America wakes to Simmons talking gender

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

President Ruth Simmons appeared on “The Today Show” Friday for “Brunch with Power Women.” Hosted by Meredith Vieira, four women, including Simmons, discussed gender and equality in the workplace.

Vieira asked the guests – Simmons; Hannah Seligson ’04, author of “New Girl on the Job: Advice from the Trenches;” Sharon Allen, chairwoman of the board at Deloitte and Marissa Mayer, a vice president at Google – why they thought women earn less than men. Simmons said pay disparities are “some of our own making.”

“Women ask for less,” Simmons said. “We have to encourage women to learn the negotiating skills.”

Given Simmons’ role in teaching women, Vieira questioned why lessons in workplace negotiation are lacking in the university experience. Seligson defended her Brown experience and said the “culture of achievement” in academia does not translate to the workplace. She said the office is not a meritocracy like the academic arena is.

However, she cited TSDA 0220: “Persuasive Communication” as an incredible course that she took during her senior year at Brown. She said universities need to “take that model and implement it, and have a class called ‘You need more than a black suit to succeed in the workplace.'”

“It’s not an ambition gap,” Seligson added. “It’s a skill gap.”

Simmons talked about the necessity of advocacy from women and raised the example of Louise Lamphere, who brought a lawsuit against the University for gender discrimination after she was not given tenure in 1977. Turning to Vieira, Simmons asked, “Do you know what she did? For us? She sued us.”

But she presented the example with pride, as Simmons discussed the framework of equality at Brown that resulted from Lamphere’s actions.