(Publishers Footnote:  Over the past week, LiisBeth attended several women’s events in downtown Toronto, with audiences of 500+.  During question period, I asked the speakers, all women in executive roles, and many who attended, if they identified as feminists.  One said yes, and the rest said categorically said no.  I was genuinely surprised followed by deeply disappointed. If Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can call himself a feminist, why do so many Canadian women, especially those in positions of significant corporate power and influence find it difficult to do so?  Some of the explanations, including “because I have two boys at home” or “its an outdated idea” reads uninformed at best.  Perhaps Margaret Wente in March 8th’s Globe and Mail has the answer?  We think its time women entrepreneurs and their corporate sisters unlearn, re-learn, and re-connect with feminism.  It remains the worlds only large scale, international, yet multi-faceted movement that ultimately works for equality and inclusion. Can you be supportive of equality and inclusion and not call yourself a feminist? Sure. But what’s the point.  When you say feminist, you are really saying you are part of something bigger than yourself.  When you say feminist, you also say you are actively engaged in making a difference on these issues).  
 
 

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Our Voices

Staff Writer Calls Out How Women Are Treated At Gawker

Earlier in November, former Gawker writer Dayna Evans published “On Gawker’s Problem with Women” in Matter. Evans shared her experience and conversations with other women at the online magazine and exposing a number inequities that are not limited to the world of digital publishing.

Two of the major problems she brings to light are how women at the magazine were given invisible work and discouraged from speaking up about gender pay discrepancies.

Evans takes Gawker’s leadership to task for its token nod to Leah Beckmann, Gawker’s past interim editor-in-chief for “stepping into the breach and helping out” when the site was in a state of flux and she was still able to oversee its highest traffic day in history. Evans calls the recognition out as both dismissive and gendered. “Only a woman would be thanked for ‘helping out.”

Emma Carmichael, Jezebel’s current editor-in-chief and the former managing editor of both Gawker and Deadspin, told Evans:

Gawker’s gossip sites often operate off of more or less ‘invisible’ female management behind the scenes … It’s hard for those women to get recognized for their work, because it’s not on the top of the masthead or on bylines, but they’re the ones pulling the strings each day. Their work isn’t missed until they leave out of frustration or get forced out. It’s a shameful cycle.

Gawker is a hotbed for gossip and pop culture. What cannot be left out is that the media outlet is known for its “sniping, backstabbing culture which is perpetuated by the company’s women too.”

With an editorial philosophy of “why not publish whatever we want” (by male and female staff alike) a problem with rape gifs that the company refused to address, and concern about a sexist work environment that is lacking in diversity – you can only wonder what the leadership board and specifically Gawker founder Nick Denton is thinking.

The following is a quote from an interview that Denton did with the New York Times in July:

“I’d like Gawker to be the best version of itself, taking the best of each era of the site. The scoops of John Cook. The investigations of Adrian Chen or J. K. Trotter. Pop culture from Rich Juzwiak. And some of Max Read’s excellent vision for the site. All the ingredients are there, and the talent. And I’d like to see other properties — category leaders like Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Deadspin and Jezebel — come out from Gawker’s shadow. “Gawker is your one-stop guide to media and pop culture. It is the place you come to learn the real story — the account you won’t (or can’t) find anywhere else.” That’s from Max’s memo at the start of the year.”

Evans points out in her thesis that there are no women in Denton’s ideal vision of Gawker.com, and that no stories by women were held out for praise in an introductory memo from now-official executive editor John Cook.

Jezebel founder Anna Holmes gave Evans her perspective on the way she feels women are treated at Gawker Media:

“My feeling — now more than ever — is that Nick [Denton] has women in two sorts of positions at the company. The few women who actually wield power are, by and large, incredibly competent and dedicated and are expected to clean up other people’s messes and act as emotional caretakers and moral compasses. The women who are not in power, well, it sometimes felt to me like the company saw them as circus acts; provocative and good for pageviews but ultimately very disposable.”

Perhaps one of the most notable disposals of female staff was the aftermath of the notorious Emily Gould and Jimmy Kimmel interview. Shortly after Gould gave a public resignation from Gawker and the New York Times Magazine cover story about her time at the company. Days before the story  was published, Denton saw a video of Gould mimicking a blow job on a plastic tube and fed it to Gawker writer to post. Denton remarked when being interviewed for Gawker’s Oral History book: “Why not? She’s a public person. I’m a public person. This was publicly available.”

Evans does reach out to Denton to contribute to her piece, however was met with some difficulty. Evans gracefully concludes, that while Gawker was a publication she once admired and saw her own writing grow amongst talented individuals, she confronted the problem at hand:

Gawker may pride itself on being a trailblazer in the stubbornly slow-to-adapt media, but only if it starts to treat gender favoritism as the toxic epidemic that it is, will that reputation truly be deserved. After all, someone’s gotta do it.

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Activism & Action Systems

Oppression of Women Working in the Film Industry

Think you know your anger ceiling when it comes to oppression of women working in the film industry? Think again.

In a recent investigation piece in the New York Times Maureen Dowd reports on the oppression of women in the film and entertainment industry. Dowd spoke with over 100 female actresses, executives and filmmakers about how they have been systematically and routinely shut out from business opportunities that are readily available to their male counterparts.

However, this is not the first time women in the industry have spoken out against oppression in Hollywood.

In 1979 a group know as the “The Original Six” started the Directors Guild of America’s Women’s Steering Committee. They encouraged the Guild to launch a class action lawsuit in 1983 against the studios, which moved the number of women directors up by almost 16% in 10 years. During that time however, none of the six women got any work. Afterwards, most women directors and women in the industry would not speak out about the lack of opportunity because they were afraid of being blacklisted.

So what will it take to dismantle a sexist system where women feel like they can’t stand up for what they want or help other women, without jeopardizing their own success?

A more recent study by the University of Southern California found that only 1.9% of directors of the top-grossing 100 films of 2014 were women. Another report found that women represent just 16% of television directors. Dowd writes, “It’s hard to believe the number could drop to zero, but the statistics suggest female directors are slipping backward.

Prof. Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University reports that in 2014, 95 percent of cinematographers, 89 percent of screenwriters, 82 percent of editors, 81 percent of executive producers and 77 percent of producers were men.”

The Women of Hollywood Speak Out is our pick for this weekends dispatch. Before you dive in on your way to or from work, check out a few of our favorite quotations from her reporting below.

It’s kind of like the church. They don’t want us to be priests. They want us to be obedient nuns. Anjelica Huston, actress, director and producer

That’s another layer to the conversation — being a parent in Hollywood. While my kids are young, I am absolutely less aggressive in my career, because I aggressively want to be a mom. I’m more selective with my projects — and in the long run, that will be good for my career. Maggie Carey, writer, director

A big part of getting a ‘shot’ is about studio execs seeing themselves in you. As a woman and a black filmmaker, I’m often not that person. Dee Rees, writer, director and producer

You’d have to go to forklifters to find a lower percentage of females — 99 percent of people on my crew have never worked with a female director. A woman who’d been working as an extra for 30 years was on my set and told me: ‘I just want to tell you, right on, sister. Do you know how nice it is just to see a woman in charge?’ I kind of got teary. Denise Di Novi, producer and director

The idea that women don’t like each other or undermine or sabotage each other is a big myth. It is not true at all. Smart women connect with each other instantly and help one another. Patricia Riggen, director and producer

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Activism & Action Systems

How Sexism Shaped Corporate Culture

In a recent article for the Atlantic, Melissa Gregg explores how an antiquated sexist culture still influences how corporate culture is managed today.

From condescending bosses to the perceived illegitimacy of catering and cleaning jobs, Gregg gives readers a brief snapshot of how old notions of domesticity and family influence work culture subtle ways. She considers the ideals of the modern, equal opportunity workplace and whether or not there is still room for the paternalistic metaphor of the corporate family.

Gregg is a researcher at Intel Corporation and the author of Work’s Intimacy – an account of online technology and the social tensions emerging in today’s fast changing work environment.

Read her article How Sexism Shaped Corporate Culture on the Atlantic and decide for yourself. Does the word “family” still make sense in explaining contemporary work? What are your thoughts?