YALSA Board Discussion at Midwinter 2020

The question of “Where will YALSA need to focus over the next five years so that it may best support its membership and, just as importantly, the youth they serve?” cannot be quickly determined. During the past several months, your YALSA board rebooted discussions regarding the strategic planning path. Board members embarked on a new road, now led by our experienced and seasoned President and our knowledgeable Executive Director. 

As a starting point, the board has examined and discussed our current guiding documents (EDI plan, strategic plan, implementation plan, and more), evaluated other existing strategic plans, and delved deeper into conversations on future members’ values, needs, etc. We continue these discussions at ALA Midwinter during Board I scheduled for Saturday, January 25 at 1:00 pm in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Room 304.

In addition to these discussions, the board will also undertake professional development training to better understand and facilitate the integration of the EDI plan with our future strategic plan (more on this soon). Board meetings are open to all and we invite you to join us and lend your input as we continue the strategic planning process.

Should you have any questions or wish to offer comments via email, please reach out to Todd Krueger, YALSA President, or to me, Amanda Barnhart, YALSA President-Elect.

YALSA at the Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia

Hi everyone,

For those who are attending the Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia, I would like to direct you to some of the YALSA events taking place!

The YALSA Social will take place on Saturday, January 25 from 5:30pm-7pm at the Field House, 1150 Filbert St, very near the Pennsylvania Convention Center (PCC). All are welcome!

The Youth Media Awards are scheduled for Monday, January 27 from 8am-9:30am in the PCC, Ballroom A & B. Please join me as we learn the titles selected by the Alex Awards committee, the winner of the Edwards Award, the winner of the Morris Award and the Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award, and winner and honor title(s) of the Printz Award. Many other awards, including those from affiliate organizations, EMIERT, REFORMA, the Rainbow Round Table, and ALSC will also be announced.

The Morris and Nonfiction Award ceremony takes place on Monday, January 27 from 10:30am-Noon in the Philadelphia Marriott, Salon C D & E (adjacent to Grand Ballroom E/F). Tickets are still available for $25 or at the door. Many of the finalists will be in attendance at this always special event. Coffee, tea, and pastries, along with your choice of a number of complimentary copies of the finalists’ books will be available.

Monday from 5:30pm-7pm, please join us at the Joint ALSC/YALSA Reception in the Philadelphia Marriott, Liberty C. Network with colleagues about your time in Philadelphia and debrief among friends new and old about the winners and surprises of the morning’s Youth Media Awards!

For governance wonks, the YALSA Board meets on Saturday, January 25 from 1-5pm and Sunday, January 26 from 4-5:30pm in the PCC, Room 304. All are welcome to attend, aside from any executive sessions that may take place when you will be asked to briefly wait outside the room.

Thanks as always for your work for and with teens!

Todd Krueger, YALSA President 2019-2020 | Twitter: @toddbcpl

Defending the Merits of YA Literature

Last year, the teachers of our Freshman Honors English classes gave out a winter break reading assignment. Each student was asked to choose a book and read it over break, just for fun. In my ten years at the school, this was only the second assignment I knew of that gave our high school students the opportunity to choose any book they wanted to read, so I was excited. 

 

Chart describing the literary merit of YA books.

Then we had the first student come back to the library to return the book she had checked out. 

You see, she had chosen a young adult novel, and apparently that was not allowed. She needed an adult book. My heart sank and my blood pressure rose. I was upset, confused, and really sad for our kids. At that point, it was too late in the game to talk to the teachers about their reasoning behind the ban on YA, as winter break was about to start. 

This year, I decided to make it my mission to get our teachers to let students read YA for their winter break assignment.  Being a librarian, this obviously meant I needed to do my research, gather evidence, and have it ready for them. Below, I’ve shared some of the best resources I found. I know that I am not the only one who interacts with people, whether they are parents, teachers, or even other librarians, who feel that YA is somehow unworthy reading for teens. Hopefully these resources can be useful for some of you as well. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Value of Young Adult Literature by Michael Cart (2008)

Though once dismissed as a genre consisting of little more than problem novels and romances, young adult literature has, since the mid-1990’s, come of age as literature – literature that welcomes artistic innovation, experimentation, and risk-taking.

…much of [YA literature’s] value cannot be quantified but is to be found in how it addresses the needs of its readers. Often described as “developmental,” these needs recognize that young adults are beings in evolution, in search of self and identity; beings who are constantly growing and changing, morphing from the condition of childhood to that of adulthood.

Disrupting Genre by Julia E Torres

In our ELA classrooms, white supremacy shows up in one important way: the worship of the written word. If something isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist. If a book is not in a written format and hailed as “rigorous” or labeled as “classic,” then it’s unimportant and doesn’t make it onto our book lists. If something isn’t written in a western format, then it isn’t worthy of classroom study. 

This literature is written for young people and discussing topics they are concerned with. Often, YA surfaces issues of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and sexuality, that “classical” texts don’t address. Our own Tricia E. explained, “YA is not a genre; among other things, it’s an indicator of the intended audience. So when you disparage YA, you’re disparaging the audience.”

Quick Take: Dark or Difficult Themes for Young Adult Readers by Sean Kennedy (2019)

But decency requires empathy, and empathy requires imagination. That’s what diverse stories do. They feed our complex imaginations and allow us to develop empathy for people who are different from us, and this ultimately leads to communities built on foundations of decency.

Beyond Relevance to Literary Merit: Young Adult Literature as “Literature” by Dr. Anna Soter and Sean Connors (2009)

Much like literature written for adults, we believe that young adult literature is capable of providing thoughtful social and political commentary that raises questions about complex issues…

We willingly concede that young adult literature reflects the interests and concerns of teenagers, and we suspect that most secondary teachers would agree. However, we also believe that young adult literature has the kind of literary merit that canonical literature demonstrates.

Pedagogic, Not Didactic: Michael Cart on Young Adult Fiction by Jonathan Alexander interviewing Michael Cart (2018)

The mirror lets readers see themselves, which is a godsend because young adults, being inherently solipsistic, often think they are the only one of their kind; this is especially true of those who are treated as outsiders by their peers. 

I would argue that this is a golden age of literary fiction for young adults. I believe this is due, in part, to the empowering influence of the Michael L. Printz Award, which honors the best YA book of the year — “best” being defined solely in terms of literary merit. It is also due to the growing sophistication of the readership, which, it seems, is almost exponentially more worldly than it was in the genre’s early years…

 

Call for Program Proposals for 2020 YA Services Symposium Open

The call for program proposals for YALSA’s 2020 Young Adult Services Symposium is open now through February 15.

The theme of the symposium is “Biggest Little Spaces: How Libraries Serve the Expanding Worlds of Teens,” and is to be held November 6-8, 2020, in Reno, NV.

Program proposals should address one or more of the following questions:

  • How do staff provide inclusive programming and diverse collections? How do we ensure representation and equity of access to materials and information? e.g. book and program challenges, the library as a “neutral” space.  How can literature assist us?
  • How does staff provide outreach to teens in their community?  How do you meet teens where they are?
  • How do we create more inclusive and “safe(r)” spaces? How do we empower teens to find their voice and speak out about issues important to them? e.g. gun violence, global warming, #metoo, institutional racism, LGBTQ rights.
  • How are staff affected by adversity on the job? How do we address this and other experiences like compassion, fatigue, and burnout? e.g. self-care

In addition to addressing the theme, proposals should also highlight best or emerging practices for libraries of all sizes and capacities in one or more of the following categories:

  • Collections and Content Curation
  • Digital and Print Literacies
  • Equity and Inclusion
  • Outreach
  • Partnerships/Collaborations
  • Programs and Services (including planning, implementing and evaluation)
  • Tools for Practice (cultural competency models and training, trauma-informed care, mental health first aid, 40 developmental assets, social emotional learning, etc.)
  • Youth Participation

Through inclusive programming, diverse collections, outreach, advocacy, and partnerships, libraries offer safe spaces for teens. Do your programs and services meet the complex and diverse needs of contemporary young adults? Does your teen section or YA collection need a refresh? Have you found partnerships to encourage and advocate for young adults? Join YALSA for our 10th Symposium in Reno, Nevada as we discuss the literature, activities, and the biggest little places needed to serve and inspire today’s teens.​

Interested parties are invited to propose 60-minute programs centering on the theme via the online form found on the symposium site. Proposals for programs must be submitted by February 15. Applicants will be notified of their proposals’ status the week of April 15.

Registration for the 2020 YA Services Symposium will open in April. Sign up for updates here. To learn more about the symposium, visit www.ala.org/yalsa/yasymposium.

A huge thank you goes out to the members of the 2020 YA Services Symposium Planning and Marketing Taskforce: Chair, Scot Smith, Robertsville Middle School Library, Oak Ridge, TN; Amelia Jenkins, Juneau (AK) Public Library; Keiko Sanders, La Jolla, CA; and De Anza Williams, University of Illinois-Urbana for their work on creating a theme for the symposium. Thank you again!

Community and Family Engagement – Partnering with Organizations

Hi everyone, and Happy 2020!

The sixth of YALSA’s Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff is Community and Family Engagement. YALSA is currently exploring partnerships with organizations that can provide resources to teens and those working with teens in libraries that can be beneficial to both elements of these partnerships. An example of this is the nonprofit organization Back 2 School America. This group, founded in Chicago in 2010, provides no-cost school supplies to kids and teens who would otherwise go without. One of the elements of the school kit is a “Note of Inspiration” that is included in order to both inspire recipients and personalize the kit. At the YALSA Symposium in November in Memphis, attendees were asked to write a Note of Inspiration to be included in kits to be distributed to middle and high schoolers.

Matthew Kurtzman, founder and CEO of Back 2 School America, describes the value of these school supplies kits: “What’s important about this is we not only literally are giving the kids the tools they need to do their work, but we’re also impacting their self worth, their self-esteem.” It’s critical that students not start their school years at a deficit from their classmates, both lacking core materials to do their work, and also feeling lesser than their classmates and suffering the need to ask their teachers or peers for basic supplies. The organization works directly with school systems, but also other organizations such as the YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, Operation Homefront in support of military families, and others, who can best identify the kids and teens who are most in need of the supplies.

For many students, this is not only a need at the beginning of the school year. For reasons such as evictions or other displacement, intentional relocation, homelessness, or simply running out of the supplies provided, some students are in need of these items at times throughout the school year. Lists of required school supplies have grown longer and more expensive for families as school budgets have stagnated in many parts of the country. What was once provided by the school or generous teachers may no longer be available, putting the onus of these costs on the students.

The work of the Back 2 School America organization mirrors YALSA’s mission statement “to alleviate challenges teens face… especially those with the greatest needs.”As we explore ways to help teens on the path to successful and fulfilling lives, we  can partner with community organizations who are helping teens in a variety of ways. We can focus on what we bring to a partnership and allow these partners to impart their expertise as well.

A free webinar on Community and Family Engagement is available to explore other issues and ideas regarding this competency.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for all the work you do for and with teens.

Todd Krueger, YALSA President 2019-2020 | Twitter: @toddbcpl

Committee Volunteer Form Open! Apply by Feb. 1

Get leadership opportunities and be a part of moving YALSA forward while networking with colleagues. Serve on one of YALSA’s strategic committees, advisory boards or taskforces!

President-Elect Amanda Barnhart will appoint members for the following 2020-2021 groups:

  • AASL/ALSC/YALSA School/Public Lib Coop. – 7/1 to 6/30
  • Organization and Bylaws – 7/1 to 6/30
  • District Days – 2/1 to 6/30
  • Division and Membership Promotion – 7/1 to 6/30
  • YALS Editorial Advisory Board – 7/1 to 6/30
  • Financial Advancement – 7/1 to 6/30
  • Annual Conference and Local Arrangements – 1/1/21 to 6/30/21
  • Research Committee – 7/1 to 6/30
  • Research Journal Advisory Board – 7/1 to 6/30
  • Teens’ Top Ten Committee – 7/1 to 6/30
  • The Hub Advisory Board – 7/1 to 6/30
  • YALS/YALSAblog Editorial Advisory Board – 7/1 to 6/30

Learn more about each committee here. All terms are for one year unless indicated otherwise. Term start and end dates are indicated above. Before submitting the form, view the committee FAQ and the committee responsibilities section in the YALSA handbook. Fill out the form (must log into your ALA account) by Feb. 1. Questions? Please email Amanda Barnhart.

Youth Engagement and Leadership – Civic Engagement for and by Teens

Hello everyone,

For December, we’re going to look at YALSA Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff #5, Youth Engagement and Leadership, considering the equity issues that involve civic engagement. Much has been discussed in the media about how so many opportunities for civic engagement intentionally or unintentionally leave out members of underrepresented citizens, including teens. A few examples of this include the exclusionary tactics within the US women’s suffrage movement; the preponderance of white men in elected posts throughout this country; and the concerns from women of color and those with disabilities regarding the Women’s March on Washington in 2017.

But all is not bad news. Libraries nationwide are doing their best to change the tide to a much more equitable future for all citizens and residents. Guest teen bloggers from the Waltham (MA) Public Library share their Civic Engagement experience with the help of their teen department head, Luke Kirkland.

FIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM MAKING ELECTION SEASON LAWN SIGNS WITH FOR FREEDOMS

By Real Talk teen leaders Alexis Sanford, Iris Alvarenga, Karina Diaz, and Christina Lafortune, with Waltham Public Library Teen Department Head Luke Kirkland

During the last two election seasons, teen leaders at the Waltham Public Library have partnered with the national arts and civic action organization For Freedoms to create an installation of lawn signs in the Library’s front lawn. Each pre-printed sign begins with a different prompt: Freedom To, Freedom Of, Freedom For, or Freedom From. Teens were invited to select one prompt and complete it with a statement they wanted adult voters and candidates to consider as Election Day approached. 

The result was a collection of statements from 350 unique teens communicating their fears and hopes for their lives, their communities, their country, and their world. And by displaying them in the Library lawn through October and up to Election Day, we invited the community to take time to reflect on teens’ thoughts and experiences, to consider the world teens will inherit, and to familiarize themselves with the world teens intend to create. Visit bit.ly/ffwpl2019 to view the entire collection.

The teen leaders driving this initiative are leaders from Real Talk, a youth-led conversation forum that is the centerpiece of Waltham Public Library Teen Room programming. After the signs came down, we took some time to reflect on the project. Here are five takeaways from our teens.

IT WAS SIMPLE

Everyone agrees that the beauty of the project is its simplicity. Alexis observes “Everyone was able to share their story through something so seemingly simple.” Teens get to make only one sign, but everyone was able to use it as an opportunity to share their story. For Iris, For Freedoms’ prompts offer enough to spark ideas, but they leave plenty of room for inspired creativity—and for upending the expectations of adults. “Even though the signs were simple and had simple phrases, so many of the phrases were so powerful. Adults didn’t expect it from us, and they were like ‘Whoa, sis!’”

SELLING IT IS TRICKY

On the other hand, finding 350 unique teens and convincing them to fill out signs with serious expressions of their perspectives is decidedly not simple. To accomplish the feat this year we spent a week engaging teens across the city: we held sign-making programs at the Library and the Boys & Girls Club; we visited Waltham High School classes and afterschool clubs; we set up stations in the WHS school library and cafeteria to make signs during lunches.

Still—at each location, it took effort to sell the project. “It’s hard to really get them to do it,” says Iris. “It’s hard to do it in a way that makes them really care.” The turning point was when teens really understood that this was an opportunity to share their unique voice without interference—that there was no grade or rubric and that no response would be censored or restricted to any specific partisan agenda. Iris observes: “Teens shut down when you tell them what to say. But when it’s about something they care about, that sells it for them.” 

In the cafeteria, Alexis noticed that people would come make signs once a crowd formed, and that teens who made signs early would go recruit friends to do the same. “Other people wanted to participate when they saw their friends participating.” So teen leaders started going directly to tables and pulling people over. Christina even employed an imperative call to action. “I started just going up to people and telling them ‘Your voice matters and it’s time for you to share it!’ It worked!”

However teens started making signs, once they started, they just wanted to make more. (Sorry! Just one per person!) In the end, says Iris, “It’s an opportunity for them to share their experiences with adults.” And teens had A LOT they wanted to say to adults!

MAKING ADULTS LISTEN

By installing the signs in the front lawn just off of Main Street, the spectacle caught the eye of every pedestrian and driver for five full weeks. And at the installation event, Karina and Iris had the opportunity to deliver a brave address with candidates for mayor, city council, and the school committee in the crowd.

“Waltham youth demand to be heard. We may be young, but our experiences are real…Do not belittle us, our opinions, or experiences solely because you may see us as just kids…The world has changed, and we young people will no longer sit on the sidelines…We are watching and we are listening and we will hold you accountable to your roles as policymakers…We aren’t just names on paper—we are living, breathing members of this city. We have dreams, aspirations, and needs just like anyone else here…Listen to our voices and include us in the decision-making process because only by including everyone in this city can we achieve democratic harmony.”

For Karina, that experience was the most powerful part of the project. “Delivering speeches and sharing our views and having adults actually listen felt amazing!”

FEELING VALIDATED

Even though adults were the intended audience, reading the signs had a powerful impact on the teens who created them. “I was really moved to see the problems that we have and be able to relate to them and support each other,” says Karina. Christina agrees: “It showed that what we experienced is valid because other people were experiencing it too.” Seeing signs they could have written themselves was a cathartic reminder that they aren’t alone in the challenges they face. But Christina also points out that it was a gift they could have only received from their peers. “All youth no matter where they were from were brought together through their struggles and found support in each other that they wouldn’t have found in adults.”

NEW PERSPECTIVES

Whether teens or kids or adults were reading the signs, the intent was always to bring to light the unseen experiences youth in our community are having. So while some signs were validating, others were eye-opening. “Seeing unique signs and realizing that people have these problems and you never knew they did” was a transformative experience for Karina. It made a difference in the way she thought about the people she sees around her every day. “It’s a moment of awakening. It makes you feel more open-minded about understanding other people’s problems.” Mission accomplished.

Want to make lawn signs with us in 2020? Visit bit.ly/lawnsigntips to get a closer picture of how we helped youth create their signs. Email Waltham Public Library Teen Department Head Luke Kirkland at lkirkland@minlib.net with questions. Contact emma@forfreedoms.org and pola@forfreedoms.org to learn more about becoming an official For Freedoms partner. And visit realtalkteens.org to check out our toolkit for developing your own youth-led conversation forum.

Thanks Alexis, Iris, Karina, and Christina! And special thanks for Waltham (MA) PL teen department lead Luke Kirkland for sharing the efforts of this amazing group of teens!

And remember, free webinars for this and each competency are available from YALSA.

Todd Krueger, YALSA President 2019-2020 | Twitter: @toddbcpl  

Learning Experiences (formal and informal) – Gender Equity in the Workplace, part 6

Hello everyone,

As a continuing commitment to look at the YALSA Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff through the EDI lens, and my presidential theme of Striving for Equity using the same Competencies, I considered the fourth of these Competencies. I thought about how career preparation is a considerable aspect of Learning Experiences (formal and informal), and realized that a notable, ongoing issue of equity, inequity and inequality revolves around gender issues in the workplace.

Because I feel that our perspective can become myopic if we stay wholly within the library sphere, I chose to interview women in the non-library workforce and I asked them about their experiences around gender inequity and inequality, and how these elements shaped them, both as teens and during their careers. I also asked them about how they feel gender inequity and inequality has affected the teens in their own lives today.

The last interview in the series is with Erin Anderson Wenz. She is a Professional Engineer and Principal/Vice President at an environmental engineering consulting firm in Minneapolis.  She has over 20 years of experience managing stormwater and lake water quality in urban environments.  Her project work also includes the design and construction of low-impact development features such as rainwater cisterns, rain gardens, and porous pavement. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, two sons and a daughter.

If there was one element of gender equity that you would like to see promoted in the workplace, what would it be?

Paid family leave for moms and dads so that working parents can be equally supported in taking time off from work to be with their small children, and coaching for women to consider more leadership positions in the workplace.

Considering the research that gender stereotypes are set into motion around age 10, how would you say that you worked against these stereotypes for girls, and in what ways did they become a part of your own upbringing and adolescence?

Growing up, I guess I was a little lucky – I never felt like there were things I couldn’t do.  It wasn’t until college that I realized how gender-skewed my chosen profession would be (at least it has been for a while… things are really changing!).

Can you discuss any experiences that you have had that made you feel singled out as a woman or as one of the women in your workplace or chosen career? Are there particular instances of gender inequalities that you have had to deal with? How did you handle them?

Some years into my career, I realized that I was being a bit looked over for a promotion offered to senior staff with an established clientele.  I had gone a little “off the radar” with senior leadership after reducing hours to spend more time with small children, and even though I was taking on greater responsibilities and having success at work, I realized that my colleagues may have assumed I wasn’t interested in an increased role.  It took a little catch-up effort for me to get the word out that I was ready for the challenge, with the credentials to prove my eligibility.  Maybe that experience would have been the same if I had been a man that had taken time off to be with children, maybe not. The fact is that more women tend to take that kind of time away, and have to negotiate reentry, and balance the next steps of a career along with home life. Continue reading

Learning Experiences (formal and informal) – Gender Equity in the Workplace, part 5

Hello everyone,

As a continuing commitment to look at the YALSA Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff through the EDI lens, and my presidential theme of Striving for Equity using the same Competencies, I considered the fourth of these Competencies. I thought about how career preparation is a considerable aspect of Learning Experiences (formal and informal), and realized that a notable, ongoing issue of equity, inequity and inequality revolves around gender issues in the workplace.

Because I feel that our perspective can become myopic if we stay wholly within the library sphere, I chose to interview women in the non-library workforce and I asked them about their experiences around gender inequity and inequality, and how these elements shaped them, both as teens and during their careers. I also asked them about how they feel gender inequity and inequality has affected the teens in their own lives today.

The next interview is with Kate Reigel. She most recently served as the Director for a new specialty master’s program at the University of Minnesota’s business school, the Carlson School of Management, launching the program from inception. At the Carlson School, she taught several graduate-level experiential learning courses, including the Global Business Practicum in China. Prior to the Carlson School, she served as an independent management consultant, working for executives on strategic initiatives. Prior to her independent work, Ms. Reigel was a project leader for the Boston Consulting Group. Earlier in her career, she was a platinum consultant for SAP.  She holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and earned her MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

If there was one element of gender equity that you would like to see promoted in the workplace, what would it be?

Pay. Pay and placement. I’d like to see equal pay for work being done equally, and I would like to see more women ascending to the ranks of senior management: Not only CEOs and other C-suite positions, but also VP and Director level positions, so women are experienced and prepared when entering C-level roles. I’d like to widen the pool of women candidates for C-suite consideration.

Considering the research that gender stereotypes are set into motion around age 10, how would you say that you worked against these stereotypes for girls, and in what ways did they become a part of your own upbringing and adolescence?

Regarding my own upbringing, my mom is a vascular surgeon who has now moved into an executive position at a hospital. She waited until I was in kindergarten, age 5, to enter medical school in the 1970’s. Prior to that, she was a homemaker. My childhood and adolescence was spent watching my mom furthering her education to attain a career she found fulfilling, and observing my dad step up on the home front, along with the rest of us, to allow her to do this. This early example set a foundational belief for me that we all can reach our goals, regardless of gender.

Can you discuss any experiences that you have had that made you feel singled out as a woman or as one of the women in your workplace or chosen career? Are there particular instances of gender inequalities that you have had to deal with? How did you handle them?

Throughout my career, I have typically been surrounded by more men than women in the room. I am incredibly privileged to have been in environments where my voice has been heard as much as those of the men in the room. I enjoy spirited debate and the back and forth that comes with the vibrant sharing of ideas in conversation, which often includes interruptions. However, there was one example recently that comes to mind:  I was in a formal meeting, with many powerful people in attendance.  It was the type of meeting where each attendee thinks carefully before speaking, and each individual has minimal air time. I contributed an idea when a male attendee interrupted and redirected the conversation. The momentum of the conversation shifted to his point. Immediately after the man completed his thought, another woman present said, “Let’s go back to what Kate was talking about; I think she has an important idea that we need to act on.” The entire cadence of the meeting highlighted the importance of amplification and advocacy. I sincerely don’t think the male attendee interrupted intentionally or with malice, yet the result of my idea being glossed over would have been the same, had it not been for the intervention of a female peer (or I would have had to interject and reiterate my point myself). I became aware of the issue in a way I hadn’t before. I’d like to increase awareness across both men and women of these nuances of conversation and how these can impact women’s involvement in decision making. A Forbes article from a couple years back discusses the scourge of “manterrupting”! Continue reading

Learning Experiences (formal and informal) – Gender Equity in the Workplace, part 4

Hello everyone,

As a continuing commitment to look at the YALSA Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff through the EDI lens, and my presidential theme of Striving for Equity using the same Competencies, I considered the fourth of these Competencies. I thought about how career preparation is a considerable aspect of Learning Experiences (formal and informal), and realized that a notable, ongoing issue of equity, inequity and inequality revolves around gender issues in the workplace.

Because I feel that our perspective can become myopic if we stay wholly within the library sphere, I chose to interview women in the non-library workforce and I asked them about their experiences around gender inequity and inequality, and how these elements shaped them, both as teens and during their careers. I also asked them about how they feel gender inequity and inequality has affected the teens in their own lives today.

The next interview is with Sarita Parikh, who started her career as an engineer, with a belief that technology could improve the quality of people’s lives. She’s since learned that engineering is necessary, but not enough, and went on to do work in product design and consumer behavior. Sarita is the co-founder of jomanity, a startup focused on helping people live every day with more joy and more humanity. In her free time, Sarita hangs out with her kids, does yoga, and eats way too many donuts. She lives in Minneapolis with her family and her new puppy, Buddy.

If there was one element of gender equity that you would like to see promoted in the workplace, what would it be?

My instinctive answer is helping more people understand how the brain works and that as part of being human we all have unconscious bias. No one is immune from it and I think really understanding that is kind of liberating. If we know that, and we know that the “standard” picture of a senior executive is an older white male (this is the archetype in our minds because it’s what we see most often), it helps put context around why so many women aren’t seen as leaders. This is the “she just doesn’t ‘have’ what it takes” perspective. The most common feedback that I see women receive in leadership roles is that they are either too soft or too aggressive (the double bind.) It’s a narrow, narrow line between those two. Although that’s my instinctive answer, I also know that there is research indicating that when people learn a problem is a common problem, they can feel like they’re off the hook: see this NYT article.

Considering the research that gender stereotypes are set into motion around age 10, how would you say that you worked against these stereotypes for girls, and in what ways did they become a part of your own upbringing and adolescence?

I was a math/science kid, and oblivious in some ways, and my parents were strong supporters for those skills, so I was lucky that I didn’t feel bound by academic gender stereotypes. As a kid, I always knew I could beat the boys in math contests. (We used to have boy vs. girl math contests at school!)

I did, however, feel a strong need to be deferential to people with strong confidence, and I still grapple with that. I innately believed that people who spoke with confidence “knew” more than I did, and they tended to be boys. Side note: I had a real ‘aha’ moment when reading How Women Rise. I don’t have the exact quote, but it was essentially this: Women are more likely to be communal in their leadership and feel like luck and the people around them are the reason for their success. Men are more likely to feel that their success is preordained, that they will be successful irrespective of the people around them. That was a serious epiphany. I had never understood that idea, and after reading it, so many events from the past made sense to me. Finally, I always felt uncomfortable with the idea of having ambition. It felt embarrassing and aggressive and I rarely spoke of it. Now, I feel proud of having ambition: It no longer feels unseemly.

Can you discuss any experiences that you have had that made you feel singled out as a woman or as one of the women in your workplace or chosen career? Are there particular instances of gender inequalities that you have had to deal with? How did you handle them?

I’m often the only person of color in the conference room. I’m petite, I’m brown, I have a high pitched voice, and I’m female. For many years, I worked in technology and I knew people discounted me from the moment they saw me. It didn’t bother me that much because I knew that I had strong skills and that my professional value would become evident quickly. However, as I moved into leadership roles, being immediately discounted really bothered me. When other people underestimated me, it undermined my ability to lead. It made me nervous and question myself and that’s a bad combination for “presence.” Now, I have enough experience and confidence that I can project a warm gravitas. But it took a lot of intentional practice and mindset shifts to develop the confidence. Continue reading