Happy International Women’s Day!
Thanks a million to Dee Dee for her awesome new comic about sexism in our feminized profession:
Holy moley, there’s so much happening here that I love. I especially love the bit about how library school tells us that it’s perfectly fine to give away our specialized labor for free. I went to an “i-School” for information science, and you can bet your boots that our career counselors were telling the human-computer interaction people to hold out for a paying internship with Microsoft (or Amazon.com, or whatever) while we library-and-archives students were encouraged to not be too pushy, and to embrace our 20-hour per week unpaid internship at the Podunk Historical Society without asking for a stipend, or travel expenses, or at least setting expectations for mentoring. It’s no wonder that archival administrators have notoriously been unsuccessful convincing their parent institutions that we need more staff, more supplies, and professional development funds.
So, in Dee’s spirit of real-life sexism in the profession, here’s one of my many stories of sexism at my workplace.
I work in an archives that’s part of a larger unit at an EXTREMELY WEALTHY East Coast university. (You will often see ivy on the walls. HINT. Oh, and their tagline should be “architects of the current financial crisis.” HINT HINT.) In any case, my partner also works here. He started six months after I did, when the university was REALLY tightening its belt. While I was expected to negotiate salary with my supervisor (I was told that there was absolutely no room for salary negotiation, nor for relocation expenses, formalized professional development budget, etc.), the chief of staff of this institution called my partner and asked if he would like to negotiate. My partner was flown out for an interview, mine was over the phone because there were no funds. My partner had a search committee, I had a rambling supervisor conducting a very short interview who gossiped about the current and previous administrators of the institution and never asked any questions about my knowledge or skills.
My partner is a database administrator, I am an archivist. I have specialized knowledge and a master’s degree from an excellent archives program; he was fresh out of college. I went to a prestigious undergraduate college and graduated with honors — he went to a mid-tier state school and scraped through. He did not major in his professional field. He’s very bright and very good at his job, but isn’t terribly impressive on paper. I have interned at the Library of Congress; I have grantwriting experience; I’ve worked with some of the leading archivists in the field…
Punchline: My partner makes more money than I do.
My very nice red-haired Eagle Scout partner (WHOM I LOVE. My problem is not with him) makes more money than I do with less education, much less experience, and far less specialized skill. Our work is very, very similar. We both work with data standards, we process huge quantities of information, we help set policy at our institution. I have more supervisory responsibilities than he does, much less support than he does, and work with materials that are (sorry, man) much more important and irreplaceable than his are. At the risk of being tedious, I have to state again that I have the terminal degree in my profession. I am competent, professional, and I work very hard to bring our practices into the twenty-first century.
I can’t think of anything to explain this imbalance other than the feminization of the profession and the “women don’t ask” phenomenon of institutions not anticipating that women would expect that same professional structures that men do. Let’s just say that this attitude has reared its ugly head during my tenure here time and again.
So, young archivists and librarians, I know that it’s a tough labor market, but take it from me, if they don’t treat you as a specialized professional during your interview, they certainly won’t improve upon acquaintance.