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COSWA Corner

Rita Wright and Mary Ann Levine

In the previous issue of the SAA Bulletin [1999, 17(3): 25], we featured some video and Web-based resources related to equity issues for women in archaeology and archaeological interpretations of gender. One of the resources we listed was "The Chilly Climate," a 1991 video produced by women faculty at the University of Western Ontario. Using this video as a framework, we consulted additional sources on the Web and some published accounts to further explore the issues of chilly climates and glass ceilings in this column. We thank Alison Wylie for providing us with some guidance and listserver members of the Committee on the Status of Women in the Academic Profession of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) who responded to our request for resources outside of archaeology. The AAUP list includes professors from various disciplinary associations who work on women's committees and commissions. Its purpose is to establish a cross-disciplinary higher education association dedicated to promoting and protecting higher education in general and the principles of academic freedom, tenure, due process, shared governance, and equity in particular. Other sources, which contribute to this column are referenced at the end of the article.

Chilly Climates and Glass Ceilings: Background

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, researchers identified two phenomena that they believed inhibited the advancement of women. Since that time, studies of young girls and women, especially by Bernice Sandler and her colleagues, showed that in some classrooms women were treated differently. A chilly climate is one in which various behaviors on the part of teachers, professors, and other students communicate lower expectations for women students or exclude them from class participation. Similar types of exclusion and devaluation were found in the treatment of adult women both in and out of the academy. Whether conscious or unconscious, the differences in evaluation and treatment of girls and women resulted in long term consequences. Researchers found that very small differences piled up. For young girls, it resulted in lowering of vocational aspirations and self-esteem. Adult women experienced isolation and felt undermined. Glass ceilings are a consequence of chilly environments. The Federal Glass Ceiling Commission referred to glass ceilings as unbreachable barriers that keep women from rising to the top, regardless of their training or talent (1995, pp. 4). They suggested that overt discrimination constrained women's rise to top positions in spite of job performance that was equal to men.

Chilly Climates and Glass Ceilings:
How they Work

Workplaces in which chilly climates and glass ceilings affect women are characterized by a set of interdependent mechanisms that consist of stereotyping, exclusion, and devaluation. Stereotypes are deeply embedded ideas about gender that men and women acquire in early childhood that are reinforced in later life. They can be both positive and negative, but in any event, they are very hard to change because most of us believe we don't harbor them. The gender stereotypes that occur most frequently are those that assign women to sex-based categories like housekeeping, hostessing, or nurturing. The real trouble with stereotypes, a factor that is as annoying to men as to women, is the tendency to see the sexes as dichotomous and gender traits as mutually exclusive.

The second mechanism at work in chilly climates and glass ceilings is exclusion. This refers to the isolation of women through what the University of Western Ontario report described as the isolation of women through standard interactional patterns. These include interrupting and ignoring them, attributing their contributions to others, and excluding them from informal working groups.

A third common factor is devaluation. Devaluation explains away women's successes, questions their credibility, and routinely discounts their expertise.

The Weather has Changed
There are no Chilly Climates or Glass Ceilings?

All of the above may seem rather out of date to many and to some degree, we may all feel that greater equity has been achieved since these discussions first surfaced. Unfortunately, the chilly climate and glass-ceiling literature continues to reveal real inequities in nonacademic and academic workplaces. There are a number of professional organizations that have examined these issues (see the Web pages cited below). This list also includes several books that contain detailed studies and reviews.

Of particular interest in academic circles is the recent (1996 and ongoing) study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where a university committee of male and female faculty examined the status of women faculty. The committee reported that at MIT equal talent and accomplishments were not treated equally when seen through the eyes of prejudice. While junior women were supported early in their careers (they had equal access to resources, equitable salaries, and were supported and included in intellectual networking), after they received tenure they were marginalized and subject to inequities when compared to their male colleagues. The differences among senior women faculty were particularly acute because of the accumulation of small disadvantages during their tenure. They included factors that affected their research and the quality of their lives. The most dramatic differences appeared in a lack of gender equity in access to space, available resources, salary, and amount of nine-month salary paid from grants. Other differences included inequity in awards of prizes, appointments to chair, and teaching obligations.

In addition to overt prejudice, the MIT committee was able to trace these inequities to what they referred to as various nondemocratic practices. In particular, they included the types of exclusionary and devaluative behaviors previously mentioned in which women faculty lacked equal access to influential committees and information. These exclusions from positions of power were evident both within their departments and the broader MIT committee structure.

The study of senior women faculty at MIT is not very different from other studies of academic and nonacademic workplaces. Most studies reveal that there may be some small disparities in salary or resources among junior women but they are greater at higher ranks. Importantly, the now-senior women faculty had the same experience when they were new faculty at MIT. Like the junior women, they felt that disparities would not affect them and that the issue had been solved. To be fair, however, we should mention that studies do show that in many environments women at early stages of their career face formidable barriers to full professional status. Women with a B.A. or other advanced degree in a nonacademic or academic job or graduate school most likely will find themselves in an apprenticeship situation that frequently demands long hours and the deference to senior faculty. This also is the time when women may encounter sexual harassment. Salary disparities may be slight, but with the accumulation of time, incremental changes will not keep pace and salary gaps will widen within a very short time. The same kinds of exclusions of information discovered in the MIT study can be extremely detrimental in the evaluation process for new employees or women striving for tenure. One advantage at this early stage in a woman's career is that she may have a mentor who can lead her through difficult situations and teach her the culture of the workplace.

Is There a Chilly Climate or
Glass Ceiling in Archaeology?

There are no statistical data or in-depth studies of chilly climates or glass ceilings in archaeology. In Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association No. 5 (1994, edited by M. Nelson, S. Nelson, and A. Wylie), several chapters refer to subtle exclusions and tokenism. Some personal accounts provide glimpses of informal obstacles of a professional and personal nature that impede productive careers. Another consideration is the stereotypic image of archaeologists that replicates gender stereotypes and underlying assumptions about gender roles.

Some issues raised by the SAA Census data collected in 1994 (1997, M. A. Zeder, The American Archaeologist. A Profile. Walnut Creek, Altamira Press) and the annual data from departments collected by AAA continue to show disparities in salaries, especially between older men and women with equal training and experience who are employed in similar jobs. Younger women also are more often in lower salary brackets and in non-tenurable, one-year positions than younger men. Funding for women is lower, both in academic and CRM sectors. An obvious related factor in CRM is the larger number of men who are CEOs.

This leaves us with many unanswered questions not reported in the SAA or AAA censuses. Drawing on the MIT data and other studies, how do women archaeologists fare when it comes to access to space, available resources, amount of nine-month salary paid from grants, assignment to important committees, the award of prizes, named chairs, and teaching obligations?

How to Break the Glass Ceiling
and Warm the Climate

There are many remedies that are simple and concrete enough but largely rest in the hands of chairs, deans, and other administrators, although individual faculty can always raise such issues. The literature makes a few suggestions: include objective and open evaluation processes, provide concrete information on ways in which to move through the ranks, recruit women faculty if there is an imbalance, improve communication within the department, implement policies that deal with sexual harassment and make it clear that this behavior will not be tolerated, foster mentoring of students and junior colleagues, and examine the status of women in the department in the light of the MIT and other studies. Individual faculty can implement suggestions from the literature on the chilly climates in the classroom and provide suitable mentoring for undergraduate and graduate students. Within SAA, the establishment of COSWA has led to improved networking, mentoring, and monitoring of women in our profession but we welcome your suggestions on how we can do more to shatter the glass ceiling and warm the climate.

Web sources to consult are:

Other sources to consult are:

Breaking Anonymity: The Chilly Climate for Women Faculty. 1995. Edited by The Chilly Collective. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo Ontario.

Joyce, S., editor. 1991. Video. The Chilly Climate for Women in Colleges and Universities. The Department of Equity Services, University of Western Ontario, ( 519) 661-3334.

Sandler, B., L. A. Silverberg, and R. M. Hall. 1996. The Chilly Classroom Climate: A Guide to Improve the Education of Women. Report by the National Association of Women in Education, 1325 18th St. NW, Suite 210, Washington, DC 20036.

A Solid Investment: Making Full Use of the Nation's Human Capital. 1995. Recommendations of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, Washington, D.C. [Available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, (202) 512-1800]. Electronic copies are available at

Sonnert, G., and G. Holton. 1995. Gender Differences in Science Careers: The Project Access Study. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, N.J.

Sonnert, G., and G. Holton. 1995. Who Succeeds in Science? The Gender Dimension. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, N.J.

Valian, V. 1998. Why So Slow? Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, Cambridge. ·


Rita Wright, chair of COSWA, is associate professor at New York University. Mary Ann Levine, a member of COSWA, is assistant professor at Franklin and Marshall College.

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