Storyline of Women’s Concerns at Colorado State
The final component of data analysis is the creation of narrative storyline summaries which capture a rich sense of the themes and dimensions expressed in the focus groups. Two members of the Task Force trained in qualitative research methods drafted storyline summaries from the focus groups for people of color, for men, and for the full range of women’s concerns and issues articulated in all of the focus group discussions. This process links together the broad themes in the data to bring structure and fluidity to the voiced concerns. Direct quotes from the focus group transcripts into these storylines help illustrate the meanings and the context of women’s experiences at CSU.
The primary concerns for women at Colorado State campus relate to the environment that makes women feel they do not fit in, and that their experience is not valued. Thus, the first section speaks to this subjective experience of women at CSU. Specifically, it point to the perception of women that the system at CSU does not equitably embrace women’s experiences. Women often feel as if they have to adapt their natural style to be valued or to be recognized for their accomplishments.
The second section of the storyline targets the actual work experience of women on campus and breaks down their experiences by different groups of employees: faculty, administrative professional, and state classified. The third section outlines student issues, while the fourth section explores concerns about emotional and physical safety on campus. The fifth section examines issues of diversity for women and the last section focuses on the difficulty that many women find balancing family and work commitments.
The Campus Environment
The System of Higher Education Does Not Always Support Women
The greatest source of frustration for women at CSU is the presence of negative attitudes and stereotypes in the campus environment. Specifically, women comment that they encounter behaviors and attitudes daily which feel demeaning and discounting. Cumulatively throughout the day and the week, women find their ideas and their issues dismissed, and their history ignored. In subtle ways, they begin to feel as if their contributions and unique experiences are not important.
These experiences seem to be linked to a hierarchical system which does not include many women and tends to ignore or devalue women’s experiences. Women feel that they are the “outgroup” and men are the “ingroup,” and that to be recognized or valued they must conform or transform to fit the system which already exists. Depending on their position at the University, Women in positions of authority feel silenced and excluded in decision making processes. For example, one faculty member stated that, “women are silenced on committees. Our contributions and ideas are overlooked or seen as brilliant when later brought up by a man.” Another faculty woman echoed this opinion when she commented that women are “criticized for being ‘too slow,’ ‘too fast,’ or ‘too intellectual.'” State classified women may feel the effects of not being part of the dominant system when they are not recognized nor respected for the work they do. Women of color are aware that they feel “different”; they voice experiences of isolation, or feel as if their individuality is not appreciated.
Women Feel Excluded
Women at CSU comment that they must adjust to the male system in order to fit in, but most often feel no matter what they do, they will be excluded from the system. For example, an academic administrator commented that, “expectations of women administrators are different from those of male administrators. Women have to justify actions with stronger more tightly argued rationales. Men may get ahead by who they know, networking, and not their abilities or understanding.” A male administrative professional acknowledged how men’s sentiments of distrust tend to exclude women and commented: “There are power problems: when a woman does have a role with some power there is a certain cynicism as to how she got there and what she will do now that she is there. If a woman has power, she has an ‘agenda’; if a man has power, he has a ‘plan.'”
Women Sense a Lack of Recognition and Respect
Women feel that they will not be recognized unless they perform tasks in a particular way, even if their way is equally or more efficient. A man of color on the faculty commented that “there is a lack of appreciation for the ways women lead, learn, teach, research, etc.” He also noted that, “during evaluations women are penalized for not fitting, ‘the mold.'” Consequently they are, “not respected and not promoted.” An academic administrator commented that, “new hires tend to clone the current group. Alternative career paths are not viewed as having potential for quality.” In other words, here is one acceptable way to perform your job and any deviations from that path are looked down upon. With regard to the lack of respect, many women feel as if the work that they do is taken for granted. They point out that a classist system is in place at the University between those who have formal education experience and those who do not. Many women find themselves categorized with those who have less formal educational experience and often feel as if their work is not acknowledged, appreciated, or respected because of that distinction.
Negative Stereotypes Exist in the Campus Environment
Even when women do fit “the mold” they tend to be labeled or stereotyped negatively (by both men and women). A state classified woman noted “women in authority tend to have many male characteristics. They also tend to be loners.” A male state classified employee commented that, “women want to be part of the system, but still want to be treated as women,” implying that you must act in a stereotypically masculine way to “fit in.” These statements make explicit the double bind for achievement oriented women. To succeed, they must conform to the masculine norm; yet when they do this they are criticized for not being “feminine.” These women do not fit into either group, both of which are critical, and neither of which are supportive.
Few Men Align Themselves With Women’s Issues
In addition to feeling as if they are in a double bind, many women feel alienated by the sense that there is little interest by men or by the administration to align themselves with women’s issues. For example, when discussing the sale of pornographic magazines in the bookstore, a male administrative professional noted that, “very seldom do men complain about these images. if someone is going to object, it is almost always a woman.” Similarly, a student in women’s studies noted that there is a dearth of “aware” male mentors who are advocates for female students. A faculty woman noted that there is a “lack of consciousness in men about unequal treatment.”
Comments by men are detailed in the storyline on page 44.
Women’s Issues Are Not Taken Seriously
Due to this general lack of understanding about women’s experiences, women are also aware that when they choose to focus on women’s issues, their research and teaching is seen as second rate. A member of theCampus Women’s Alliance pointed out that women’s studies classes do not count as social studies credit for the College of Business, implying that these are not academically acceptable courses. Junior/Senior women commented that there is little discussion or debate of women’s issues. They noted a “non-appreciation of feminism,” and a “lack of consciousness” about women’s issues. A student in women’s studies noted that it is difficult to find graduate funding in this area. Another student wondered why there is not both a major and a minor available in women studies.
Some felt that this non-appreciation of women’s issues is demonstrated by the lack of available resources for women. One faculty woman commented that, “men have control of the resources and the resources are unequally partitioned. This included space, equipment, and money.” Others felt that services which are primarily used by women, such as child care and psychological services, are limited. An administrative professional commented, “student service units with high use by women do not have high status, and are not considered important.”
Women Sense a Lack of Commitment By the Administration to Gender Issues
Contributing to the feeling in the campus environment that women’s experiences are devalued is the sentiment that there is a lack of commitment from the administration to gender issues. It was commented that, “the administration does not have to commit to real change. They are self serving and pay attention to diversity to look good, but fundamental change in the system is not wanted.” Another staff member commented, “if role models are present in the upper administration (who value gender equity), there is a lack of communication from the administration about expectations of the treatment of women at other levels (of the University).” Generally, women feel that high level leadership on gender issues is missing, and without this leadership it becomes easy for others to dismiss gender issues as unimportant.
Work Experience For Women
In addition to a general feeling that there is an unsupportive environment for women, there is concern regarding how such an atmosphere translates into the actual work experience for women. Women’s work experience on campus is as diverse as the women themselves, however there are several main points which were raised. Primary issues of concern for all women include equity of salary, raises, promotions, and benefits. There is a sense that women receive unequal pay, relative to their male counterparts, for the same position and time spent at the University. For example, one faculty member commented, “when a woman receives an ‘average’ salary, it is considered equitable, regardless of her experience, education, publications, teaching, or contributions.” While all women are concerned about the equity between men and women in terms of salary, raises, promotions, and benefits, their specific concerns can be best explained by breaking women down into groups on campus: 1) faculty women, 2) administrative professionals, 3) state classified employees, and 4) students.
The faculty women are most concerned with a double standard which seems to be in place with regard to evaluating work and competence. One faculty member commented, “women need to excel at all aspects of the job. For instance they can not blow off advising like some men do and still survive the tenure and promotion process.” Another woman commented that, “women constantly have to compromise to exist; they have to back off, while men do not.” Or, they commented that, “women are expected to be grateful for whatever they can get from their department head or dean.” They note that, “a dean responds to communications from men, but ignores communications from a woman.”
Faculty women often feel overloaded. They feel that, “women have more time commitments than their male peers (i.e. class load, advising, committees).” They feel that “department heads do not protect women’s time.” They also note that students treat them differently from their male counterparts. Specifically, they are perceived as more approachable, or more lenient. Additionally, some women faculty members feel silenced on committees. They note that if “they are the only woman in a group setting, they are seen as delaying the process if they desire to pursue a discussion.” There is a distinct sense that women are placed on committees to bring diverse representation, yet are not appreciated when they bring alternative suggestions or opinions to the table.
Women faculty members also cite a concern for the lack of mentors for women on campus, including themselves. An academic administrator points out that, “there is little mentoring for women throughout their academic training for things like salary negotiations, other perks, conditions of employment, and conflict resolution.” Because there are so few women in positions of authority, some women feel isolated in their departments. They find that their informal networking opportunities are limited, which impacts productivity. They also find that by being isolated, they often take on greater service and advising loads because they are the “token” female voice. Some faculty women feel that this isolation is a direct result of the lack of effort made to both recruit qualified women and retain them. They feel that many qualified women either do not come to CSU, or do not stay here because there is no active commitment to making these women feel as if their contributions are valuable.
Finally, women faculty members are aware that teaching styles which are nontraditional (e.g. group discussion, class projects, experiential learning) are often devalued by much of campus. one faculty woman stated, “students only understand male teaching styles. Women’s styles of small group format are criticized as a reflection of lack of organization or of not being prepared. Generally, non-hierarchical teaching methods are not respected.”
Administrative Professional Women
Administrative professional women seem most concerned with issues of job security and the lack of opportunity for professional advancement. With regard to the employment status of all administrative professionals, one employee stated, “there is little job security. There is nowhere to go to be promoted, and we work at the will of the university. There is not a sense of high morale among administrative professionals, there is not a sense of the University as caring much about this group of employees!” for women, the nebulousness of the “at will” clause seems even more threatening. Specifically, many administrative professional women are working in positions which have less of a decision making voice. Therefore, they feel the impact of being “at the will” of the university more stringently than some of their male counterparts.
An additional reason that women feel so susceptible to the “at will” clause is because there are fewer networking opportunities for women, which can impact job security. In situations where ambiguous decisions are being made about hiring and firing, informal networks take on a great deal of importance. Many women feel on the outside of those networks and therefore feel less secure in their jobs.
There is a feeling that promotion opportunities for administrative professionals are, “too few if any,” and an awareness that, “when people are brought in from outside to fill vacancies/new positions, this limits advancement opportunities for CSU women to be hired into those positions.” In sum, the administrative professionals want to feel as if their jobs are valued and would like University policy to clearly support workers who are performing well in their jobs.
State Classified Women
State Classified women seem most concerned about equity of treatment in the workplace and the fact that, often, their concerns are neither addressed nor taken seriously. These women often feel their work is not respected or rewarded. Several commented they are expected to work late or come in early to meet deadlines that have been created by another’s procrastination. One employee mentioned that she typed a grant proposal until two in the morning to meet a deadline and then “was not even invited to the party to celebrate getting the grant.”
Many women (and men) in this group express dissatisfaction with ambiguity of job expectations as well as the lack of uniformity regarding interpretation and enforcement of some of the work policies. One employee commented, “there is not consistent policy interpretation across campus about taking classes, other training/education, evaluations, or sexual abuse and harassment.”
The implications of having policies in place which are subject to interpretation is that their interpretation is usually left up to the discretion of the supervisor of the particular department. One woman acknowledged this problem when she commented, “the system doesn’t work for all equally – having the support of your supervisor makes a difference.” Another woman commented that unfair policies are “set at your manager’s discretion.” Ambiguous policy making sets the stage for conflict between supervisors and employees, as well as between people who have been in the system for a long time and new employees. Gender issues are exacerbated by the fact that often the supervisors are male and employees are female. Consequently, men are interpreting policy, which lays the groundwork for gender conflict and power struggles.
In addition to being frustrated with the ambiguity of certain policies, the state classified employees are dissatisfied with many of the policies which are in place. For example, there were several comments made that the PDQ’s are an ineffective means of defining job descriptions. Others commented that evaluations are not always handled well and express a desire to have the opportunity to give input about their supervisor in the evaluation procedure (without retaliation). There is also some resentment that there is no over-time pay for additional work. Others report that there is very little “flex” time available and that the sick leave policies are inadequate.
Undergraduate students are most concerned about the environment of the classroom, the residence halls, and the athletic programs. In terms of the classroom environment, students are concerned with actual presentation of course work as well as adequate advising. A group of junior and senior women commented that, “it seems harder for women students to approach male professors.” They also commented that in some cases, “women are coddled by male professors and made to believe that they can’t handle it because they are women; consequently women are not expected to do as well.” Some of these upperclass women also commented that they felt “steered” into certain classically female careers. They note that, “the path towards a major is more paved for men. There is more encouragement toward the ‘male-dominated’ majors for men and more discouragement for women.”
Some undergraduate women also feel as if they are sometimes evaluated on their appearance rather than competence. One woman states, “women are more scrutinized on their clothing and sometimes this seems to play into a professor’s thinking about your ability.” Others comment that their biggest concern is that, “there is little infusion of the role of women in courses and majors.” Conversely, some acknowledge the positive effect of the gender integration project, but feel that more courses need to be included. They comment, “the University does little to enlighten women about political issues of concern to women.” Specifically, they find that, “there is little debate of women’s issues.” Others feel that there need to be more women’s studies courses, but are aware of the fact that they may be ridiculed or labeled if they profess having interest in women’s issues. They also report concern that “gender biased language in the classroom” permeates to other parts of the campus environment. Several young undergraduate women noted that they felt excluded by the assumptions made by professors that all of their students are heterosexual.
Women athletes were vocal about differential treatment of male and female athletes by the athletic department. Some feel that they are “not advised of special privileges afforded to male athletes.” They note that “male athletes have better traveling conditions and arrangements which are more luxurious and comfortable.” One woman state her frustration with the fact that, “per diem for food is $5 for women versus $10 for men” despite the fact that women, “can sometimes eat as much as men following a game.” Another woman athlete commented that the women’s programs are “under-funded” and “under-promoted” relative to their male counterparts. Others commented that there is inequity in training room facilities and support, “depending on the particular sport, your scholarship status, and the profitability and profile of your sport.” Another woman noted that she was penalized for being late for practice when the trainers worked with football players but ignored her. Women also brought up that athletes aren’t expected to have the same work quality to get good grades in some classes.
Graduate students have similar concerns about gender exclusion in the curriculum but are also very concerned about the status of advising and mentoring for women students. They comment, “most full professors are men,” and “the percentages of male and female faculty are unequal in most disciplines.” Specifically, they feel there is a “lack of women role models,” and/or “women in positions of power.” Therefore they have few women to turn to discuss and explore their own future in academics. They also note there is a “lack of people to turn to in uncomfortable situations/unsafe environments.”
Emotional and Physical Safety Concerns
One of the most frequently cited concerns by women on campus was that they do not feel physically safe on campus. Specifically, they cite that there is not enough lighting or security in the buildings and parking lots, especially after regular class hours or on weekends. Others feel that the Walk Home Program is not very accessible or safe, and that there are not enough emergency phones on campus. The cumulative effect of poor lighting and security leaves women feeling vulnerable to either physical or sexual assault. Several undergraduate women expressed that they do not feel safe in the residence halls because lock down polices are not enforced or because of the excessive use of alcohol. They comment that you never know who could be walking down your hall or into your bathroom. Other women report that they do not feel physically safe because of abuse or harassment.
In addition to not always feeling physically safe, many women do not feel emotionally safe. They fear that if they speak out about inequities that they perceive, they will not be supported in their concerns, but will be ostracized, or subject to retaliation. This fear of retaliation is directly related to procedures to report problems and grievance procedures. An employee who works in the University Counseling Center commented that women often feel that administrators will not support a person if they report harassment. She also noted that, “any woman who speaks out is labeled as a ‘trouble-maker.'” Several other women echoed this opinion feeling that they had earned a negative reputation for speaking out against unfair policies, or simply being honest. Generally, there is a sentiment that it is not emotionally safe to bring up harassment or unfair policies because nothing will be done, and you create more harm for yourself by filing grievances. Several woman shared stores of sexual harassment which occurred at CSU and acknowledged the sense of powerlessness they felt with regard to taking any action to ending that harassment, or making it public.
Issues of Diversity
In general, there seems to be a sense that diversity is not appreciated at CSU. The campus has limited awareness and understanding of issues of diversity, primarily as they relate to race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. The lack of awareness is exemplified in both academic courses and the campus environment. Issues for women and men of color are highlighted in the storyline on page 41.
Lesbian and bisexual women on campus noted that they felt “invisible.” They commented that “unique family units are not valued, or recognized as legitimate.” Examples of non-recognition span from basic factors such as the pervasive use of heterosexist language and assumptions in the classroom, to the fact that life-partners can not legitimately receive job benefits.
Balancing Work and Family
An extremely important area of concern for women at CSU involves the logical difficulties of balancing work and family. There is a sense that CSU does not support parenting or family commitment, particularly for single parents. A male administrative professional stated, “parenting is not well supported in general at CSU. It depends on what department you are in whether you will have a ‘family friendly’ supervisor or not.” He also commented, “single parents have special difficulties, and while there are some men in this role, this is mostly an issue for women.” “Greater support for parenting would benefit all people. CSU needs to make child care and sick-child needs a priority.”
An administrative professional noted, “women in high positions are expected to act like men (e.g. job is number one). This paradigm has little regard for dependent care, usually a role of women.” She also commented, “men frequently have support outside of work (a “wife”), while women may not.” Many other women echoed this sentiment. They felt that there were inadequate policies regarding maternity and family leave, and that they would be “penalized” with regards to advancement opportunities if they attempted to balance family and work life.
Perhaps one of the greatest concerns for women with children is the lack of adequate and affordable child care. Particularly, they comment that there are difficulties finding child care on short-term or emergency notice. Their options feel particularly limited when a child is sick, or when they need help with child care after-hours. There is also a sentiment that there is a general lack of facilities, both on campus and in the community.
A final area of concern, regarding the balance of work and family involves the limited job opportunities for significant others. Faculty women note that it is often difficult to retain the most qualified women because they are receiving job offers at other Universities which make attempts to help them balance family and work commitments. One faculty member commented that, “”some top female candidates have not accepted job offers here because we’ve not been able to locate jobs for their spouses. This can often result in “commuter marriages.” We have no formal program to address the issue of “trailing spouses,” for both men and women.””
The impression given by women at CSU is that they value their involvement with a system of higher education, but they are also aware that they do not quite fit in. Their experience is like the dilemma of trying to fit a round peg into a square hole where the system of higher education is designed is “square” and the women are “round” pegs. The transformation that women often feel they make is costly because it forces competent students and professionals to sacrifice some of their innate creativity or style of work. A conflict arises because there are many positive aspects of the University, but compromises are costly to women’s productivity and creativity. Some women make attempts to change the system, but when the compromise is too extreme, some make the choice to leave.