#metoo #yotambien #niere

Professor Levinson's observations about gender equality in Mondragon.
#metoo #yotambien #niere

Professor Ariana Levinson is sharing Dean Crawford's blog for the week of May 21, 2018. She is blogging from a research trip to Mondragon, Spain.

See her previous posts:

May 21, 2018: First day in Mondragon, Spain

May 22, 2018: What does Wakanda have to do with Mondragon?

May 23, 2018: A cooperatively owned university

May 25, 2018: Inside Mondragon's labor-management relations

Arrantxa, the Mondragon city historian
Arrantxa, the Mondragon city historian

Thursday, we visited Saiolan, Mondragon’s company incubation center, and learned about Mundukide, a foundation through which Mondragon has long-term partnerships that foster economic development in just a few countries, such as Mozambique and Brazil. We ended the day at the Basque Culinary Centre, which is the non-profit department in Mondragon University where students earn degrees (bachelor's and master's) in gastronomic science. I have been investigating the status of women, LBGT and racial and religious minorities throughout this visit, and I will write today about this employment law issue, with a focus on gender equality.

We had two workshops about the #metoo movement in the law school this past academic year, one hosted by Professor JoAnne Sweeny and another by the American Constitution Society. Without speaking Spanish or Basque, I’m not able to get a clear picture of what the laws and practices are in Spain and the Basque Country or how Mondragon applies them, but I have discovered some interesting facts and perspectives.

My understanding is that Spain, as a member of the EU, must honor EU laws. The EU and Spain, therefore, have laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity or religion, and sexual orientation, but not yet based on gender identity. Culturally, although now a post-religious society, the Basque region is predominately Catholic. Father Arizmendiarrieta, the priest who inspired and established the Mondragon Company states, in his reflections: “The weight of habit weighs much, and consequently we find man, an intelligent animal but solidly attached to his advantageous past history, intentionally trying to maintain his superiority. This is based in his exclusivity of power and in the support from some cleverly formulated laws, to the point that men have insured their dominance throughout centuries.”

All of our speakers from Mondragon Company were men, except one, Enara, who works for Mundukide. So we heard from eight high-level men and one woman.  Both our speakers from the government, the Basque Government and the Mondragon city government, were women. The founders of Team Academy, who spoke with us, were one young woman and one young man.

When I inquired about anti-discrimination and sexual harassment policies to a couple of the male speakers, they seemed unaware of whether the Mondragon co-ops have such policies. They stated that there are many fewer women engineers and managers than men, but that over the past 20 or so years, the numbers of women have been increasing. They do not, however, have any types of formal policies aimed at increasing the number of women in technical and managerial jobs.  Our final speaker, Fred, a business professor at Mondragon University, clarified that the companies do have anti-discrimination and sexual harassment policies. 

Poster in Mondragon
The poster Prof. Levinson saw.

The reaction of the first couple of speakers prompted me to look online to see if the #metoo movement is in Spain and the Basque Country. It is, under #yotambien (Castilian Spanish) and #niere (Basque). We also asked Enara about this. She said that in the Basque Country and Spain, there was a huge women’s movement and that things have come alive. We know from reported news that in April of 2018, thousands protested a judge’s decision finding five men (from Seville) who attacked a woman in Pamplona (which is in the Basque region) not guilty of rape, but only lesser charges. I saw a flyer in Onati, the city where the business school is located, advertising a talk by a Mondragon attorney who is an expert in gender violence.

Enara explained that many women work in the Basque Country, but there are fewer women in higher management. She and Fred believe there may be fewer women in engineering now than 20 years ago, around 20 percent of students currently. In Mundukide’s partnerships with people in other countries, they promote the participation of women, and, for example, 54 percent of program participants in Mozambique are women.

One author who studies dispute resolution in U.S. worker-owned co-ops, Elizabeth Hoffman in the sociology department at Purdue University, discovered that informal systems of networking, promotion and grievance resolution normally foster gender inequality. Perhaps in the Mondragon co-ops it is different. Mondragon uses a humanistic method of labor relations, perhaps making it easier for women to balance work and family life. For instance, a worker, or group of workers, who needs a modified work schedule due to care-taking responsibilities is likely to be able to obtain one by going to HR or the social council. And because when a worker is having difficulty, they focus on problem solving, training and accommodations, rather than correction and discipline, this practice likely fosters gender equality.

But the lack of women in higher echelons indicates some gender inequity, even in this amazingly cooperative, democratic system. The answer to these questions is an important research study just waiting to be done. Indeed, Father Arizmendiarrieta summed up the importance of gender equality in one concise sentence when he reflected that “The position women have is, in any society, the exact measurement of its level of development.”