Friday, March 24

Gender discrimination in the workforce should be fixed with more comprehensive policy action


There is perhaps nowhere else where sexual discrimination is more blatant than in the workforce.

Though there has been a decrease in the wage gap between men and women over the past five decades, women are still averaging 82.8 cents to a man’s dollar. This is a discrepancy that can neither be denied nor judiciously explained.

As a matter of fact, the narrowing is more due to the average man’s pay falling than women’s pay rising.

As it has been 48 years since the passage of the Equal Pay Act, the sturdiness of this gap is simply offensive. The act’s stipulations need to be enforced and its fallbacks addressed; legislation that is more aware of the social forces driving the gap would do so, because this problem has become far more complex than simply requesting of employers to state that pay discrepancies are not “due to gender bias.”

It is no secret that women and men dominate certain occupations. Many hope to explain the wage gap by the fact of occupational segregation, but even when the higher representation of men in better-paying fields is controlled, the pay difference persists with a great endurance.

Even the seemingly neutral fact that some occupations pay better than others, however, is gendered. Studies have showed that occupations that are classified as more nurturing show a pay disadvantage, said Chris Tilly, director of UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.
The wage gap also reveals itself within occupations.

For example, a February Health Affairs study concluded that female heart surgeons get paid about $17,000 less than their male counterparts. Let’s make that crystal clear ““ a 17 percent difference for the exact same job, after controlling for extraneous factors. And to make matters worse, that gap has been growing.

The newest legislation to combat wage discrimination, called the Paycheck Fairness Act, has been blocked in the Senate by Republican votes. Be that as it may, Republicans are not the only ones in disapproval ““ the debate over PFA is strong, and many are in disfavor of more government mandates for conducting private business. The Pacific Research Institute calls its requirements “onerous,” and putting our “freedom and economic ingenuity” at risk.

Even the Department of Labor is convinced the gap is not linked to discrimination, but instead with individual choices workers are making. It is known that employers defend the gap by concluding that women are not aggressive enough to cement as high of a pay as men upon being hired, or that they are more likely to request time off.

It is true that women are more concerned with greater flexibility in hours and with family-friendly benefits. But to employ these concerns as evidence for individual choice functioning more than discrimination is an entirely circular logic.

Women only make such decisions because of the inhibiting division of labor, the assumption that they are primary caregivers, and the social prescription that women’s jobs come second to their personal lives ““ a most funny notion, since women now comprise about half of the workforce at 49.7 percent.

The prevalence of such reasoning, in a culture inculcated with the innateness of gender qualities, is exactly why the government does in fact need to play a stronger role. Obviously, opinions even within government institutions need to be tackled as well.

There is no empirical way to measure discrimination, aside from surveying women. But issues like the prevalence of the “glass ceiling” (which refers to the unofficial barrier that stops qualified women and minorities from advancing in their positions), sexual harassment, and being forced to accommodate appearance are constantly sited as issues in the workplace.

These problems are the result of gender stereotyping, and nothing more.

Such discrimination is obviously difficult to tackle. Since women’s personal needs seem to play such a role in justifying the gap, the first step to ensuring fair treatment would be to implement governmental policies that will assist with family care-giving, and that will ensure business don’t interpret such needs as a lack of dedication to the profession.

“I think the gap will close, but it will only do so because of concerted policy action and cultural shift,” Tilly said.

Indeed, we lag far behind countries with more comprehensive and government-mandated programs that are family-oriented, as the research institute on labor has noted that America is “notoriously lacking in public policies” accommodating workers with personal needs.

In 2002, California became the first state to implement the Paid Family Leave Act, which has been very progressive in mandating wage replacements for leaving work. However, the research institute has found that those who would benefit most are least aware of the program, that it only largely applies to the private-sector, and that the replacements are still quite low, encouraging many to not take advantage.

We still have a long, legislative way to go.

Ultimately, the gap may not be the direct effect of employers choosing to pay women less. But, until we implement a structure that better accommodates undeniable family needs and ensures that some employers don’t in fact make such a “choice,” we will be waiting in vain to see a dollar for a dollar.

Think gender discrimination is behind us? E-mail Moradi at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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