On November 10, Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (DMA), the Association of Women Faculty and Professionals (AWFP), and the Carolina Women’s Center (CWC) partnered to present “Navigating the Complexity of Gender in the Workplace.” The workshop focused on identifying and positively disrupting instances of gender bias in the workplace. It drew participants from across a broad spectrum of the Carolina community, including graduate, post-doctoral, research, staff and faculty members. Dr. Tanya Shields, Associate Professor in the Department of Women and Gender Studies and President of the Association of Women Faculty and Professors at UNC, welcomed colleagues and peers by focusing on the importance of interrupting instances of gender bias to create positive change and improve climate for women at Carolina. She challenged attendees by asking, “What are the ways in which we support or challenge social norms and how can our institutions and the units that we are a part of try to change and shape that?’”
Not only were participants varied in their roles at UNC, but they also had a wide range of interests and motivations for attending the workshop. Steve Chall, senior research software developer at the Renaissance Computing Institute, said encouragement from peers brought him to the workshop. “I’m hoping to find ways to work more harmoniously and productively with my colleagues and just get along with folks better in the world.” For attendees like Julianne Seer, a research coordinator at the Department of Emergency Medicine, the reason for coming to the workshop was more personal. “When I saw this particular workshop related to gender what came to mind were the issues that I face in the workplace as a queer woman who works in sort of a medical related profession that’s largely dominated by men but staffed by women.”
Dr. Clare Counihan, program coordinator at the Carolina Women’s Center and Sharbari Dey, assistant director for education and special initiatives at the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs facilitated the workshop. They contextualized different types of gender biases and invited participants to use the information to think of examples from their own experiences in the workplace. “We want you to be able to do something with this information,” said Counihan.
Participants were introduced to a toolbox of tactics and strategies to approach gender biases they encounter. These included preparing responses to call out discriminatory comments they hear on a regular basis and finding allies to support advancing gender equity and an inclusive workplace climate. “Allies can play a range of roles in these situations. For example, untenured faculty can seek support from a tenured colleague when they are confronted with instances of bias in the workplace. Or, if you are not comfortable or feel safe in interrupting cases of gender bias, bringing in allies to design a constructive approach to address the situation can alleviate the pressure of have to confront a difficulty situation alone.
Counihan and Dey also suggested that employees find simple and constructive ways to disrupt assumptions when gender biased comments are made in the workplace, for example, asking for a simple explanation for why a joke or comment is funny, or repeating back a biased assumption in the form of a question. During the workshop, engaged conversations broke out among participants as they unpacked the multiple facets and instances of gender bias in the workplace and how to handle it. The response from workshop participants was very positive. “I think it’s great to have a space to have these conversations. It’s very informative. I think it’s important to learn beyond just a term,” said Ray Idaszak, the director of collaborative environments at the Renaissance Computing Institute.
Getting employees talking about gender in the workplace was just one aspect of this workshop. Going forward, Dey, Counihan, and Shields hope those who attended will be better able to enact change in their daily lives. The AWFP plans a second workshop on a similar topic in Spring of 2016.
The Association for Women Faculty and Professionals at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers women faculty and professionals opportunities for fun, networking and learning through social activities, seminars, discussion groups and other events. Our diverse membership includes faculty, researchers, administrators, librarians, communicators, fundraisers, medical and legal professionals, and other UNC faculty and staff. to learn more please visit awfp.web.unc.edu
The Carolina Women’s Center pursues gender equity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Through education, advocacy, and interdisciplinary research, the CWC builds bridges and enhances the intellectual life and public engagement mission of the university. To learn more about the Center and its mission, please visit womenscenter.unc.edu