Female world fellows talk gender

Yale’s nine female world fellows took a break from their work Tuesday night to discuss the interrelation of their sex and their careers.

The event, co-sponsored by the Women Faculty Forum and the World Fellows Program, attracted both male and female members of the Yale community to Betts House. The fellows focused on the relationship between gender and their chosen professions in their home countries. Most of the women said that while being female had not affected them negatively on a personal level, they operated in societies that were inherently male-dominated, though sometimes in subtle ways.

The first speaker — Mitsuru Claire Chino, a corporate counsel for one of Japan’s major trading companies — said women across the globe tend not to make it to the top levels of jobs like hers, even without overt discrimination.

“In both [my work in the United States and in Japan], I was evaluated for promotional purposes on how much time was put into my work,” she said. “I always needed to be available. The evaluation criteria made it hard especially for women who try to balance career and life.”

She said these demands create a discrepancy between women in entry-level and upper-level positions, because women raising young children often cannot spend as much time in the office as their male counterparts. While her corporation has perfect balance between the sexes in entry-level jobs, only six of 100 partners are female, Chino said.

Kel Ginsberg, associate director of the Yale World Fellows Program, asked the women to discuss how they had achieved success, despite the challenges women in their societies face.

Many of the world fellows said role models, especially parents, helped them develop self-confidence.

Muluemebet Hunegnaw, deputy Africa area director of Save the Children, said that while her mother had been removed from school in sixth grade in order to be married, Hunegnaw’s parents made education a priority for all their children, regardless of whether they were male or female.

Jamaican judge Marlene Malahoo Forte said her parents’ emotional support was as important as their values for her education.

“When a young girl gets validation from her father, it is hard for men to come along and, as we say in Jamaica, ‘fool up your head,’ ” she said.

Penny Low, a member of Singapore’s parliament, attributed her success both to luck and to her ability to make smart, sometimes unorthodox choices.

Sharmila Nebhrajani, Chief Operating Officer of BBC Future Media and Technology, agreed with Low about the importance of taking chances in one’s work.

“You have to have a degree of tenacity and confidence, and just get it into your psyche that it is an opportunity,” she said.

Faculty said they enjoyed the event and were eager to join in the discussion.

Physics professor Megan Urry said she found the issue of life-work balance especially relevant.

“Girls here in Physics ask me all the time if it is possible to have a career and a family, but I’ve never heard that from a boy,” she said.

Music professor Sarah Weiss said the talk made her reconsider how she thinks about being female.

“Sitting in front of such an amazing collection of women … made me really wonder about the way in which we talk about gender, and how we can make that more interactive,” she said.

Austrian fellow Verena Knaus, the co-founder of the think tank European Stability Initiative, said successful women tend to avoid talking about their sex for fear of not being taken seriously by their peers.

“Let’s not be embarrassed to look and talk about the issue,” Knaus said.

Yale’s 18 world fellows spend a semester at Yale taking classes, conducting independent research and engaging in frequent discussions with each other and with Yale students, faculty and administrators.

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