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Institutional Sexism Assignments

The Rotman School of Management has pulled a controversial class assignment from a first-year MBA course after concerns were raised about its portrayal of women.

The assignment, issued last week for a class on capital markets, features a fictional female business student who is offered a public relations job with her “favourite company of all time,” jeweller Tiffany and Co. She is struggling to decide which compensation package she should accept.

Several students in the University of Toronto’s graduate business school were openly dismayed by the assignment, saying there is “just so much wrong” with its portrayal of “Elle Forest,” a ditzy female who requires the assistance of her Yale-educated boyfriend to figure out which compensation package she should accept.

The assignment, which the Star has viewed, notes Forest “really didn’t want any of those investment banking or consulting jobs,” and was “already dreaming of more little turquoise boxes on her bookshelf, where she already had quite a nice collection.”

“Just after her upcoming graduation, Elle would be getting married in the Hamptons and moving to New York to a gorgeous apartment on the Upper East Side,” the assignment adds.

Forest, who is described as being “confused about the subtleties of the offer,” enlists the help of her Yale-educated fiancé, Chip.

“I have been offered an annual salary of $85,000, but that really just isn’t enough to pay the rent,” she tells her partner. “The HR lady also said that I could choose between an additional $20,000 signing bonus in cash or company stock options that expire and vest after 2 years and after 4 years, respectively. I just don’t know what to do.”

Chip advises Forest to refer to her Finance class notes, a suggestion she enthusiastically embraces as she is a “super-organized” student with binders that are “colour-coded and organized by term.”

Chip later interjects to remind her to consider the tax implications of her final decision.

“Oh, right. Sorry. I was dreaming of that pair of Louboutins,” Forest replies, referring to the iconic red-soled designer shoes. “My marginal tax rate will be about 32%, and my capital gains tax rate will be 16%. I am so confused. Which choice is better?”

Aspiring lawyer Chip then reminds his fiancée that the couple may move to Sydney if he is transferred by his firm, which could affect her decision.

After browsing her iPad to estimate the value of her stock options, Forest falls asleep “dreaming of those little blue boxes and beautiful shoes.”

The assignment then supplies students with data and asks them to determine the value of each offer.

The Star received a copy of the assignment from a student who was unimpressed by its depiction of the hapless lead character.

The Star took those complaints to the Rotman School of Management on Thursday. Students told the Star that Professor Kent Womack, professor of the capital markets class, later apologized verbally for the assignment, which was he said written by a teacher’s assistant. He then advised the class to think carefully before speaking to the media, according to students.

One student, who asked not to be identified over concerns of reprisal, said some classmates started to clap after the professor suggested against commenting to the press. The student also expressed concern that, for some, protecting the Rotman brand appeared to take precedence over offence caused by the assignment.

The student said the topic of campus conversation shifted quickly from dismay over the assignment to concern for the school’s image.

“The (topic) Wednesday was: this is offensive; this isn’t cool. On Thursday the question was: how does this affect the Rotman brand?” the student said.

“I don’t think that’s what healthy communities do,” the student said. “Rotman actually does do a million things to enhance women. This could be an opportunity for the institution to talk about that but, again, for whatever reason it’s been ‘clam up — form a defensive position.’ ”

The student added that Womack is generally admired by students as a professor who “actually cares,” but that the assignment had struck a clanging off note.

Womack did not respond to the Star’s requests for comment.

The school’s media manager, Ken McGuffin, told the Star that the assignment was “an ill-advised satire of a pop-culture character.”

“The faculty involved with the course will be apologizing to the class and the assignment has been retracted and will not be used again.

“The Rotman School is proud of our efforts to create a welcoming environment for our diverse group of students and our very supportive programs such as the Rotman Initiative for Women in Business and the student-run Women in Management Association,” he said.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Justice Department announced a lawsuit against the State of Michigan on the grounds of systematic gender discrimination against women corrections officers. The lawsuit shows that existing efforts to stop institutional sexism in the state—and around the nation—aren’t enough.

via Pixabay

Citing Title VII, which “prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin and religion,” the Justice Department accused MDOC and the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV) of using its “overly broad female-only assignment policy” to discriminate against female employees. According to the report, 28 female officers had issued a complaint with the EEOC after they suspected MDOC of denying them transfers or other employment opportunities since 2009.

In 1996, Human Rights Watch reported that sexual assault as well as “other misconduct by corrections staff” directed at women police officers in Michigan continued to be “tolerated over the years at both the institutional and departmental levels.” This scathing report—and others like it—pushed the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) into implementing a new policy that would restrict responsibilities involving housing and transportation in women’s prisons to female corrections officers. Now, 20 years later, MDOC has found itself once more at the center of a fight against systemic sexism in policing.

Unfortunately, the plight of these WHV correctional officers is one felt by many women in all facets of law enforcement. A 2005 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that out of an estimated 445,000 employees working in state and federal correctional facilities, about 25% were women. Though significantly higher than the minuscule 12% of female, active duty police officers in 2015, female corrections officers were still a significant minority.

Many of the pitfalls of being a woman in the law enforcement industry still apply in correctional facilities. In one study, female corrections officers reported feeling discriminated against in the workplace and pessimistic about the possibility of growth in their field. Several mentioned instances of sexual harassment, troubles balancing their family with their career and frustration with what they perceived to be institutional inequality. Of the 12 officers interviewed, none believed women had “greater opportunities for promotions in the correctional setting.”

If there had been more prominent examples of promotion and inclusion in the corrections industry, the 12 officers interviewed might have told a very different story. One study suggests that the solution might lie in diversifying the workplace, finding that when there are more women working lower-level jobs, there are likely more women in executive or managerial positions as well.

But it isn’t just women who benefit from a growing number of women in policing and law enforcement—the public benefits, too. In 2003, the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) published a report finding that a higher proportion of female officers would help put an end to workplace discrimination and emphasizing the several ways women could overhaul institutional problems in policing. (Women were found to perform just as well as their male counterparts but were less inclined to use force and more likely to reduce cases of sexual harassment.)

Why should it be any different for correctional officers? The relationship between prisoners and officers has been tenuous at best over the years, with instances of aggression becoming increasingly commonplace. Just this month, five prison guards—all men—were convicted for assaulting an inmate in New York City’s Riker Island jail complex. With time, an increase of female employees in both men’s and women’s prisons could help quell this growing hostility and reduce the possibility of physical confrontation between officer and inmate.

However, for reasons that continue to elude most women, institutions like law enforcement can’t seem to wrap their head around the idea of using gender equality as a means to resolve its structural flaws. The FMF’s report on policing has been out for over decade, yet most police departments in the U.S.—whether they be in Colorado Springs or in Los Angeles—have found ways to continue enforcing discriminatory practices.

Can the same thing be said about the prison system? Absolutely. As this current lawsuit shows, it’s unlikely that MDOC would have made a genuine effort to correct its mistakes without the Justice Department taking action on behalf of the women working at WHV. Female employees in the prison system are currently being punished for the misconduct of their male counterparts—their careers are limited by a policy that, in theory, should have no effect on their career prospects.

Should the Justice Department wins this case, the court’s ruling should lead to some serious institutional changes that will set a precedent for all women in law enforcement. Maybe that’s the wake-up call law enforcement leaders across the nation need right now.
Nicole Pina is an editorial intern at Ms. and a rising junior pursuing an English degree at Yale University. She spends most of her time either reading medieval poetry or editing other people’s essays on medieval poetry. When not subjecting her friends to a rant about the lyrical virtuosity of Kate Bush’s >Hounds of Love, she works as an editor at her college’s multilingual magazine and helps host a feminist radio show.

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