Campus Women’s Organization hosts panel on gender stereotypes

Mahita Gajanan | April 4, 2012    

RaShall Brackney headed both the SWAT team and police force at the G-20 summit in 2009.

But… RaShall Brackney headed both the SWAT team and police force at the G-20 summit in 2009.

But Brackney said co-workers advised her to “be heard but not seen” so the rest of the police in the team would take her seriously.

“That made me look less competent, even though I was the one in charge of the SWAT team,” Brackney said to an audience of 47 students Wednesday night in the William Pitt Union.

Brackney spoke at Pitt’s Campus Women’s Organization’s panel discussion with three other professional women from different fields. The panelists primarily spoke about the influence of media on gender stereotypes and the way such stereotypes make their way into the workplace.

Sherdina Harper, Pitt’s Cross Cultural and Leadership Development programming coordinator, moderated the event.

“We just give our own power away,” Brackney said, urging the largely female audience not to run from challenges and to stick to convictions even in the face of opponents.

The two-day event also included a film screening on Tuesday. More than 40 students gathered in the William Pitt Union to watch the 2011 documentary “Miss Representation,” which follows the way media shapes gender roles in society, politics and violence.

CWO President Gina Roussos organized the event through the Young People For Fellowship program, run through the American Way Foundation.

Questions from the audience on Wednesday night varied from whether the women faced gender stereotyping within their own families to how a person can deal with the way the media portrays women and what stigmas working-class mothers face.

Jennifer Cairns, a partner at McGuireWoods, a Pittsburgh-based law firm, said men assume working mothers cannot handle the pressures of working while raising a child. She also said other women turn against working women, thinking that they are not spending enough time either in the home or the workplace.

“We get it from both sides,” Cairns said.

All four panelists emphasized that women face more trouble in the workplace when they are around other women than when they are around men, and they all agreed that it is important for professionals to find mentors and role models in their lives.

“As women, we think we’re in competition with each other,” Brackney said. “If women mentored better, you’d understand that there’s a lot of room for all of us.”

One audience member asked the panel how to deal with people who don’t listen to women in the workplace because of their sex.

Deborah Walker, a criminal justice professor at Pitt, advised students to keep control and prove themselves to their supervisors.

Cairns said to “be persistent,” noting that women have a tendency to apologize even when they don’t do anything wrong.

“Don’t show that weakness,” she said.

The panelists said that if co-workers who are being difficult see that you won’t back down, they will begin to listen.

“You have to be what I call, ‘politely inflexible,’” Brackney said.

Junior Evan Walker said he learned a lot at the event about language use when referring to a woman and how professional women deal with maternity leaves and families.

“I’m going to watch my language and try to be more respectful of women,” Walker said. “It was an insightful event, and I appreciate going.”

Roussos said the panelists were a big inspiration to her, especially as she wants to have both a career and children someday.

“It’s just cool to see that it’s possible,” she said.

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