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 first interview is with Laura McNeill, who works as a youth mentor in a nature immersion-based camp for kids ages 7-16. She teaches fire by friction, tracking, shelter building, plant identification, foraging, song singing, gratitude and peacemaking. Through these activities and others she strives to strengthen connections to nature, self and others. Her non-paid work includes racial justice organizing and education for Groundwork in Madison, Wisconsin, leading anti-racist workshops for white people, rooted in the resilient leadership of people of color both locally and nationally. She is also a parent to two incredible young people.
If there was one element of gender equity that you would like to see promoted in the workplace, what would it be?
One element would be the racial wage gap. Looking at how race intersects with pay. On average, women of color earn less on the dollar, than white women for the same education background, job experiences and position, with African American women and American Indian women earning the least overall. This gap widens as women advance upwardly into different positions. I’d love to see white women (and white men) address this in the big picture when working towards advancement for equal pay for all genders.
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?
My Dad was working on his college degree when we were in elementary school. He had joined the military right after high school, so worked at nights with the benefit of the GI bill towards his degree. He was often doing homework right beside us at the kitchen table, encouraging us in our studies. I was good at math and was always encouraged to continue to work hard both at school and at home. My parents had three girls right in a row and wanted us to have the same opportunities as anyone else. My mom stayed at home with us, but we often heard stories of her independence, travels and job with IBM. My parents talked about saving money for us to go to college – we always knew that was part of our story.
Raising two white sons, but having close relationships with many young girls through friends and family, this is always on my mind and I am constantly learning. When one of my sons was in 4th grade, the white teacher recommended that he join an advanced math group. Excited to have the teacher recognize that he needed to be more challenged, but also knowing about (sometimes unconscious) early tracking, I asked her if two friends of his, two African American girls, had also been included in this invitation. Having had the privilege of volunteering in the classrooms over several previous years, and having close relationships with these families, I was aware that these girls had always been side by side with my son in learning progress and work efforts. The teacher responded that the girls had not been invited to the higher math group, because their test scores had been low enough not to be in the range required for recommendation. When I asked about the test score difference, it did not seem to warrant not inviting them, based on their history, excitement about math and strong work ethic. I asked my son what he thought about this, and he said that his two friends were just as good as he was in math. I both reached out to the parents with this information and also to the teacher to reconsider, challenging an education system that often leaves kids of color and girls behind when it comes to advanced math. The flip side of this equation is that advanced classes are often pushed by privileged white families, who then keep quiet about this privilege. So speaking up about this ‘silence’ is also important, exposing privilege and making all families aware of what opportunities exist. Reframing and valuing high expectations in education for all of ‘our’ kids, not just our own families. Reminding and encouraging educators to look at a bigger picture than test scores when recommending kids for advanced courses. Continue reading