CWH Statement: "Gender Equity in the History Workplace: Best Practices"

AHA Staff, March 2006

These standards are intended to guide decisions and inform practices of administrators of public history institutions and offices and serve as a resource for all public historians.

The bullet points are intended to suggest examples and prompts to action rather than provide an exhaustive list.

Producing a Workplace Culture That Ensures Gender Equity

Administrators should take a positive and proactive approach toward creating a supportive workplace culture. The onus should not be upon women to point out problems or make complaints, but instead, those in authority should take responsibility for the tone of the work environment. Workplace culture can be made more supportive by:

  • Creating inclusive networks of collegiality and sociability.
  • Avoiding venues and activities for work place gatherings that may exclude women or men, or make them feel like interlopers within the institution.
  • Ensuring that formal and informal decision-making processes are transparent and inclusive.
  • Taking active steps to ensure the workplace is free of unprofessional language and conduct.
  • Taking a proactive approach in combating sexual harassment, discrimination based on sexual orientation, and/or a hostile environment by publicizing institutional policies and enforcing them.
  • Insisting that staff and administrators address and treat equally male and female employees commensurate with their status, i.e. avoid addressing male as Dr. and female as Mrs., Ms. or Miss (or first name).

Creating Gender Equity through Mentoring:

Mentoring is crucial for women's success in navigating their way within a profession that remains male dominated and, within some workplaces, still remain rooted in sexist ideas about gender. No single model of mentoring is applicable to all settings. At some institutions, a formal system of assigned mentors chosen from senior staff within their departments or offices may work best, while in others, women benefit most from informal mentorship by senior colleagues in their own or other offices or in the wider work community. The most effective mentors see themselves as colleagues rather than teachers. Many (though not all) younger women report having particularly benefited from the advice and support of senior women in the historical profession. Ideally mentorship will be a natural extension of a supportive and collegial workplace environment.

Mentorship includes:

  • Sharing information about institutional knowledge, memory, and culture.
  • Recognizing that mentorship is an important aspect of service to an agency and the profession.
  • Sharing and critiquing work, and doing so without regard to gender.

Creating Gender Equity by Producing a Work Place Culture Amenable to Family Life:

A workplace culture that better supports family life will benefit both men and women but will be especially important to women. Although societal norms are changing, parenting and elder care – and gendered expectations about them—fall disproportionately on women and affect their experience of the workplace. In addition, younger women feel acutely the combined pressures of work and biological clocks. Mid career advancement is often hindered by family obligations that still fall disproportionately on women. These problems can be alleviated by:

  • Recognizing that meeting family obligations does not mean diminished professional commitment.
  • Supporting flexibility in scheduling meetings and gatherings, and other professional obligations to ensure compatibility with the demands of work and family.
  • Where they do not exist, working to establish provisions for parental and family leave beyond those required by the Family and Medical Leave Act, partner benefits, childcare, etc.

Ensuring Gender Equity by Recognizing the Impact of Gender on Perceptions and Evaluations of Women

Evaluation of work should be based on standards of the profession and should not be based on the gender or sexual orientation of the employee. Women must be viewed as equal colleagues and equal members of the workplace, regardless of the topics that they administer and research.

Even in evaluations that appear to be gender neutral, gender can powerfully shape results. For example, evaluators bring their own ideas about gender to bear on the way they evaluate employees: thus they may praise male employees for being "brilliant" and female employees for being "nice ladies." Similarly, colleagues may label women as "difficult" for being assertive when the same behavior in men is unremarked. Women report that they have to work harder to be viewed as competent by colleagues or are often dismissed as lacking objectivity because they are women. Gender equity may be assured by:

  • Paying attention to and correcting for "invisible" gender biases in mechanisms used to evaluate women's performance of their jobs.
  • Evaluating job performance on the basis of the standards of the agency and not gender.
  • Evaluating collegiality without regard to gender.
  • Working to eliminate all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • Adhering to the AHA's Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct.

Ensuring Gender Equity in Recruitment and Hiring

Hiring is critical to all institutions, and even more so, in offices in which women and minorities are underrepresented. Recruitment of women and minorities must be aggressive. Offices should develop strategies for ensuring recruitment, hiring, promotion, and retention of women and minorities. Wherever possible, institutions should place women on search committees, even if that means violating the principle that women should not be overburdened with committee work. Service on search committees and key policy-making committees may take priority over other sorts of service where gender may be a less important factor.

Gender equity in hiring and recruitment may be achieved by:

  • Ensuring that all search committees actively consider women and minorities at all stages of hiring.
  • Ensuring that hiring procedures and interviewing are equitable, professional, free from inappropriate behavior and questions, and are conducted in accordance with AHA's Hiring Guidelines .
  • Explaining institutional policies on all forms of family, parental, and maternity leave and child care, partner benefits, etc. as a normal part of the hiring process and thereby relieving job applicants and junior colleagues of the burden of asking questions about these policies.

Ensuring Gender Equity in Assignment of Duties:

Expectations about women's supposedly "natural" gift for nurture often lead to significant inequities in the kinds of duties expected of men and women, which in turn are associated with very different rewards. In offices in which women remain underrepresented, they are sometimes disproportionately expected to perform service. Many women report being placed in a kind of "double-bind" in which they are expected to represent a "woman's" perspective, and then criticized for always representing a gendered point of view. This reinforces gender inequities, which in turn hinder women's advancement in the workplace. Gender equity can be fostered by:

  • Clarifying expectations of promotion and developing work assignments compatible with meeting these expectations.
  • Placing women on committees strategically, so that they are in a position to advance gender equity.
  • Recommending women for prestigious and key policy-making institutional committees, not just those related to gender or race.
  • Recognizing that certain duties such as inviting and introducing distinguished guests bring visibility and prestige and they should be distributed to women and men alike.
  • Distributing assignments that may be less prestigious, such as taking notes at meetings, equally among staff without regard to gender or race.

Ensuring Gender Equity in Compensation and Access to and Distribution of Institutional Resources

Gender discrepancies in compensation as well as access to and distribution of institutional resources persist within institutions. Compensation affects retirement income, and access to institutional resources affects career advancement. Sometimes, this process is deeply structural, as when an institution awards money exclusively for travel, when what parents of young children may need most is childcare. Gender equity can be fostered by:

  • Engaging in regular equity reviews of salaries, pensions, promotions and merit increases.
  • Allocating resources such as office space, equipment, and facilities without regard to gender.
  • Providing secretarial and staff support without regard to gender.
  • Awarding reduced workloads and submitting nominations for prizes and awards entirely on merit, not gender.
  • Encouraging institutional flexibility in designating allowable expenses, for example childcare.