By Patricia Roxas
In order to gain a distinct and personal perspective on the issue of gender equality, I conducted a semi-structured interview and probe exercise with a peer who was researching a different issue. My peer was a female and she had quite similar attitude towards gender equality as myself although she was still able to provide some good insights.
The interview questions were mainly focused on gender equality in the workforce. Some of the these included:
1. What does term ‘gender pay gap’ mean to you?
2. What have you heard in relation to gender pay gap/gender equality?
3. What’s your position?
4. What influenced your position?
5. Do you think that men perform better than women at senior level positions?
The first set of questions were designed to gauge an understanding of my interviewee’s perceptions on the gender pay gap. She did have a general awareness of the gender pay gap but not the specifics. For example, she acknowledged that men are being paid more than women for the equal amount of work. Although, she found it difficult to see the reasons for this and predicts that it might be due to sexism in the workplace. When asked about where she has heard about news relating to gender equality, she listed social media such as Facebook as the main source. Additionally, she mentioned that she occasionally visits online news sites such as ABC News and The Guardian and encounters some articles on gender equality. This was interesting as it is something which I do not do for personal reasons other than for school assignments and I commend her for actively seeking out information on current news rather than solely relying on shared articles. I tried to ask her if she could recall any specific news although she claimed that she hasn’t heard much since it has always been a recurring issue. Though, she did have a particular awareness for Hillary Clinton and her strong advocacy for equal pay.
My interviewee shares a similar position on the gender pay gap. She “definitely” supports the idea that women should be paid the same as men. Such language indicates that she holds her position with confidence and is also a feminist in some way.
“It’s common sense. Why can’t we have equality in the workplace?”
When asked about who influenced her position, she interestingly acknowledged her mother. Her mother is a feminist and encouraged her to read Girl Power Magazines at an early age. This discussion on influences ultimately provided insight that parents can play a part in shaping their children’s attitudes towards gender equality. My interviewee did not acknowledge school thus suggesting that she did not receive as much education on gender equality. Reflecting on my own experience, I feel that I was also not educated on this issue which left me to inform myself through external sources.
Towards the end of the interview, I found it challenging to keep the conversation going on the gender pay gap due to my interviewee’s general knowledge. Therefore, I tried to incorporate my own research and findings into my questions and ask my interviewee’s opinions on this. I found this a useful tactic because it definitely facilitated a continuous, extensive and open conversation. After asking my interviewee about her opinions on men in senior-level positions, the discussion led to a debatable topic about men having more opportunities. Some of the interesting points she made was that there is preferential treatment over men and a societal perception of men as “leaders” and “powerful figures”.
Inspired by our final discussion, the design probe that I gave my participant was:
Collect images from the media (magazines, news articles, films, social media etc.) where women are represented in senior-level positions and identify the industry they belong to.
The aim of this task was to examine how women are constructed as professionals and leaders in the media.
Participant’s findings: Portrayal of women in leadership positions in online news articles
As seen in the findings, my participant collated a few images of women in CEO positions within the industries of Technology, Sports, Medicine, Law enforcement and Politics. These were predominantly found on online news articles such as ABC News, Courier, The Guardian, NPR and News Limited Australia. The images of women used in the media mostly shows them talking in front of a mic to prove their leadership capabilities yet, some women’s faces lack emotion which undermines this.
Participant’s findings: Powerful women criticised for their leadership capabilities
The findings also reveal that powerful women are often portrayed in a negative light. Captions of the images utilise neutral language and rather than praising women, the articles are often aimed to criticise their leadership capabilities. Despite having more power and influence, women in higher level positions are still being humiliated and even sexualised as evident in the objectification of Julia Gillard as a chew toy.
The findings I obtained from my participant enabled me to gain numerous insights into portrayal of powerful women in the media. As she was able to include some context and excerpts of the articles, I believe I would not be able to gain as much insights if I only had images. My only concern is that I was unable to obtain varying insights since all of the images originated from online news sites. Next time, I would encourage the participant to explore other types of media and instruct them to analyse the images. This could possibly reveal a more personal revelation into how their thoughts and views on women’s leadership capabilities are shaped by the media. I would also ask 3 other males or females from different age groups for comparison.
Five point summary:
- The participant had a general awareness of the gender pay gap but not the specific details such as the causes of its existence
- Parents play a significant part in shaping their children’s attitudes towards gender equality.
- The participant was exposed to a majority of online news articles that criticised the leadership capabilities of women.
- A person’s facial expressions can convey a person’s competence. For example, women who display lack of emotion can be perceived as having weaker leadership qualities.
- A combination of image and text yields greater and more interesting insights into the portrayal of powerful women in the media than image alone.