The first time I ever noticed sexism in the workplace is when I was on set as a production co-ordinator in reality television – real sexism and racism and homophobia, I’d never seen anything like it, but that’s not to say that it’s not everywhere.
Arts non-profits are as complicated as production, especially where there’s individual sponsorship. A lot of smaller regional organizations and festivals are supported by local, individual giving; some of them are fraught with more issues because people in the US with a lot of money are often very conservative, socially if not politically. That doesn’t always make for a landscape that’s good for women.
After a major leadership shift at the organization I’ve been working for, I started looking for a new job. I’ve had a really hard time finding one that’s not a step backward in terms of my position and financial compensation. I’m the very reliable income and I carry the benefits for all four people in my family. The American healthcare system is so backwards, that benefits are a huge deal, and in my case, they’re all on me. I love my job and the non-profit realm, but I am finding it very hard to move around, not to mention up.
And I think it’s largely is because I’m a woman. My resume is impressive, my work ethic solid, I have great references from great, well respected people in the field. I think a man in my position would have been offered one, if not several, of the jobs I’ve applied for. I’ve been asked wildly inappropriate questions during job interviews. It’s almost laughable, except that it’s not. I had a job interview where I was offered significantly less than I currently make, and when I asked about benefits, they said, “Well we assume you’re covered by your husband’s benefits.” I said “That’s an incorrect assumption, I carry all of the benefits for my family and benefits are a non-negotiable.” I never heard back from them.
Over the last few years we’ve had several pregnant women in our office, many in high level positions. Not long ago, I heard a male colleague refer to one of them as “preggo brain” I couldn’t help myself and shouted, ‘That’s totally sexist.’ He ignored me but later approached me and said ‘You didn’t like my comment?’ and I said ‘No, you know it’s sexist, and that there’s no such thing as “preggo brain.” Sleep deprivation affects everyone the same.’ The fact is, he’s a great guy, very dedicated to his job, and generally easy to work with, but it’s sadly just part of the way Americans think and talk about pregnant women and mothers.
In general, our social language around pregnant women is horribly condescending, if not down right infantilising. If I hadn’t said anything, no-one would have said anything. It goes on everywhere – even in progressive arts organizations where the entire mission is to support diversity. It goes way beyond hiring practices and financing films – we need a complete rethinking of people in the workplace.