Women Don’t Deserve Their Place in the Workforce

women don't deserve

women don't deserveLet’s face it. We have a major gender inequality issue in our society, specifically in the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows women make up 46.8% of the workforce, and according to the Pew Research Center, they’re also starting their careers better educated than us men. Yet somehow women are still lagging behind men in how they are paid, averaging 78.3% of the men’s salaries across the board. Why is that? Here are just a few theories I’ve come across:

1) Women are less likely than men to ask for a raise or aspire to top management jobs.
2) Women have a harder time advancing their career than men as a working parent.
3) Women are more likely than men to stay home to take care of young children, making it difficult to pick a career back up later on.
4) Women tend to seek less lucrative jobs like secretary, nurse, teacher, and cashier.
5) Women are viewed differently than men, resulting in discrimination.

It’s a little bit of everything

It’s really really easy to take #5 and shove it into corporate America’s face. That’s what we love to do, isn’t it? After all, the rich want to get richer off the poor, and all Christians want to send gays to hell. It’s so easy to take one factor in a debate and use it to ignite outrage. But I think each of these factors (and others not discussed here) have their place in the result, and it’s hard to know exactly how much of the wage gap can be attributed to each one.

If my wife, who’s made the decision to stay home to take care of our children, decides to teach again when our kids are older, she’s not going to be making the same wage as male co-workers her same age who have been teaching this whole time. It’s also true that men are generally more aggressive in negotiating raises and promotions. And in our deeply ingrained patriarchal society, there’s more pressure on men to provide monetarily.

That being said, discrimination does have a role in putting women in their place in the workforce, and that’s what I’m focusing on here. That’s because I see it when I look at 2013 earnings by occupation for both men and women. I see it when I read stories where women are paid less than men with the same or fewer qualifications. It’s happening. And it needs to stop.

My thoughts on women

I’ve always had tremendous respect for women. I learned that respect from the way my dad treated my mom while I was growing up. He never made her look or feel inferior on any level. To the contrary, he did whatever he could to make her equal in our eyes. He showed that same respect to my sisters.

As a Mormon missionary in Germany, I always enjoyed working with the women missionaries. They were hard-working, had great personal skills, and picked up the language and necessary skills just as good as the men. In my working career, I’ve had good and bad experiences with both men and women managers, but I’ve never felt one sex was better suited for the position than the other. In my opinion, having a perfect mix of men and women at every level of occupation is the best thing for a business. And that’s simply because we all have different strengths and weaknesses that complement each other perfectly. That’s the way we were designed–physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

But even though I feel this way, I sometimes still fall into the trap of the societal construct most of us grew up in. “Be a man” or “man up” sometimes slips into my vocabulary when telling someone to be tough, whether they’re a man or a woman. I’m sometimes blind to the massive double-standard in how pop culture objectifies women versus men. It’s that subtle, almost subliminal disparagement that drives the major issue at large. I know it’s wrong and I’m working on changing myself. That’s why I’m happy when I see things like the Always #LikeAGirl campaign or Ziauddin Yousafzai’s TED Talk about his daughter, Malala, who was shot by the Taliban for attending school.

We’re making (little) progress

The increase of the number of women in the workforce has been exponential. Between 1970 and 2012, the number of working women increased from 31.5 million to 72.6 million. And while progress is being made regarding wage inequality, it’s not enough. In 2010, only 14.4% of Fortune 500 executive officer positions were held by women. In 2013, that number grew a paltry 0.2% to 14.6%. Additionally, the wage gap hasn’t budged since the mid-1990s. I don’t know about you, but that’s not encouraging to me at all. Here’s some research from the Harvard Business Review that will make you wonder even more what direction we’re going. We need more progress.

Women don’t deserve their current place in the workforce

They deserve much, much better. But what can we do about it? If you google “how to fix the gender pay gap,” there are thousands of ideas. At this point, political avenues are so clogged with competing interests and billionaire lobbyists (on both sides) that I’m afraid nothing is going to get through that mess. There’s protesting, which doesn’t always solve the problem, but certainly makes people aware of it with the hopes that the gears of change will start churning a little.

But as far as the individual, for me at least, there’s something more meaningful we can do. As a future father (the baby’s coming in two months!), it’s my responsibility to teach my son to respect and value women for who they are and what they can do, not as the superior or inferior sex, but as equals. It’s my responsibility to show him that by example in how I treat my wife, his sisters, and every other woman I meet. For my future daughter(s), it’s my responsibility to give them just as many opportunities as I give my sons, and vice versa.

Don’t get me wrong in any of this. I value the fact that men and women are different. But the fact that we’re different means that we can achieve more working together equally than if we were the same. I want my kids to understand that. In a lot of ways, our society is broken, and honestly it may be too late for my generation to make meaningful changes. But it’s never too late for the next generation to do it. We just need to make sure we’re sowing the right seeds.

What do you think about the gender wage gap? How would you recommend we solve it?

(photo cred)

11 thoughts on “Women Don’t Deserve Their Place in the Workforce

  1. I have read studies show that the wage gap is much smaller when you take lifestyle decisions into account. Many women choose to stay home or scale back their careers to have a family- like your wife, obviously! I’m sure that sexism exists but I don’t believe it’s nearly as bad as many people want to make it out to be. Nothing will ever be 100% fair, and there are other advantages out there for other groups as well. For example, a really attractive man or woman might receive career preference over an unattractive person.

    Anyway, I have never experienced any sexism that I know of. I actually feel as if being a woman has helped me more than hurt me. Then again, I have never worked in a predominantly male field, and my old boss was an extremely high-powered woman.

    1. Yeah, I personally don’t see any of it where I work, but I’m at the bottom of the totem pole. I’d say the disparity is largely in occupations that are male dominated, especially finance, and it becomes wider the higher up you go.

  2. I have to concur with Holy that when these stats are thrown around lifestyle choices are not always considered. That said I do believe in some industries and careers that women doing the same work as their counter parts are paid less. Some of that is as you said, not negotiating for higher pay. My primary career was a Telecommunication union based employee staff so gender never was considered other than giving women higher priority for hiring into the higher paid technical positions IF they wanted it. Then it was all seniority based. In the professional level (Engineering, Proj Management, etc) it was pay for performance and lifestyle choices did come into play for men and women. If you left early all of the time when feces hit the fan or didn’t volunteer to take on the big, hard, time-consuming high-profile projects because of home-life then you missed out. On my current early retirement side hustle in a professional IT environment there is wage equality and I am one of a minority of male analyst probably making less than the females because they do have a higher or more aligned education than I do. So its not a clear and easy issue to resolve because it isn’t everyone or everywhere.

    1. I’d say that most reputable sources include lifestyle choices. On the other hand, I think some people tend to use lifestyle choices as the only reason for the gap. There are certainly going to be certain industries and workplaces where the gap isn’t noticeable or isn’t there at all, but there are enough stories out there of legitimate complaints that prove it’s still a problem that needs to be discussed.

  3. I love the provocative title. It’s my understanding that the lifestyle choices and negotiating differences are generally taken into consideration and normalized in these statistics. That being said, I don’t feel like I really see it where I work. It’s got to be out there though because it is still talked about so much, as it should be.

  4. Great article, Ben. But, I’m going to take the feminist point in the comments and say sexism is still rampant in our society in both our work place and in day-to-day life. The point Holly makes about women choosing to scale back to be mothers really proves the point to me. Why aren’t more men choosing to scale back to be the primary caregiver? Why is it emasculating for a man to stay at home, but natural for a woman? Why is a woman a b*tch when she’s bossy but a man is strong? Sexism is deeper rooted than simply saying, “women in my office seem to get promoted as frequently as men or they seem to make as much or my boss is a woman, so we don’t have sexism.” Just listen to how people in your office speak about the female employees (and not just the men). Frankly, I used to brush all this off — but the more I’ve started to look at gender inequality, the harder it is to ignore. Just look at this list of TIME’s person of the year: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Person_of_the_Year. Pretty easy to just count the women on one hand since the awards creation in 1927. I find it hard to believe only three women have deserved the award in 86 years.

    1. I wish more men would scale back their careers when they have a family! I think things are changing, albeit slowly. I know three men who are now stay-at-home dads because their wives made more and that strategy made more sense for the family.
      On the other hand, I know far more women who choose to stay home with kids or work on a very part-time basis. Some of my friends who have chosen that route are/were professionals and highly paid – one lawyer, some engineers, etc. When they go back to their respective fields (if they do), they will be paid less because they spent years out of the workforce to have kids. That is the point I was trying to make. I don’t believe that lifestyle choices are always taken into account when they attempt to measure the gender wage gap. I know many women who are happy to stay home while their husband works. I’ve never wanted to, but I don’t judge them for their choice.

    2. Thanks for sharing that bit about TIME’s person fo the year. I wholeheartedly agree that it’s not talked about enough and it’s not OK. Personally, if my wife were driven to build her career, I’d have no problems being the one who stays home (I’d get to write more that way anyway :)). I have friends who have gone that route, and it’s obviously a little uncomfortable because it’s something we’re just not used to. But just because we’re not used to it, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

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