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 Bianka Pineda. She was was born in Guatemala but has lived in the United States for most of her life. She has a master’s degree in counseling and student personnel psychology from the University of Minnesota, and has been a school counselor in St. Paul Public Schools for several years. Her role as a school counselor is to advocate on behalf of her students and ensure their needs are being met so they can be successful at school. She helps students develop their skills in the academic, social/emotional, and college/career domains.
I have two “elements” that I would highlight in my field of work. First, in the elementary and secondary education settings, women staff outnumber men significantly. Therefore, in general, education is considered “women’s work” and I would argue not only underpaid but extremely under-valued in our society. The second element of gender equity to note in our current educational system is that teaching is much more geared towards our female students. The qualities that we promote in girls, being able to sit and to please, are rewarded heavily and in large part account for the number of girls graduating and going onto post-secondary options at a higher rate than boys.
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?
Based on my own personal experience and the population I serve at work, this question cannot be answered without including a cultural lens. Speaking as a first-generation Latinx woman, I benefited from parents that supported all my educational and vocational aspirations and often highlighted high-achieving women of color. Although many of my students of color have parents who support them this way, they also still saddle them with domestic expectations related to their gender. For example, many of these girls are expected to do more house chores and the taking care of younger siblings than their male siblings and which often conflicts with their ability to get their homework done. They also have stringent social rules that do not mirror what their male siblings are allowed to do, something I also experienced and can create feelings of self-doubt and resentment. Therefore, I am often coaching my students on how to communicate these conflicting demands to their parents. We focus on the chores in particular and how they take away time from studying. And when the opportunity presents itself, and I can communicate with parents, I will advocate similarly on my students’ behalf.
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?
Although I work in a field dominated by women, some of the inequalities that predominate in other areas hold true in education as well. For example, on at least two hiring occasions, men received the positions that many highly skilled women (including myself) had interviewed for. Another way in which inequality plays out too is that female staff are more often than their male counterparts expected to take on more related and unrelated responsibilities. For example, women are asked to take care of extracurricular activities (unless it’s coaching) or events being held during non-school hours.
Famously, Sheryl Sandberg encouraged women in the workplace to “Lean In”. Can you describe suggestions that you’ve read about or learned from others (outside of direct mentorship) that have been helpful? Detrimental? Any you needed to tweak for your particular situation to be successful?
I think one of the most uncomfortable positions I have been in was in negotiating for higher pay. Based on my experience this is one area in which I believe women, maybe more accurately would be women of my generation, stuggle. Women often undervalue their work and are willing to accept lower wages. When I was in this situation, I needed to get the input of a man on how to do it, including reading and editing my emails.
Finally, what ideals about gender equity and equality have you worked to instill in your own kids and others around them, and how?
With my own daughters, I spend a lot of time calling out the gender inequalities I see in the media and society at large. I have helped instill in them a critical eye when it comes to the stereotypes, gender and racial, that dominate our culture generally and what they see locally. I am vocal with my peers who have boys to make sure they are putting as much time into teaching them what “no” means as I do in teaching my girls how to be safe in their environments. The higher visibility marginal groups have been able to attain recently and how much I hear my daughters reflecting on these voices and topics, gives me hope that girls will be able to achieve greater gender equity than my generation did.
Thanks for participating, Bianka, and thanks to readers for everything you do to counter gender inequity and inequality in and outside of libraries!
Todd Krueger, YALSA President 2019-2020 | Twitter: @toddbcpl
Photo credit: St. Paul Public Schools