Laws on Gender Discrimination: Pregnancy Discrimination and Pay Equity

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Updated: Apr 08, 2021
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According to a new analysis of Pew Research Center in 2017, about four-in-ten working women (42%) in the United States say they have faced discrimination on the job because of their gender. They report a broad array of personal experiences, ranging from earning less than male to being passed over for important assignments. The biggest gender gap in the workplace is in the area of income, at least 25% of women say they have earned less than men for doing the same task. The pay gap between men and women around the world looks quite different depending on how and where you measure it. On average women are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. When someone mentions the pay gap, you often heard another phrase as well “Equal pay for equal work”. This sounds like women are paid less for doing the same job as men, which means women are paid less just for being women, which means there is discrimination in the workplace.

However, a large number of research from different countries shows that gender discrimination only explains a small part of the gender pay gap. Therefore, if there is not such a huge discrimination in the workplace, why are women paid so much less than men? Being a woman in the workplace has become more and more popular nowadays. Going out into the world of work is always complicated, and it is even more when you are a woman. Gender continues to be a determinant in employment opportunities available to women due to the discrimination that still exists today. Throughout my childhood, I have seen my mother suffering, engineer and mother full-time, in many situations at work. Currently, feminism is becoming a day issue and it is helping to change the world we live in today. Besides, women with a bachelor’s degree as myself, report experiencing discrimination in the workplace at notably higher rates than women who are less educated.

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Therefore, I want to use this research paper to understand and, be able to make people around me understand, what problems really exist behind the gender discrimination and what possible solutions we could take to reduce this gap. In the last century, several laws have been purposed to alleviate the effects of gender discrimination. These laws, policies and standards have been numerous attempts to help level the employment situation for women and men in the workplace. These laws can be classified into three different groups: lower wage gaps, eliminate prejudice when hiring, protect pregnant women and a few more which are more specific. During these years, these laws had been improving in order to protect better women and policies have become mandatory to companies in order to follow them.

The history behind gender discrimination is key in order to understand why we keep having such discrimination at the workplace. In the last few decades, the pay gap was caused by several interconnected factors: lower female education rates, discrimination was legal, women could not hold power, women should be homemakers, motherhood, lower workplace participation and grouping in traditionally feminine industry. In order to understand the gender wage gap issue better, we need to understand the Equal Pay Act of 1963, why it was created and what are the effects it has on women and men around the world. Furthermore, we need to think about how this can society in near future and how we can resolve this issue. The Equal Pay Act requires that men and women be given equal pay for equal work in the same establishment (EEOC). It was signed by President John F Kennedy on June 10, 1963 and it was one of the first anti- discrimination that addressed salary differences based on gender disparity.

In some cases, the equal pay act was very helpful and successful, but as of today, it has not done women much justice because it still does close the gender wage gap entirely (Equal Pay for Women. Lilly Rothman 2015). The situation for women in the workplace changed completely because all the factors mentioned before started to change. Women started to go to college, industries were changing and women started to work in men workplace environment. These factors that created former salary gap shrunk, except for one: Motherhood, women should raise children. Women’s role as primary caregivers, is an explanation for the gap in opportunity and success between men and women. Individuals in the workplace have stated that women are less efficient when they bear child and therefore, they deserve less compensation. In addition, around the world, individuals think that women should not work full time when they are having kids. However, when it comes to men, they seem normal to fathers work full time.

According to Pew Research Center, a survey made in 2012 reflects that 70% of Americans think that new fathers should work full time. Nevertheless, even when mothers work full time, they spend almost nine more hours doing household activities than males (PRC, 2013). A Danish study published on January 2018, compared earning between females without child and males and also it compared earning between moms and men and reported that the main explanation of the wage gap is not about being a woman as it is about being a mother. Women without kids earn almost the same amount of money as men with kids, demonstrating that the gender gap is pretty much between women with kids and everybody else. Pregnancy discrimination is directly related to gender discrimination because of the fact that it can only be experienced by females. Pregnancy discrimination is an issue in the hiring process of companies because companies thought that pregnancy will cost money to corporations due to maternity leave and the obligation to find a temporary worker and also because of high medical insurance expenditures.

The biased opinions about hiring a woman that is pregnant or could be pregnant are still seen in companies, although there are laws that protect these women from this biased decision. The first step that was taken in the United States to protect this part of the population was the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which is an amendment added to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance, and any other term or condition of employment (EEOC). Besides, pregnant employees may have additional rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor. This law will allow family members, both men and women, to take time off when someone in their family need to be taken care. Under FMLA, an employee is granted twelve weeks of unpaid leave. Consequently, employers should not be biased when hiring due to pregnant situations. In 1960, America were changing regarding to equality in many segments of society, affecting the legislation of that time. During this decade, several laws were introduced to reduce the gender gap, especially regarding to income comparing women and men. The first of these were the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This act prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women in the same establishment who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions (Equal Pay Act of 1963). This was the first attempt in the United States to reinforce equality policies in companies in order to level income equality between men and women. However, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 did not state the same protection to women as many laws against other types of discrimination such as racial discrimination.

In addition, courts were unable to charge against companies because there was too much room for different interpretation, this law allow women to sue companies against discrimination, but it did not assure these women that the equality for which they were fighting would prevail in those companies. One year later, the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawed almost every forms of discrimination in many different areas, including the workforce. Title VII of the Act prohibits discrimination in the workforce, on the basis of race, religion, color, sex or national origin. This title also prohibits discrimination against individual because of his or her association with another individual of a particular race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, such as by interracial marriage. These two important laws, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964, were the beginning of equality in the United States. In those years, citizens thought that disparity issues with women in the workplace and the huge structural differences between males and females would be resolved.

However, using the law to protect your own rights is sometimes difficult because of the different holes in the legislation, so American women, and women around the world, they keep fighting for their given rights. The article Gender differences in Negotiation: implications for salary negotiations published by UCLA women’s journal law and written by Julia Johnson, describes the salary gap between men and women focusing in the way how women negotiate their status at workplace. In general, women achieve less impressive outcomes from workplace salary negotiation because they tend to undervalue the worth of their skillset, tend to be more hesitant to enter into salary negotiations than men are and, finally, women tend to fell less comfortable when negotiating on behalf of themselves than when they are doing it for someone else. There are many strategies that women should use during these negotiations.

The first one is that female workforce may be able to negotiate salaries more efficiently by obtaining credible salary figures for comparative positions. Women should have a full understanding of their skills, which will enable them to achieve a higher position. This tactic will have better results if females look beyond and focus on the salaries offered to men in similar positions possessing similar skills and experience. Second, women should avoid typical negotiation styles that possess gendered problems and instead use principled negotiation techniques. Third, women could use gender stereotypes in their advantage, which may help to reduce disparities in the outcome process between female and male. Women can bring four commonalties such as a relational view of others, an embedded view of agency, control through empowerment and problem-solving by dialogue. The last strategy that women could implement during salary negotiations is that women could use a consistent verbal presentation and social skills, which they may find more effective to modify behaviors, rather than amplify their assertiveness while negotiating.

A variety of cultural factors contribute to the above-described disparity between male and female negotiation outcomes. One cultural factor to take into account is the traditional conception of competitiveness and assertiveness as masculine qualities so women have been steeped in cultural stereotypes about gendered behavioral norms and capabilities. The culturally reinforced reality that women tend to behave communally while men to identify more individualistically, women are more likely to have communal self-concept and thus tend to be more concerned with attaining results that are fair to both parties in negotiation, which can result in accepting an lower salary offer, combined with the strong emphasis that women tend to place on fairness, trust, and reciprocity during the process.

In addition, the most important cultural factor, women’s tendency to perceive themselves as less powerful than their male counterparts. According to the power theory, negotiators who perceive themselves as having more power typically have more ambitious goals and lead to better results. Consequently, social norms and gender stereotypes reduce women’s efficacy during salary negotiations. The gender stereotypes mentioned above, are mostly based in biological reasons and cultural factors. Biological Sex Differences in the Workplace: Reports of the “End of Men” Are Greatly Exaggerated (As Are Claims of Women’s Continued Inequality) by Kinhsley R. Browne explain the biological explication for the salary gap instead of focusing on social factors such as discrimination and sexist society. A link between many sex differences in both morphology and behavior and the actions of sex, suggest that identical environments for the two sexes (eliminating discrimination and sexist socialization) will not result in similar behavior responses. The story of sex differences is complex, and social factors are key, however, a major explanation of this story comes from differences between sex hormones. Sexual differentiation on brain is caused by the same sex hormones that cause sexual differentiation on body: male hormones (androgens, primarily testosterone) and female hormones (primarily the estrogen estradiol).

In fetuses, the primary source of androgens is the testes of males, although smaller amounts are produced by the adrenal glands of both sexes. These hormones, which help to develop the brain are commonly known as “organizing effects”. Some of the earliest evidence for organizing effects of androgens came from girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), a condition in which the adrenal gland produces excessive levels of androgens during fetal brain development. Studies of hormonal levels within unaffected population also provide support for a hormonal explanation of sex differences. Furthermore, testosterone levels in children on the first six months after birth predict their sex-typed behavior.

Many sex differences appear early in life, before a kid has the opportunity to interact with society expectations. Moreover, if the purely social theory were true, one would expect that sex differences in more egalitarian countries would be smaller, yet the opposite is often found. For example, sex differences in spatial rotation and personality is greater in countries with levels of sexual equality. The existence of stereotypes supports that the differences are culturally constructed. Unfortunately, because stereotypes are equal to generalizations, these ones tend to be inaccurate. A recent study found that people’s perceptions about sex differences in cognitive ability are in fact accurate as to the existence and direction of these differences, but that they actually underestimate the size of the difference (R. Browne, 784). The real fact is that, on average, sexes differ in talents, skills, tastes and interest and this conclude with different positions in the workplace.

The end of the men refers to the decline of males and in consequence, the ascendancy of women, reflecting a change in the society. Nevertheless, men continue to work at best job positions which means a higher salary respect other positions and therefore, respect women. Sex differences have possible effects in the workplace. Male and female are different in psychological and physical dimensions. Males are better in competitiveness, dominance seeking and risk taking while women are better in nurturance, interest in children and verbal ability. The origins of these differences are random assigned biological factors, women and men are not biological equal and there are different biological structures as mentioned before. Another cause for the salary gap is the difference between jobs, and difference between sectors. Women and men perform different jobs and often work in different sectors.

In the health sector, women constitute 80% of all workers. The sectors in which women predominate offer lower wages than those in which men predominate. Women tend to work part-time because of childcare and they are more likely to be hired in jobs with low remuneration and not being appointed to positions of responsibility. In the case of men, happens the opposite: the greater its predominance in each position, the higher are their wages. For example, when women focus on certain predominantly female occupations, such as housekeeping, tend to earn less that men who have equivalent skills in occupations predominantly male. Women’s capacities are often underestimated because they are considered to reflect feminine characteristics, rather than skills and competences acquired. For example, a nurse earns less than a medical male technician, even though both have a comparable level of qualification. These factors could cause a gender-based predisposition when setting wages and assessing value of the work done by men and women.

All the factors, laws and situations explained above, which have conditioned this gender discrimination at work are complicated to change, but not impossible. An example of two countries that have almost closed this wage gap between men and women are: Rwanda and Iceland. In just 100 days in 1994, some 800.000 people were killed in the genocide in Rwanda, between 20 and 40 percent of its population, one of the saddest pages in the world history. After this event, the Rwanda population was 60 to 70 percent women. Thus, the scarce male population made women enter the world of work at all levels. Women started working as police, military, industrial sector etc. The government of Rwanda realized that to rebuild the country they needed the women, therefore, in the preamble of their new constitution, they included a commitment on equal rights, stipulating that 30 percent of representatives at all levels of government should be women. Nowadays, Rwanda has the higher female representation in Parliament, with a 61 percent of seats.

Another example is Iceland. In 1975, more than 25,000 women took the streets of Reykjavik. They completely paralyzed the country, banks, schools and stores closed. This event, known in Iceland as “”Women’s Free Day””, changed the perception of women in the country and helped put it at the forefront of the feminist struggle. Five years later, November 1980, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, a divorced single mother, won Iceland’s presidential election. In just 8 years, workplace policies changed, and maternity leave was extended to six months. This change in policy benefited the new mothers but also reinforced the pregnancy discrimination. Therefore, the Icelandic government decided to take a new measure in this regard. In 2000, obligational paternity leave made a strong difference in men culture in Iceland. This positive effect helped men to realize that the care of a child is the responsibility of both, changing not only the workplace but also the culture and education of this country. Women are paid less than men, and it varies in many countries and industries and females still do not get equal pay for equal work.

As I explained before, there is an irreducible percentage that is due to discrimination but most of this wage difference is due to women becoming mothers. The best solutions for this problem could be to apply the policies that have worked in other countries, such as in Iceland, but the best solution, although the most complicated, is a cultural change. Changing the expectations that women should be the only one to raise children will require another cultural shift. Society should think about men and women as both caregivers. Discrimination at workplace is a family issue and women should not be penalized at work for wanting to be mothers.


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Laws on Gender Discrimination: Pregnancy Discrimination and Pay Equity. (2021, Apr 08). Retrieved from