Meet a Ladybadass: Emerald Archer - Researcher, Leader, Change-Maker
Imagine for a second you’re meeting someone for the first time. You’ve been introduced by a friend (thanks, Brady) and your preparation work has you just a little nervous. You’ve read words like “military” and “Ph.D.” and “guns,” but you’re also intrigued by words like “gender” and “stereotype.” What picture do you have in your head? I did. And when Dr. Emerald Archer walked in the door, I saw a stunning sunshine-filled California girl.
We grabbed a coffee, and we started to talk. She’s warm and humble. She’s kind and engaging. She's intelligent and powerful. Emerald is SUCH a strong manifestation of a ladybadass.
Fierce & Feminine
Is it just coincidence that Emerald Archer whose impressive if daunting goal is to “Eradicate persistent gender inequities across industries” bears the same name as one of the Justice League comic book heroes?
“Apparently so,” Dr. Emerald Archer assures laughing. It seems her doppelganger, at least on some subconscious level, must have primed Dr. Archer to work as a real-life superhero fighting for equal justice in the world!
Eschewing her superhero cape, Dr. Archer is quick to add that she is not a single-handed crusader, “I want to be explicit: We cannot do this work alone. This lofty goal has to be done with partners.”
Promoting Women Through Community Partnerships
Archer is the inaugural Director of the Center for the Advancement of Women at Mount Saint Mary’s University, which serves as a hub for research, advocacy, and leadership development. The Center promotes gender equity to make a positive difference in the lives of women and girls in California and throughout the nation. Dr. Archer explains that the mission of the Center is to, “Work with diverse community partners to achieve parity across domains.”
Some of these partners include:
- City of Los Angeles - Partnering on women's initiatives with Mayor Eric Garcetti's office.
- Disrupt Aging + AARP - Working on demystifying aging and the thinking about how we talk about ourselves.
- Take the Lead - A curriculum called “50 Women can change the world in media and entertainment”. How women can conceptualize power to change and shift the culture in media and entertainment.
- Girls Academic Leadership Academy in LA - First charter school for girls in LA to focus explicitly on STEM education.
- Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media - Housed in the Center at Mount St Mary's University. The research focus is on women's representation in front of or behind the camera.
As Center Director, Archer’s work provides women across the industry with the tools, networking, and access to follow their dreams and be successful in whatever way that manifests for those individual women.
One program Archer leads is Ready to Run®, a non-partisan campaign training program. The curriculum, from the Rutgers Center for American Women in Politics, focuses on demystifying running for office or seeking appointed office. The programme includes fundraising techniques, the mechanics of running a campaign, how to optimize your social media to gain more followers, and how to write stump speeches. Dr. Archer notes that:
“Our programming is amazing, in that every year women are appointed to commissions, and women are being elected because of this programme, and we’re excited to offer it. Every year it gets better and bigger. In our current political environment, there is a lot of excitement about how to increase women's representation so that women are positioned to make important policy decisions.”
Asked if she would be tempted to run for office, she responded, “ As a political scientist I was always more interested in the research than the actual running for office. If there was a need and I really felt like I could make a difference for my community, I would consider it seriously.”
Women and Stereotype Threat Theory
Indeed, it is in her other role as research-scholar, specifically regarding women working in the security space where Dr. Archer’s true superhero ladybadass qualities shine. Primarily studying women in the United States Marine Corps, she explains that the obstacles faced in the Corps are not unlike those in the civilian sector, it is just that the challenges are more explicit and amplified.
The journey taken by Dr. Archer to this field of research is particularly fascinating one. As a graduate student, Archer knew she was interested in studying women who took on positions counter to expectations. In 2006 she traveled to Cairo, Egypt to study Arabic at The American University. Her plan “was to interview female failed suicide bombers to understand the motivations of those imprisoned women and have the opportunity to talk through their upbringing and politics.”
Pretty Bold. Pretty Badass.
While unsuccessful in completing this particular line of research (access and timing issues thwarted this intrepid line of study in Egypt,) it did plant the seed for her future work within the US Marine Corps. Archer began investigating the statistics of female enlisted Marines vis a vis marksmanship, performance and gender clichés. So began her research into the Stereotype Threat Theory.
Dr. Archer writes in her book Women, Warfare and Representation: American Servicewomen in the Twentieth Century that stereotypes have real power, which stereotypes can lead to measurable consequences:
“Stereotype threat means (not just the military context you can think of) that if a negative stereotype about your group exists and you think that that negative stereotype will be applied to you, you will become so anxious that anxiety and stress will actually lead to underperformance.”
Numerous studies, the seminal ones being related to women and math and African American students and literature, have found that even passing reminders that someone belongs to one group or another, such as a group stereotyped as inferior in academics, can wreak havoc with test performance.
Dr. Archer applied Stereotype Threat Theory, pioneered by Claude Steel at Stanford University, to the military. Archer knew that a negative stereotype existed about women in the Corps. So the stereotype goes: “women shoot poorly, which means they are incompetent in combat.” In an experiment on a rifle range in Camp Pendleton, Southern California, she primed groups of men and women with this negative stereotype. Her results showed that the stereotype threat impacted even the best shooters.
Interestingly while both groups shot more poorly after hearing the negative stereotype, Archer points out, “What is fascinating is that I also found that the negative prime affected men’s marksmanship scores which I did not expect.”
Her working hypothesis is that she challenged their manhood by giving a female stereotype, which thereby created the pressure that they (men) needed to perform to the bar of their male colleagues. This added pressure to perform and seeds of doubt implanted negatively affected their performance.
The pressure to perform is immense. She explains, “Stereotypes that we tell ourselves or about other groups have the power to do real damage. In the Corps particularly, qualifying on a firearm is an annual obligation which can lead to promotion.”
Marines have found that when women train on a firearm in sex-segregated environments, their performance improves. Compelling stuff, impacting real training and policy changes.
Dr. Emerald Archer has dedicated her research to gender equity, stereotype threat and women’s representation in non-traditional sectors. If not a real-life superhero then assuredly a ladybadass for sure.
Over on our #ladybadass sister-site, we highlight many of the fearless, courageous, and inspiring ladies in business and in life around the world. We’re taking this idea a step further and finding out what it is that motivates and inspires these phenomenal women.