State of the Genders: Pay, Opportunities Still Lag for Women
Two recent studies, one global and the other domestic, have made it disappointingly clear that the gender gap in the U.S. isn't even close to being closed. The Global Gender Gap Index 2013, by the World Economic Forum -- measured gender gaps on economic, political, education and health criteria in 136 countries. The U.S. ranked No. 23 -- but No. 67 when it came to wage equality for equal work. The domestic study, conducted in August by WalletHub, used similar criteria, and returned results that were just as bleak for women -- pay inequality and job rank inequality exists in all 50 states.
What Causes the Pay Gap?
WalletHub surveyed 25 experts, mostly professors of sociology with a sprinkling from psychology and law, from all over the country, to give their opinions about what causes the pay and opportunity gaps, and to suggest possible solutions. There were many common themes in their answers:
- Occupational segregation. Men and women tend to work in different fields and occupations, but male-dominated jobs pay more -- even with the same level of education. In addition, men start at higher-paid jobs and are promoted more than women.
- Gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping. This includes sexual harassment, old-fashioned sexism and roadblocks that pregnant women and mothers face in the workplace.
- Laws and policies. Lack of effective federal family leave policies and inflexible workplace environments make for businesses that are not family-friendly.
What Can Be Done?
Most experts agreed that the problem was not an individual one. Sure, individual women can network more effectively (vertically and horizontally), seek out companies that make gender diversity a priority and find mentors or sponsors, but for real change, the solutions need to be systemic. For example:
- The U.S. could take a cue from the Nordic countries, and improve family leave policies to include paid leave for parents and require all companies to offer parental leave.
- Enforcement against workplace bias by governments and within companies could become more effective. One law professor suggested that the damage caps on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act be removed or raised as an incentive for companies to create more effective preventive measures in regards to gender discrimination.
- Women need to unionize, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission should require that salaries be made public.
A New York Times analysis last week -- headlined "The Motherhood Penalty vs. the Fatherhood Bonus" -- boldly begins with the line: "One of the worst career moves a woman can make is to have children." It goes on to describe the disturbing double standard for male and female parents in corporate America. In a nutshell: men's pay and career opportunities blossom when they become dads, while women's careers and pay falter when they become moms.
Experts interviewed for the article offered up causes and solutions similar to those from the WalletHub survey. They attributed the problem to discrimination and cultural bias against mothers in the workplace and suggested instituting two policies -- "publicly funded high-quality child-care for babies and toddlers" and two, "moderate-length paid parental leave" -- was the best hope for solving the problem.
Will this decade see a positive change for family (and therefore female) friendly policies in the workplace? Let's hope that studies and articles like these raise greater awareness and prompt change at the policy level.