What Other Industries Can Learn From Hollywood About Fighting Workplace Inequality
The phrase “sexism is prevalent in Hollywood” feels a little bit like saying “water is wet.” Headlines abound about this unfortunate reality and industry insiders themselves are speaking out more than ever before. In fact, their outspokenness may be making all the difference.
Take, for example, one of the most lauded stars of our time: Meryl Streep. The legend has long been an advocate for women in her industry and continued this legacy while promoting her new film Suffragette. Streep recently pointed out the barriers female filmmakers face at the Telluride Film Festival. "They do exist, they graduate [from top film schools], they're good — and then they don't get hired," she said.
Actress Anne Hathaway, who is now 32, has spoken out about the sexism actresses face, especially when they age.
“When I was in my early twenties, parts would be written for women in their fifties and I would get them," Hathaway recently told Glamour UK. "And now I'm in my early thirties and I'm like, 'Why did that 24 year old get that part?' I was that 24 year old once, I can't be upset about it, it's the way things are. All I can do right now is think that thankfully you have built up perhaps a little bit of cachet and can tell stories that interest you and if people go to see them you'll be allowed to make more.”
These comments are not only crucial for raising awareness, however, but also seem to be contributing to real change. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces laws against workplace discrimination, has started contacting female film and television directors to interview them about gender disparities in the industry in order learn more about the discrimination they've faced on the job, according to Mic.
While this progress in the entertainment industry should be commended, it's crucial to remember that sexism and discrimination aren't just issues in the entertainment industry. Women in industries across the board face similar discrimination, but lack the same star power or public interest when it comes to getting the word out.
STEM fields, for example, are notoriously male dominated. Although they fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy at large, women hold less than 25% of all STEM jobs according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The issue is not just that women aren't entering these fields, but also that they frequently leave once there. Take engineering, for example: Studies show that 40% of women who earn engineering degrees quit the profession (or never enter the field at all). 20 percent of engineering graduates are women, but only 11 percent of practicing engineers are female and 25 percent of these women leave the field after age 30, compared to 10% of their male colleagues. One third of the women studied left the field because of the organizational climate, citing that they had non-supportive supervisors or coworkers.
Scientific fields don't fare much better, especially in terms of hiring. According to a 2012 Yale study, physicists, chemists, and biologists are likely to view a young male scientist more favorably than a woman with the same qualifications. When presented with identical summaries of the accomplishments of two imaginary applicants of different genders, professors at six major research institutions were significantly more inclined to offer the male applicant the position. When they did choose a female candidate, her salary was on average $4,000 less than the male applicant’s.
Of course, STEM isn't the only field with this problem. Despite being well-educated and qualified — women have collectively earned 10 million more degrees than men since 1982, are a 60% majority in undergraduate classrooms, and make up 73% of the graduate student population — employers still favor men over women in hiring across the board. Less than 42% of jobs are offered to women across every field, a number that hasn’t improved in over five years.
Many factors undoubtedly contribute to women’s career choices, but one that likely affects us all is the way we are socialized in our formative preteen years. We primarily teach young girls to nurture and young boys to build and explore — lessons many children will invariably cling to their entire lives and allow to dictate their career paths. This is why we should perhaps reevaluate popular “lean in” ideologies which tell women that their success lies in their own confidence: Even when women do enter male-dominated fields, therefore, the men that surround them are largely socialized to regard women in these spaces with hostility.
It seems the answer, therefore, ultimately lies in the industries themselves. Activists and women in their industries — in Hollywood and beyond — are speaking up and must continue to do so. It’s time for these industries to listen.
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