Followup Commentary: Gender Equity and Diversity - Ben Franklin Honor Society Can Make a Difference
It is with fondness and support that I author this response to Printing Impressions' recent posting: “Chair of the Ben Franklin Honor Society Responds to Harvey Levenson's 'Disparaging' Commentary.”
First, I hasten to note that I am appreciative of Gerry Nathe, Chair of the Ben Franklin Honor Society (BFHS), for sending it, and to Printing Impressions for posting it. I’ve always respected Gerry Nathe as a progressive professional working for the good of our industry. I’ve worked with Gerry in the past via Cal Poly and Baldwin Technology in ways that were mutually beneficial.
And, I have a great deal of respect for Mark Michelson, an objective and professional journalist for Printing Impressions, who has been an information conduit for the printing and related industries for many years.
Because the issue of gender equity and diversity is so important —not only for our industry, but for our nation as well — I am glad that this issue is getting a public airing in our industry, thereby providing the opportunity for continued discussion.
What follows immediately below is my original commentary shedding light on how the matter of the BFHS was even presented as a very brief case. It was initially posted by Printing Impressions followed by a number of articles that dealt with employment and diversity in our industry. Following Printing Impressions’ posting, my commentary also appeared elsewhere in our industry press. If you haven’t read it, please click on the link directly below to do so. I am interested in your views and opinions, and in keeping the “discussion” going, because an ongoing “discussion” is good for developing awareness — and awareness is the first catalyst for change.
I hasten to note that my original article was not meant to be about the BFHS. In fact, I am a member. The BFHS was just briefly referenced in the opening, because the broader subject of gender equity was part of recent discussions within the Society. You will notice, if your read the article, that the focus is more generally about gender equity and diversity in our industry, and highlights what I believe is a creative and seminal approach by one company, Allen Press, an advocate for change and improvements across our industry.
The response, so far, has been amazingly positive with more than a dozen replies to my email address from men and women telling personal stories and wanting to be heard. These responses, while still coming in, will be the focus of a followup article that I will be developing. There were two negative responses, one by a woman believing that there is an issue of gender equity in our industry, but that it is a “woman’s” issue and should not be led by a man. The second was a rebuttal to my commentary referenced above.
To better explain my position on the matter, I am following with a deductive exposé, from general to specific, to lay out the broader issue based on my personal experience and observations. Please take note that this is not about the BFHS, referenced once again at the end. And also please note that I am not advocating that I have the answer. The closing part of my initial commentary reads: “What’s the real story?” where I suggest that an independent, objective, study is in order to expose “the real story.” Is the matter of gender equity and diversity an issue in the printing and related industries or not? My “bottom line” is a request for data and facts to be gathered from our businesses and associations.
Hence, I begin. I’ll entitle this:
Commentary on Industry Gender Equity and Diversity: Why Did I Know This Was Coming? (Part 2)
My Role as an Educator
I am fortunate to have enjoyed a career as an educator. Since 1976, after my education in our field, several years within the industry, and then eight whirlwind years with the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation, I joined the ranks of academia until 2014 and my retirement from Cal Poly (but not from the industry). During those 38 years as a professor and department head of Graphic Communication, I estimate that I’ve been responsible for the education of approximately 5,000 students, all focused on entering our industry — printing, graphic arts, graphic communication — call it what you like. Over the last 20 years in education, by far, most of my students have been women.
My colleagues and I have lived in a world of 18- to 22-year-olds, and some a bit older. Very few people in our field or others (unless in higher education) can claim such an association. We’ve lived through and observed generational change, e.g., “the Gen Xers” and the “Millennials,” their interests, values, aspirations, and so on. We’ve helped place them in jobs upon graduation, and we continue to hear back from many of them. We hear about their successes, failures, elations and frustrations. Some say that a professor often becomes a mentor for life. I feel that way.
Perhaps what I see as some of the most important aspects as my role as an educator is to prepare our industry’s future leadership, to promote and elevate our industry as a good one to join, to advocate for our industry associations so our students aspire to become future members, to respect and support the social issues and values that every generation has, and to help our industry prepare for the entry of these young and often very bright students. I am certain that my colleagues would agree.
The Integration of Societal Social Issues into Education
Over my decades in education, I’ve recognized the importance of being immersed in social causes of the times, not only to better understand how people of different generations think, but also to better relate to different generations, and to serve as a role model demonstrating that a career is more than just going to work everyday. A truly rewarding career also involves using work experiences and opportunities to improve society. I’ve always advocated to my students that the world is not static. The world is like a river, always moving and changing, and that one can never step into the same river twice. I’ve taught my students to aspire to use change as an upward spiral of improvement for their generation and for generations to follow.
Please accept a few examples from my own experiences, introduced with two recognizable metaphors:
Let History be a Window on the Future - The Past Is Prologue
As a responsibility as a professor, I became immersed, deeply, in four social issues that defined four decades. I brought these to the classroom and to our industry, to government and to associations. Many of my colleagues have done the same. They are:
1980s – Literacy
1990s – Sustainability
2000s – Morality and Ethics
2010s – Gender Equity and Diversity
Let me explain.
1980s – Literacy
History shows that the 1980s were a “wake-up call” to the United States that our nation was falling behind other developed nations in literacy and mathematics. During that period, more than one-third of U.S. adults (18 years or older) were considered functionally illiterate, meaning that they could not read or comprehend above the fourth-grade level. Mathematical abilities were comparable. The situation was considered a crisis, and federal as well as state governments began advocating for curricula change in schools. The Department of Education began awarding grants to schools and other educational institutions for implementing programs to improve reading and math skills.
An analogy is the late 1950s, when Russia became the first nation to successfully launch a satellite, Sputnik, into orbit. This sent shockwaves throughout the United States, and our government began expending huge sums of money in what we today call STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The result was being the first nation to put “a man on the moon” within a decade. We succeeded in achieving this on July 20, 1969. This demonstrated the power of investment, education, focus and critical thinking.
The GPO, GALA, DOE, GAA and The White House
I recognized this urgency to revitalize education at Cal Poly and to prepare students to enter businesses where their superiors may not have reached the literacy level that they had reached, and to prepare them in how to communicate with such individuals in a productive way. I also quickly realized something vitally important to the printing industry; that a growing and vital printing industry relied on a literate public for the most part.
I determined that promoting the importance and pursuit of literacy beyond functional literacy was not only important for society, but also for the industry that my colleagues and I were preparing students to enter. Coincidental to this, in the mid-to-late 1980s, I was the Chair of the Board of what was called the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) Education Council, working with the then-Public Printer of the United States, the late Ralph Kennickell. We were advisors to the Public Printer on matters that the GPO should focus on for the good of the GPO and its thousands of employees. Our board consisted of approximately 15 to 20 educators from around the nation, and we were able to convince the GPO that not only should it focus on its own employees, but on promoting literacy in every community across the country.
This caught on and we formed what was called the Graphic Arts Literacy Alliance (GALA). We raised funds from the printing and publishing industry throughout the United States to support grassroots literacy training in as many communities as possible. We raised money and we awarded grants. We made a difference.
We had the attention of the Department of Education (DOE), and I personally conducted a news conference for the then-Secretary of Education, Lauro Cavazos, and was even invited to the White House and hosted by President George H W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush. Ms. Bush’s issue of focus as First Lady was literacy.
Further, Harold McGraw Jr., CEO of McGraw-Hill Publishing, learned about us and created an alliance between his literacy foundation and GALA to assist with publicity and raising funds. In fact, Mr. McGraw was the keynote speaker at a Gravure Association of America (GAA) annual conference, which had a full day devoted to literacy and the printing industry. Barbara Bush sent a letter that was read to the attendees. The Library of Congress supported us and participated. We held seminars, workshops, and conference presentations around the nation to bring awareness to the nation’s literacy dilemma. Did all of this work? Well, while the issue of literacy is not 100% resolved, we no longer hear about it as a national crisis. We made a difference.
1990s – Sustainability
The 1990s emerged with new attention being focused on the printing industry: sustainability, water and air pollution, deforestation, carbon footprint claims, chemical contamination, and so on. The EPA and other environmental protection groups came down on the printing industry and its vendors — including paper, ink and chemical companies, to name just a few. However, in many cases, the evidence was thin as was the case regarding deforestation and carbon footprint growth. Forests were being restored and the carbon emission issue turned out to be more one of non-print digital technology than of print technology; paper is recyclable.
The accusers needed to be educated. And, in some cases, there was evidence and consequently the need to raise awareness within our industry to promote better practices.
This is the issue that I embraced as my social conscious contribution to education and industry during the 1990s. At Cal Poly, sustainability became an important syllabi inclusion. Other faculty embraced this as well, as did faculty at other universities teaching in the field of printing. We knew that our students would inherit these issues once entering industry, and they needed to be made aware of them before they graduated. They needed to bring new thinking to the industry related to social responsibility. However, the industry also needed a forum for learning and expressing views on the matter, and exchanging ideas.
Hence, during that decade we held seminars, workshops and conferences focused on industry, society and sustainability. We had key advocates and experts come to campus and to off-campus programs for industry — always including students in all of this.
As the 1990s progressed, we saw abatements in complaints about forest depletions, air and water pollution, toxic chemical use, and so on. Is sustainability still an important issue? Sure it is. Is the issue as pronounced and public as it was in the 1990s? No, it is not. Is the printing industry still the focus of environmental groups as a major polluter? No, it is not. Is there still work to be done? Certainly. Are we now seeing more public relations about how the printing industry is a protector of the environment as opposed to being an abuser? We certainly are. Did we make a difference in awareness and corrections? We certainly made a difference.
2000s – Morality and Ethics
The societal issues that took “center stage” for many U.S. businesses in the 2000s focused on business morals and ethics including, but not limited to, eliminating employee abuse, ethical choices, Intellectual Property violations, handling finances, employer/employee relationships, confidentiality and privacy protection, trust and shared responsibility, values clarifications about morals, ethics, responsible use of technology, and much more. At Cal Poly we started addressing such issues in classes. We started promoting Senior Projects on such matters, thereby requiring students to study such issues in-depth. In the year 2000 I wrote and GATFPress (now PIA) published a book entitled, “Understanding Graphic Communication,” in which an entire chapter was devoted to ethics in the graphic arts. The 2000s was a decade that focused on “corporate culture.”
Again, taking my responsibility of holding a professorship in academia seriously, I felt the obligation to attempt to impact not only thinking, but also practice, in education and industry on matters related to moral and ethical behavior. I know that my colleagues at Cal Poly and elsewhere did as well. I chose Intellectual Property (IP) as my focus in this area, and the desire to assist our industry with its IP protection, particularly as it related to patents in light of the growing number of software patents in our industry and the intrusion of “patent trolls” wanting to extort funds from legal users of legal technology.
I studied approximately 23,000 graphic arts patents issued over the course of about 30 years to get a sense of trends and developing technologies (I had a scholarly paper published on my research), and learned as much as I could about patent claims, claim construction, infringement and non-infringement issues, prior art and so on.
I commenced to write a number of papers (two of which were white papers) on the subject, presented at seminars and conferences around the nation on the subject, and became a “go-to” source for information on dealing with and defeating patent trolls. My white papers reached the courts and judges, and so far have been responsible for more than 130 troll case dismissals in favor of companies in the printing industry — printers and vendors —some of whom, unfortunately, got victimized by trolls at the cost of hundred of thousands of dollars. Ultimately, the trolls and/or their legal representation turned out to be the losers of untold sums of money.
I recently received an email from a colleague who asked: “What happened to the issue of patent troll lawsuits? It was all over the press for quite a while, and all of a sudden seems to have disappeared.” Is the issue totally gone? No. Has it been reduced tremendously since the dismissal of those approximately 130 cases? Yes, the word is out: “Don’t mess with the printing industry, because you will lose!” By the way, I did all of this for free, and continue to be a free resource on patent troll issues for the printing industry. We made a difference.
As we hone in on this deductive exposé, we’ve reached the here-and-now ... the matter at hand and today’s issue.
2010s – Gender Equity and Diversity
Gender equity and diversity is a societal issue, and only recently there have been aggressive steps to correct it, particularly in the area of gender equity for salaries, i.e., equal pay for equal work. While it’s been a known issue for a long time, it was also somewhat of an invisible issue. It was not conspicuous until explored. You just do not see it! People go to work, get paid but, particularly in private industry, salaries are not known until people start talking about them.
Very often, people (particularly women) hear about inequities and leave their jobs for better paying ones. This is particularly an issue in the printing industry, and it will likely continue, as the industry faces labor shortages and the need to keep employees. Allen Press has taken the most aggressive steps that I know of in dealing with this issue, not only within its own company, but within its vendor community as well. Allen Press’s gender equity program for itself and for its vendors is detailed in my original article. What Allen Press and its CEO, Randy Radosevich, did has become a role model for other companies in printing and other industries at a time when gender equality and diversity is at the top of societal issues, and has been for a long time.
It seems vital that all associations in our industry support the values of gender equity and diversity in all ways possible, and to let our students and younger industry employees know that our associations “have their backs.” A good example of one association that has been doing this since 1984 is the Technical Association of the Graphic Arts (TAGA). When I was on the TAGA Board of Directors, we founded the first student chapters, most of which today are heavily enrolled by women. If it had not been for student chapters and women, TAGA would likely not be in existence today. Other associations should take heed. Today’s students are the future industry members of associations.
What hurts most, from my standpoint, is when I hear from former women students who were educated to join the printing industry. Some received scholarships to study in programs focused on printing, took initial jobs in the printing industry and then, after a few years, left the industry entirely due to gender inequity issues that arose. Today, the problem is exacerbated at a time when we have an employee shortage.
A bit about the BFHS’ response to my original article
First, to quote RIT professor, scholar and member of the BFHS, Dr. Twyla Cummings, in her response to the BFHS posting: “Dr. Levenson's remarks were not disparaging; they were simply the truth. I have done research on this topic and the findings show that our industry has work to do regarding the presence of women and people of color.”
To put my original article in perspective, it does not only represent my “voice.” I reflected the views of more than a dozen BFHS members who reviewed the article and provided input to it. While that still constitutes a minority, the number is sufficient to suggest that something is amiss that can likely be done better.
My original article was absolutely nothing personal about the Society. It was a statement suggesting that there is an industry problem regarding gender equity and diversity, and the problem also seems visible in the BFHS. In fact, the problem was brought to light by the Society’s rejection of five women candidates who seemed eminently qualified for membership. My suggestion was simply to study the matter in our industry and associations to determine if there is a problem with gender equity and diversity, or not.
Hence, as Dr. Cummings noted, my remarks were not disparaging and never intended to be. My article was not about the BFHS, but referenced it as one example worthy of exploring. The BFHS, with its high profile and experienced membership, is certainly a body that can impact positive change in our industry, should it want to. This is what the dozen or so supporters of the position I set forth in my paper believe.
When I was first proudly inducted into the Society, I was expecting to be part of a “higher order” in helping the industry on an upward spiral of improvement. I saw the Society as yet another vehicle to mentor the industry to flourish and grow in the decades ahead, using the wisdom and experience of its honored membership. Little did I know at the time that what appeared to be “old guard” Society leadership was not interested in this, but only to hold an annual formal dinner.
I’ve wrestled with coming up with reasons to participate, but could not come up with any because my interest was service to the printing industry; an industry often considered one of the most influential in the production and distribution of knowledge for over 500 years. I often asked myself the question, “What does the Society do, other than hold an annual dinner?” I could not come up with an answer.
New Leadership and New Opportunities
Fast forward to last year and the seating of new officers, headed by Gerry Nathe. When this occurred, I said to myself, “Aha, we now have progressive leadership that can bring new meaning to the Society and industry. With this thought in mind, I even proposed, twice, the publishing of a book documenting the collective wisdom of the Society’s membership, considering that it represents some of the most successful industry leaders of the 20th and now 21st century. My thought was, wouldn’t it be a worthwhile Society undertaking to produce such a book as part of a mentorship for people entering our industry, and even for those within the industry wanting to succeed? I would entitle it, “The Printing Industry Book of Wisdom,” or something similar.
I even proposed that I would conduct the interviews, write and edit the book, arrange for the donation of paper, printing, binding and finishing, and distribution. Further, I would turn the rights over to the BFHS for sales. All sales income would go to the BFHS for use in promoting and elevating our industry, and perhaps for scholarship. In other words, I would do all of the work for none of the income. I would not impose on anyone else to participate unless they wanted to. Do you know what I heard back from the BFHS? I heard absolutely nothing, even after proposing the idea twice. My offer still stands.
BFHS Nominations and Appointments
Then the gender equity and diversity issue arose regarding appointments to the BFHS, not by me, but by several other members who raised concern about the number of members inaugurated each year and the imbalance between men and women, along with racial balance. I thought, “Well, this might be another area where the Society can make some improvements as an example to other associations and the greater industry.” Yes, I understand that there were discussions and a few debates, and give-and-take played out via email exchanges. However, in the end, while a few adjustments were made in the bylaws, they didn’t address two key areas of change, one being the number of honorees inaugurated each year, and the other being who makes the decision if a nominee should be inaugurated or not.
In the first instance, it was recommend by Society member Ray Prince that the number brought in should outnumber those removed by attrition — mainly by passing away — so the membership grows. In the second instance, the recommendation was that the decision on who gets accepted should be by a vote of the entire membership, not by the few past presidents. Allowing the membership as a whole to appoint new members avoids the practice, or perception, of “gatekeeping,” or the possibility of the bias, perhaps unintended, of a few. Further, considering the status, professionalism and wisdom of the BFHS membership at large, one would think that its members are uniquely qualified to determine if a nominee is worthy of inauguration or not.
If these two provisions were implemented, the “debate” would be over and the Society applauded.
In the response to my original commentary, it was noted that in the last round of nominations there were very few, if any, women nominees to select from. I propose that this is because the issue of gender inequity in the Society became publicly known in the industry and a cognitive dissonance set in, meaning apathy, i.e., what’s the sense of nominating accomplished women if they will not be appointed? It sometimes takes a long time to overcome a cognitive dissonance. However, to do so means starting now.
- I’m happy to stick my neck out representing the position of a group, so long as we can keep important issues related to social justice in public view and, hopefully, impact positive change.
- Promoting and practicing gender equity and diversity is an opportunity to show our industry’s awareness and leadership. What better organization is there to lead this than the BFHS?
- There is wisdom in the BFHS membership, and no other industry association is better positioned to promote positive change congruent with the values of today’s society.
- I ask that the BFHS treat the position I have advocated, not as criticism, but as an opportunity to better represent and serve our industry.
I close with a citation from famous scientist and philosopher, Thomas Kuhn. In his seminal book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” Kuhn espoused that to create positive change, growth, knowledge and truth, there must be paradigm shifts. It takes one person to challenge what may have been believed to be true by many — and for a long period of time. But once this is accomplished, there is a new paradigm, until another one emerges.
What I am asking in representing approximately a dozen other BFHS members is that there be a paradigm shift in thinking and practice about gender equity and diversity. Let’s learn from this past midterm election when 116 women were elected to Congress, a number never before thought possible, but certainly a 21st century societal trend. The Ben Franklin Honor Society can make a difference, but it first must want to.
Dr. Harvey R. Levenson is Professor Emeritus and former Department Head of Graphic Communication at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. His research and teaching specialties are communication, intellectual property, media, printing, and technology. He is often called upon as an Expert Witness in these areas. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org