Volume 52   Number 1 Winter 2019

Special Feature: UMASS Lowell Center for Women & Work: Community Psychology in Action

Written by Meg A. Bond, Director of the Center for Women & Work, Professor in the Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts Lowell

The Center for Women & Work (CWW) at UMass Lowell is marking our 20th anniversary this year – and thus this is a great time to reflect and share our work with colleagues. Thank you to the editors for the encouragement to write this column.

Our Mission and Our Passions

In 1998, CWW began as a collaboration among a small but dedicated interdisciplinary group of faculty committed to promoting scholarship that could drive progress on gender equity.  Since its founding, CWW has grown into a vibrant interdisciplinary community engaged in analytical, broad-ranging projects related to gender and work. To challenge inequalities and promote equity, our mission includes:

  • Advancing knowledge about the relationship between gender and work through disciplinary and interdisciplinary research
  • Enhancing understanding of this relationship through education and training
  • Promoting institutional change, both within our own institution and externally

To help anchor our work, we have also articulated some shared values and perspectives:

  • Differences among women affected by race and ethnicity, age, disability, class, and sexual orientation - and the intersections among these differences - have a profound effect on women’s lives.
  • Social structures – including political, economic, cultural, social, and religious systems – have a substantial influence on women’s contribution to and share in the benefits of economic activity.

We believe that if we can better understand how intersectional inequalities become part of how organizational systems operate on a daily basis, we can expand change efforts beyond targeting individuals’ wrong-doings and/or skill deficits to focus on changing critical ongoing organizational norms, practices, and policies.

Promoting Scholarship for Social Change

Our tag line is “scholarship for social change.” Putting this aspiration into practice has involved 1) forwarding scholarship on gender and work through creating settings that promote interdisciplinary exchange, 2) establishing interdisciplinary teams to confront some of the difficult contemporary problems, 3) promoting equity within our own institution both through systemic institutional change initiatives and through fostering bridges across rank, discipline, and faculty-staff roles, 4) partnering with community groups on issues of shared concern, and 5) guiding and mentoring future social justice scholars.

Forwarding Innovative Scholarship: CWW Associates Program

CWW’s Associates Program serves as a hub for innovative scholarly projects. At its core, CWW is a community of over 20 scholars – representing diverse disciplines – whose work promotes social change by amplifying diverse voices, rethinking gender and gender narratives, and exploring the intersecting and complex diversity-related dynamics of social systems. Each year, CWW welcomes new associates, each actively involved in pursuing a distinctive project related to the gendered conditions of work. The Associates Program provides support and collaborative mentoring around these individual projects.

CWW Associates study issues as wide ranging as sexual harassment, workplace health and safety, distinctive gender dynamics of both male-dominated workplaces and female-dominated professions, fiber arts as a method of teaching engineering and mathematics, visual rhetoric, and the long-term effects of structural violence.

Confronting Difficult Contemporary Problems: CWW Research Programs

The interdisciplinary nature of the Associates’ group fosters an openness to new ways of thinking about discipline-based projects and has also resulted in unique cross-disciplinary collaborations and grant proposals. Four core topical key areas have emerged from collaborations: women in Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), carework, gender violence, and workplace equity.

Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). One core research area focuses on the dynamics of male-dominated workplaces and male-dominated professions.  Apropos, CWW has several projects devoted to addressing the need for an expanded and more diverse STEM workforce.

“It's time to move beyond trying to convince girls that robots are cool! Robotics (gendered male, despite the number of women working in the field) is not the only path to STEM careers. My work uncovers the deep STEM content in textiles and the fiber arts, and, more broadly, challenges our notion of which learning approaches are most inclusive of underrepresented students.” — Sarah Kuhn (psychology)

CWW has received National Science Foundation (NSF) funding for several projects that address barriers faced by women in STEM. We have spearheaded the development of a Subtle Gender Bias Index to identify systemic issues faced by women in academic STEM; convened STEM leaders who study gender bias; and explored varied pedagogical approaches to reach diverse STEM audiences. In 2016, the Center was awarded a 5-year, $3.5 million grant from the NSF ADVANCE Program to promote the transformation of our own institution through addressing the aspects of STEM academic culture and institutional structure that may differentially affect women faculty and academic administrators.

“My work with women in STEM shows how microaggressions, as well as work and family conflicts, can affect women’s progress in STEM. Moreover, my research with female academics who are immigrants explores how their diverse backgrounds – regarding race, ethnicity and culture – shape their lived experiences in U.S. society.”— Yun Ling Li (sociology)

Carework. We also focus on female-dominated professions. Most of the paid and unpaid work to care for people in our society is performed by women. Understanding the challenges faced by workers who provide such labor as nursing, child care, home and eldercare is essential for supporting this essential component of our social infrastructure.

"My research focuses on the impact of adverse health events on working individuals and their families and how women may be disproportionately affected by these events. Since women tend to be the primary caregivers in families, they can face both income losses because of their own health problems, and employment challenges when called up to assist disabled family members. My work promotes rethinking governmental approaches to policies such as workers’ compensation to address these issues." — Monica Galizzi (economics)

CWW has provided leadership for several multidisciplinary research initiatives related to carework. In 2010, CWW faculty collaborated with colleagues at UMass Boston and UMass Amherst to produce a report, “Counting on Care Work: Human Infrastructure in Massachusetts,” which continues to be a resource for advocacy around carework policy. Several CWW associates contributed to a 2015 edited volume focused on paid carework.

 “My research focuses on carework — including health care, elder care, child care, education, and social services. As both unpaid and paid work, carework is dominated by women, and there are important divisions of caring labor by race, citizenship, and class as well. In the absence of strong policy to support care, our current social organization of care reinforces and reproduces all kinds of inequalities. My research is directed to unraveling and addressing pieces of that.” — Mignon Duffy (sociology)

More recently, CWW is proud to have become the institutional home of an international Carework Network.  The center hosted the first biennial Global Carework Summit in June 2017, which attracted 140 researchers from all over the world:  Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Iran, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Gendered Violence. Gendered violence is violence intertwined with traditional role expectations and unequal power relationships among genders. It can take many forms, and the world is awakening to the toll that gendered violence is taking in our workplaces and communities. CWW Associates focus on issues ranging from workplace harassment and campus sexual assault to structural violence in communities around the world.

 “I study structural violence – the links between unequal and oppressive social systems (racism, colonialism, patriarchy) and individual/community suffering. My research sheds light on these linkages to inform education, human rights work, and social policy with the goal of creating more equitable social and institutional arrangements” — Urmitapa Dutta (psychology)

CWW Associates have spoken at and organized panels on gender and violence, addressed issues relative to #METOO, written on the effects of news coverage of violence against women, and been consulted on the subject of sexual harassment in the workplace. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) Select Task Force on Harassment in the Workplace met for over a year and presented a report in 2016 on the prevention of workplace harassment and how to address it. I was honored to be a member of the task force that advised the Commissioners on this work.

“My work promotes a better understanding of media freedom and media access, on human rights - including women’s rights. In analyzing news coverage of violence against women, I find killings of women are seldom viewed as human rights violations. Instead they are typically covered as run-of-the-mill crimes or dismissed as family problems.” — Jenifer Whitten-Woodring (political science)

There is still much to learn about the myriad and complex ways in which violence is linked to gender. Another way that CWW Associates study gendered violence is through interrogating the concept of masculinity. Toward this goal, the contemporary men's rights movement ‒ a mainly on-line movement which claims that men are oppressed by gender norms, women, and feminism – is being researched by CWW Associates.

“My work focuses on contemporary issues in masculinity, including fatherhood, violence, and intersectional identity. By examining the ways in which masculine identity is represented in popular culture, my research attempts to determine the ways in which these images both reflect and directly contribute to gender norms and expectations.” — Christa Hodapp (philosophy)

Workplace Equity. CWW research has focused on how dynamics around race and ethnicity intersect with gender to affect the work environment. We compiled a catalogue of ways to measure various forms of workplace discrimination.  We have partnered with a wide range of organizations, e.g., manufacturing firms, community health centers, community-based service delivery, to examine challenges for fostering a diverse workforce and to uncover best practices.

"My work looks at how stereotypes, and the expectations they perpetuate, create obstacles for women and people of color in the workplace. I am particularly interested in understanding these effects with an eye towards creating an inclusive and equitable climate for all." — Michelle Haynes-Baratz (psychology)

A CWW Wage Equity Group focuses on closing the gender earnings gap and conducts annual campus workshops for women students on how to negotiate for better wages.

 “My research promotes understand the diversity among experiences of women professionals — moving beyond a ‘single story’ of who women are and what they want in their careers. It is important to think about variations among women and move beyond generalizing among women’s experiences and comparing them to men’s experiences.” —Beth Humberd (management)

Promoting Equity within our Own Institution

A third key aspect of CWW’s work is to address issues of equity within our own organizational home. CWW’s first collaborative research project in 1999 was a study of harassment experienced by UML employees. The research not only revealed generalizable findings about workplace risk factors for harassment, but it also led to increased efforts to address this crucial issue.  Over the years, CWW has continued our commitment to bringing forth the best for our own university.

WAVES (Women Academics Valued and Engaged in STEM). CWW’s current NSF ADVANCE Institutional Transformation initiative, called Making WAVES, is designed to promote an institutional environment that supports UML faculty from underrepresented groups to achieve their highest potential by challenging daily microaggressions, sponsoring alternative mentoring supports, and promoting policies that support equity and institutionalize attention to diversity among faculty. Focusing on microaggressions, the WAVES team has developed a distinctive approach to bystander training that emphasizes the importance of engaging the whole community in promoting equity and inclusion. Lessons learned from these workshops are also relevant to other types of organizations for dealing with and curbing microaggressions.

VOWW. Voices of the Working Woman (VOWW) is a CWW-initiated partnership of faculty and staff that explores issues relevant to women employees across jobs and levels at UML. Since 2008, the program has grown from an informal annual luncheon promoting interaction among women employees to a group that actively advocates for equity initiatives. For example, VOWW has sponsored brown bag lunches on retirement benefits and has a working group devoted to developing a campus-wide flextime policy.

Women’s Works. Women’s Works was established in 2007 to celebrate the multifaceted lives – featuring outside creative endeavors - of women working and studying on our campus, e.g., the water colors of the Director of the IRB, the mosaic work of an English professor, the gourmet chocolates of a woman in housekeeping, and the musical talent of the CWW Program Manager. It has grown into an annual event, with over 50 vendors and performances. Women’s Works is also an opportunity to educate the UMass Lowell — and Lowell — community about CWW’s scholarship.  Our ‘Ask an Associate’ booth is often surprisingly busy!

Partnering with Communities

Lowell is a former manufacturing hub with a rich labor history that highlights women’s contributions over the last century. Lowell is also a city of immigrants. CWW associates, staff and students are involved in the Lowell community in many ways.  Not only do we participate in and sponsor many community events, we have recently been awarded a grant by the Women Working Wonders Fund of the Greater Lowell Community Foundation to establish a Women’s Leadership Exchange (LeadX) to foster connections between student leaders and local community-based organizations.  

 “I work directly with a wide range of community organizations to help them assess how well they are accomplishing their goals. I conduct program evaluation organized around providing a voice to those who don’t often have one or who don’t get a chance to express themselves. These voices are often women and others who are marginalized based on identity and/or background.” — Robin Toof (Center for Community Research and Engagement) 

CWW Associates partner with community groups to address shared concerns. Some have explored diversity challenges faced by community health centers and community-based boards of directors.  Others are involved in addressing issues surrounding immigration and migration, with particular attention to the effects on women and families. Several Associates have advised a community-based project to assess sexual harassment of low-wage, Latina workers.

“My work on gender and migration challenges institutional inequalities in the U.S. immigration system, and also challenges inequalities in migration studies and academia, which has yet to fully incorporate gender into migration analyses.” — Cheryl Llewellyn (sociology)

 “I study migration issues in general, and for women in particular, in order to promote social justice for immigrants. I also study diversity and inclusivity for students on campus from their diverse racial perspectives. This work provides insight into how their inclusion or exclusion affects their school life and beyond.” — Jana Sladkova (psychology)

Guiding the Next Generation of Social Justice Researchers and Scholars

CWW Associates incorporate many related themes into their ongoing course work. In addition, CWW has been instrumental in establishing new programs on campus that foster the development of the next generation of social justice researchers and scholars.

“My research explores how social structures – including political, economic, cultural, social, and religious systems – have a substantial influence on women’s contribution to and share in the benefits of economic activity. I challenge students to write analytic studies of how these structures of power are reflected in literature; many also write creative nonfiction essays that wrestle with these issues manifest in their lives. Many of these students become activist scholars and writers who use their privilege and education to address the injustices of our world.” — Marlowe Miller (English)

“I focus on the relationship between incivility and equity at work. Investigating academic incivility and offering solutions provides role-modeling opportunities for junior faculty as well as for students in an effort to promote more inclusive and productive work relationships in the academic workplace as well as future workplaces.” — Anya Peters (nursing)

Emerging Scholars Program – CWW is proud to have spearheaded and now administer the UMass Lowell Emerging Scholars Program for the College of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. This program matches qualified rising undergraduate juniors and seniors with an experienced faculty partner to participate in cutting-edge research.  The Emerging Scholars Program provides students with a unique year-long opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge gained from courses to a faculty member’s on-going research while enhancing knowledge of substantive areas, research methods, and professional presentation skills.

Student Women Leaders. CWW has fostered the development of women student leaders in diverse ways. In collaboration with Student Affairs, CWW hosts an annual Women’s Leadership Dinner where women student leaders are able to speak informally with women faculty and administrations in small groups over a meal. Resources, successes, challenges, and ideas are shared.

CWW’s Impact

As CWW celebrates our 20th anniversary this year, we have been reflecting upon what we have accomplished. Above I summarize some of our accomplishments that include research carried out; grants received; collaborations established; social change efforts undertaken; books, articles & reports written; institutions challenged; and students engaged. We have been tremendously effective on the criteria that universities tend to establish as benchmarks for success. At our core, however, we are not a machine that spits out “products” – we are an alternative setting within the academy where we work collaboratively to make a difference in the world while we enable those in our community to thrive – personally, professionally, and politically.  Reflections from a few of our associates about what CWW means to them:

"A thoughtful socio-political context for the workplace health issues that I study."Laura Punnett, Biomedical Engineering

"CWW means I have the opportunity to be part of a caring community of impressive scholars and teachers who make a difference in the world." — Marlowe Miller, English

"Community, support, ideas, confidence, space for growth and development, academic feedback, rigor, research improvement, power house." — Mona Kleinberg, Political Science

“A supportive network to connect with like-minded scholars” — Michelle Haynes-Baratz, Psychology

 “The most friendly community of great scholars you could find.” — Monica Galizzi, Economics

"A safe place to share ideas, research, challenges and opportunities." — Jenifer Whitten-Woodring, Political Science

"A community of scholars and friends." — Mignon Duffy, Sociology

“A place of safety, affirmation, and healthy debate—laughter and support.” — Judy Davidson, Graduate School of Education

“A place for checking in – with my research, with cross-disciplinary colleagues, with the state of ideas in my area of work…and perhaps most importantly, with myself.” — Beth Humberd, Manning School of Business 

"It is an academic home." — Melissa Morabito, Criminology and Justice Studies