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What happens to gender bias in female-dominated industries?

March 3, 2022, 2:48 PM UTC

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Jessica Cisneros, 28, forces a runoff with a nine-term congressman, Canada’s Chrystia Freeland is taking the Ukraine crisis personally, and a new study debunks the myth that simply adding women to an industry is enough to eliminate bias. Have a great Thursday!

Fortune executive editor Kristen Bellstrom here this morning, filling in for Emma:

– “Add women and stir” isn’t the solution. Is gender balance the path to ending gender bias?

Well, that depends. A new study, published this week in Harvard Business Review, torpedos the idea that simply loading an industry up with women is enough to eliminate the kind of bias that holds female workers back.

The researchers looked at four industries with more female than male workers: law (women account for 54% of the workforce), higher ed (55%), faith-based nonprofits (64%), and health care (78%). They asked women in these fields about their experience with bias, ranging from the “subtle (such as lack of acknowledgement) to overt (such as workplace harassment).”

While the results show that each industry has its own particular issue, from “constrained communication”—where women feel they need to downplay their accomplishments—to an epidemic of manterrupting, the overall takeaway is clear: a female-dominated workplace is no magic bullet against gender bias.

But before we start talking about “queen bees” and how not all women support other women, let’s talk about something the authors only implicitly acknowledge—a majority-female industry is not the same things as industry with majority-female leadership (or even gender-balanced leadership).

Let’s take health care, for example. Women make up more than 85% of registered nurses, but the vast majority of doctors are still male, as are the majority of hospital leaders. In law, the story is much the same: The majority of paralegals are female, but women still make up a minority of lawyers—and account for just 23% of equity partners as U.S. law firms.

As Emma noted earlier this week, having women at the top of the pyramid matters. Expecting an industry to be more egalitarian because women hold the majority of jobs—but achieve that statistical dominance through roles that aren’t permitted to call the shots or set the cultural tone—is missing the point.

Kristen Bellstrom

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Today’s edition was curated by Claire Zillman. Subscribe here.


- Runoff. In Texas's Tuesday primary, 28-year-old progressive immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros forced a March 24 runoff with nine-term incumbent Rep. Henry Cueller to secure the Democratic nomination for U.S. House District 28. (FBI agents raided Cueller's house in January, reportedly as part of probe into ties to Azerbaijan.) Cisneros, who once interned for Cueller, says the congressman is too conservative for the district. Texas Tribune

- Taking it personally. The Ukraine crisis is personal for Chrystia Freeland, Canada's finance minister and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's No. 2. Both of Freeland's maternal grandparents were born in Ukraine and she speaks Ukrainian at home with her kids. Freeland, whom President Vladimir Putin has banned from Russia, was reportedly a key player in bringing sanctions against Russia's central bank. Reuters

- Tell-all. In an interview airing this morning, billionaire philanthropist Melinda French Gates speaks with CBS Mornings' Gayle King about divorcing Bill Gates, her husband of 27 years. “It wasn’t one moment or one specific thing that happened," she said of the decision to split. "There just came a point in time where there was enough there that I realized it just wasn’t healthy, and I couldn’t trust what we had.” Vanity Fair 

- Employee assistance. At her first investor day as CEO, Citi's Jane Fraser said the bank is helping some of its 200 employees in Ukraine escape to Poland and sending them pay advances to help endure the Russian invasion. “I could not be more proud of them, because every single day through this war they have been operating our bank and making sure that we’re operating on the ground,” she said. Bloomberg

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Martina Cheung is the new president of S&P Global Ratings. Communications advisory firm TrailRunner International has promoted Kelly Wallace to COO. 


- Paltry paternity leave. Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to have more children, so the Vatican's new paternity leave, which offers new dads just three days off, has drawn criticism. Italy offers fathers 10 days of leave and mothers five months. Bloomberg

- Wartime surrogacy. Ukraine is an international hub for surrogacy since it's one of the few nations that lets foreigners enter into surrogacy arrangements. The ongoing war with Russia is exacerbating surrogacy's 'her body, my baby' conundrum. The Atlantic 

- Behind the turtleneck. Three women who worked on Hulu's new series The Dropout—creator Elizabeth Meriwether, star Amanda Seyfried, and Rebecca Jarvis, the journalist whose podcast inspired the series—talk about trying to capture Elizabeth Holmes on screen even though the Theranos founder remains an "enigma" in real life. “I really wanted to trust her,” Seyfried said. “If it had all worked out, it would have been so amazing.” New York Times


Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings to begin March 21 Washington Post

The unsung heroes who ended a deadly plague Smithsonian 

Mothers who helped uncover the biggest NHS maternity scandal BBC


"As I held him in the bunker, I said to him: 'You’re lucky, you’re unique, you’re born in Ukraine, you’re a new Ukrainian.'"

- Viktoria, 32, who gave birth to her son Fedor in a bomb shelter in Kyiv.

This is the web version of The Broadsheet, a daily newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.