Let’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)