First-Year Seminar Inspires Gender Dialog

Class challenges students to consider how gender impacts academic and business world

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

PHILADELPHIA (December 3, 2010) – Equal pay. Glass ceilings. Sexual harassment. Often the first words that come to mind when discussing gender in the workplace, these terms don’t illustrate the complexity of the issue at hand. Over the past few decades women have moved from domestic occupations to careers outside of the home, altering the way gender is perceived in America; yet it still impacts the working world.

A new class at Saint Joseph’s University, Gender in the Workplace, strives to approach the intricate gender issues faced in the workforce today. Co-taught by Catharine Murray, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and director of gender studies and graduate gerontology, and Eric Patton, Ph.D., assistant professor of management, the course aims to discuss gender’s impact on leadership, manager-subordinate relationships, the balance of work and family life, sexual harassment and occupational segregation.

“Gender is such an important variable in the workplace that students – especially business students – should be aware of the issues and their effects,” says Murray.

Taking advantage of the University’s new curriculum, in which all freshmen must take a first year seminar, Murray asked Patton to develop and teach the course with her because she felt it was a “great opportunity to address gender with students from both the College of Arts and Sciences and the Haub School of Business.” In total, 38 students are enrolled in the two course sections this semester and Murray and Patton expect nearly 40 in the spring as well. The students are almost evenly split between SJU’s two schools and between genders, giving the class an atmosphere of equal representation.

“We thought the course would be best served to have both a male and female professor develop and teach the course together,” says Patton. “It was important that the course be relevant to both men and women, and we felt that totally independent courses would defeat the purpose.”

Patton and Murray alternate teaching the two sections of the course, and on occasional class days they teach together.

Students are asked to spend a large amount of time reflecting on their own experiences with gender issues and to consider how their gender may be influencing their academic and career decisions. In addition, the professors required their students to attend visiting speaker events such as social geographer Audrey Kobayashi, Ph.D., president-elect of the Association of American Geographers, who spoke on immigrant women in the global economy, and Janet Hyde, Ph.D., who addressed gender in science and math success as the speaker for this year’s Ralph I. Hyatt Lecture. Hyde specializes in the psychology of women and gender-role development, and her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation.

So far, the course has been met with enthusiasm.

“There was concern that students might write off gender issues as a problem of the past, of their parents’ generation,” says Patton. “But I get the sense that our students are now very aware of not only how gender shapes workplace interactions, but also how they themselves interact with gender norms.”

As a First-Year Seminar, Gender in the Workplace is available for students to take as either a management or psychology credit and wholly represents an interdisciplinary approach to a social concern encountered on a daily basis.

“This is a great example of the new curriculum,” says Murray. “It’s sparking an interest in an issue central to the American labor landscape and encouraging first-year students to engage with and discuss a difficult topic openly. It’s been a great experience.”

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