March 27, 2019
Bloomberg Businessweek interviewed trans professionals about their experiences at work. One of respondent Donna Rose’s major frustrations is the lack of trans representation in the upper ranks of most companies, which “says that you can only go so far in your career as a trans person.” Jamison Green shares that it’s easier if you transition once you’ve proven yourself a valued employee, but that “unconscious biases come into play” when employers are presented with trans candidates they don’t already know. Precious Brady-Davis and Victoria Starrett touch on issues of intersectionality. According to Brady-Davis, being a woman of color tends to come up more than being trans: “I’ve experienced a lot of silencing of my voice at the behest of white men because I don’t have a master’s or Ph.D.” Meanwhile, Starrett shares, “I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the fact that I’m white and an attorney has surely meant that I have had a relatively easier time advocating for changes at work and my medical care. Having those privileges compels me to use them to try to shift the culture.”
We were particularly struck by the passionate support demonstrated by one HR professional mentioned by Jamison Green. A male coworker had threatened Green with violence if he continued to use the men’s bathroom, and Green’s friend in HR responded, “You touch him, and you’re out of here. If you’re so concerned, we’ll get you a port-a-potty in the parking lot.” Our take? This is what allyship looks like.
Some of the interviewees mention the value of employee resource groups and comprehensive health plans. They also mention challenges like the administration refusing to change their names in the email system and being boxed into trans outreach work. How do these stories inform your approach to an inclusive community? What are you doing right, and what can you improve on?
On the surface, the concept of civility may seem pretty neutral. But as Karen Grigsby Bates explains, “how attached you are to civility depends on where you stand.” She uses an example of a Civil Rights Movement demonstration, during which African Americans sat at a segregated lunch counter in Kansas. The demonstration ended in white segregationists brutally attacking the Black protestors, but the resulting mainstream narrative pointed the finger at the protestors and their so-called incivility. Alabama governor John Patterson accused the protestors of violating city ordinances (of segregation) and deliberately provoking violent reactions from (white) citizens. A similar narrative exists today, surrounding NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s choice to kneel during the National Anthem in order to protest police brutality toward people of color. Those who oppose his choice to kneel argue he is being disrespectful—or uncivil. Gridsby Bates writes, “For many people of color in the United States, civility isn't so much social lubricant as it is a vehicle for containing them, preventing social mobility and preserving the status quo.”
Gaye Theresa Johnson, who studies civility and race at the University of California, Los Angeles, points to a key factor in the debate on civility: “People of color don't get to orchestrate the terms of civility...Instead, we're always responding to what civility is supposed to be.” This makes us think of how crucial it is to hire and nurture diverse leadership in an organization or school. Those at the top have the power to re-define concepts like civility within their community.
Do any of the policies or even the unwritten rules of your work or school apply to some groups more than others? Do they help some groups but harm others? For instance, an offshoot of “civility” could be “professionalism.” What does a professional look and behave like in your community, and who gets to define that?
Awards from the American Geophysical Union have the power to determine whether Earth and space scientists receive promotions or raises at their universities of employment—yet only 20 to 30 percent of these awards go to women every year. In an effort to up these numbers, NASA physicist Liz MacDonald formed a volunteer task force to create “nomination packages” for underrepresented union members, “which are a bit like college applications that someone else writes for you” and take about 20 hours of work each. Last year, three out of six packages earned their nominees awards from either the American Geophysical Union or the American Meteorological Society. Heather Metcalf, the director of research for the Association for Women in Science, found that fairer nominations can go a long way in dispelling the myth that “men are inherently better mathematicians and scientists than women”—when women and underrepresented minorities make up “at least 30 percent of the nominee pool,” they win prizes at higher rates.
The nomination task force is an excellent example of how colleagues can band together and use their collective power to fight for equity. More representative award-giving increases the likelihood that women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people in science will go further in their careers. As assistant professor of space physics and nomination task force member Allison Jaynes says, a professional award “opens so many doors.”
Keeping the nomination packages in mind, are there ways in which you can uplift marginalized members of your community and bring awareness to the merits of their work? If there are already efforts like this in place at your work or school, look for ways you can contribute. As Jaynes mentions in the article, “help from male union members and members who are more established in their careers...lend credibility to the effort.”