Looking Beyond the Numbers
Mathematicians, scientists, doctors, and countless other professions validate theories by producing a factor that is then analyzed for accuracy. Similarly, in 2019, economists analyzed median income data in the United States and determined what is the most commonly used figure to measure the economic phenomena of gender pay gap, 80.5%. Compared to Estonia at 25.3%, this figure, 80.5%, is frequently misinterpreted as an economic achievement for America. Although most states have implemented laws against gender discrimination and the 1964 Civil Rights Acts protects women at the federal level, disparities persist decades later since the initial Equal Pay Act, which was signed into law by John F. Kennedy in 1962. Unlike a standard mathematical equation with measurable variables, the formula for gender pay gap needs to consider the following factors; socio-economic, environmental, personal, and political.
The first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up’ is found in Homer’s famous poem, Odyssey (eight century B.C). While Homer is not the determining factor that initiated the “social stigma” that women continuously battle, Aristophanes like many others, followed in Homer’s footsteps, by devoting a satirical comedy to the hilarious fantasy that women might take over running the state (Women & Power).
3000 years later, gender portrayal in the media closely correlates with long held traditions. In most modern media, women exhibit the following characteristics; unintelligent, helpless, dependent, and sexualized (Brunson). Famous historical figures and the media cannot be held accountable alone, the root of the first step of the problem is the cultural/social factors effecting the nurturing of society’s young girls.
During the development of a child’s early life, the three stages are birth/primary, secondary, and higher education. These are the highly-developmental and impressionable times that a young child/adult will experience. During the late 40’s, an unborn girl is presented with an uncontrollable environmental factor; low female birth ratio. At age 10, Girl X, is spending more time on domestic chores, and is receiving second-class treatment at home compared to her hypothetical male sibling. By the time Girl X surprisingly graduates high school, she will be encouraged to choose ‘easy’ careers and be restricted mobility. Her ‘decision’ after high school is heavily related to the socio-economic factors of the low investment that was made on her education, pressure to marry early (especially to a ‘good’ family), and that advanced degrees require years – inciting fear of being past the ‘ideal’ marriageable age. These factors contribute to the loss of confidence through the years of conditioning that provide a strong back bone for gender pay gap.
After the slight possibility of pursuing higher education, a woman in the 50’s would experience ‘mid-life’, which is divided into early and mid-career. Many career opportunities were limited due to environmental/political factors such as lack of credentials, legal discrimination, women not being in the work force in large numbers and grouping in traditional feminine industries (Explained). During the 1950’s, 70% of women had menial jobs on factory lines or offices. However, America’s work force dramatically shifts after World War II presents the first melancholic opportunity for women.
Elaine May, University of Minnesota historian, discusses women in work in the postwar era, “World War II opened up tremendous opportunities for women because so many men joined the armed services and went abroad, leaving many jobs that have previously closed to women.” This initiates the mental and physical bias that relates to the intelligence discrimination of women. It was longed believed that women would not manage “manly” jobs – engineering, other professions in the sciences, manufacturing jobs –work that women were considered too weak to do. The idea of women in the same work force men were once in, outraged many companies and business owners. The stigma still remains that women are less competent and more-easily distracted, and with women’s first primary appearance in the work force, the first official mark of gender pay gap appears on the radar (before this, there were no women to account for in the work force to adjust the wage gap). Women wanted to work, and they were excited for the first time ever they could work and earn their own living. Companies took advantage of this and started to pay women less, and from a non-ethical business standpoint, it made sense. The US government quickly caught this trend and implemented an act that guaranteed equal pay for equal work. Both organizations and American government are held accountable in the contribution of gender pay gap. Companies disregarded government regulations and the US government manipulated society to dean itself ethical. In reality the act was passed to ensure the companies would hire back the soldiers once they returned home.
Radically and culturally diverse feminists forced the attention of President John F. Kennedy to implement The Equal Pay Act of 1963 in response to the 59% pay difference women were experiencing following the war (AJE Specialist). The following year, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 further strengthened laws against discrimination by making it illegal to discriminate in the basis of sex for pay benefits, as well as race, color, religion, national origin, or disability. The Women’s Liberation Movement first appeared in 1964 that proposed that economic, psychological, and social freedom were necessary for women to progress.
The EPA 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were not enough alone to demand changes in women’s rights and respect in The United States, that President Barrack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 to further equal pay for women. For 10 years, Lilly Ledbetter struggled to close the gap between women’s and men’s wages, sparring with the Supreme Court, lobbying against Capitol Hill in a historic discrimination case against Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Ledbetter recognizes that her fight was just the beginning but is hopeful, “I’ll be happy if the last thing they say about me after I die is that I made a difference.” Continuing the trend, in 2010 the National Equal Enforcement Task Force was created, bringing together various government agencies, including the Equal Opportunity (“EEOC”), the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), the Department of Labor (“DOL”) including the Office of Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), and the Office of Personal Management (“OPM”). The mission of these agencies is to further the combat violation of equal pay law (NETF).
Over the course of a woman’s early career, she is faced with the unavoidable pressure of bearing children. Society has created this “choice” but constantly intervenes with the women’s socially-based decision inflicted on women. Whether it is the pressure to have children, infertility concerns, and/or decisions for termination, ultimately the decision relies within that woman. Equality would ultimately provide a safe and fair atmosphere for both mothers and women who elected not to have children. For the sake of the argument, Girl X decides to be a mother. After all, ideally there should be no career penalization for either option. Childcare is quickly sourced as a solution, but regardless of how much help is aided, a parent is going to have to be with their newborn (sick child, doctors’ visits). While Girl X is staying home taking care of the child, her spouse is likely getting promoted. She, on the other hand, had to turn down some of those assignments (long hours, work trip, dinner with clients). While Girl X is trying to catch up with her career and to her husband, he has already put in much more experience. This gives him a substantial advantage in his career during those primitive years starting off in the work force.
It is debated, since Girl X chose to stay home with her baby, then it only seems fair that her male counterpart deserves the promotions and higher pay. However, a woman working full time, like her male partner, will still add 9 more hours of work raising the child. This is equivalent to 3 more months of full-time unpaid work. Data shows that not only is there a pay gap between genders, but more heavily so on working mothers. Women who are working that do not have children make 96% of the dollar. Hillary Clinton argues, “The gender pay gap really is between women with children and everyone else.”
Continuing the social-economic factor of bearing children, there is the lack of contribution of spouse in domestic work and child care. Mainly being a social stigma that men are the providers. For example, a 1980s advice column about how to decorate your desk at work. Someone wrote in and asked’ “I’ve just gotten a big promotion, so I’ll have my own work space for the first time. How should I decorate it?” The answer:
“I can’t tell from your initials whether you’re a man or a woman, and the answer depends upon which you are. If you’re a man and you have a family, plaster your office with family pictures, because people will think that you are a very good provider. If you are a woman, and you have children, don’t put pictures up in your office of your family, because people will think you can’t keep your mind on your work.” (Explained)
The combination of maternity leave, limited contribution from “breadwinner” towards household work, and social and economic stigmas, lead to the possibility of premature end to career due to marriage and/or career breaks.
During the last stage of the Mid-Life, Girl X experiences her mid-career (assuming she has not quit). Here she may find harsher discrimination (age, appearance, motherhood, for example) and harassment. In 2006, the “Me Too” movement was formed by Tarana Burke. Case-after-case report almost sickening identical testimonies of women in the workplace being sexually harassed. This leads to the unprecedented fear in women to join a predominantly male work force, since evidence points towards men in power taking advantage of women (mentally and sexually). To add to the stress of providing for her family, Girl X will take on more responsibility with her child now that the child is getting older and more dependent.
In the last stage of Girl X is late life. This is where late career and retirement take place. Since Girl X was set to failure from her developmental years, she had no chance in the work force. Girl X now focuses on the higher education of her children and is responsible for her aging spouse. Girl X dedicated her whole life to taking care of her family, yet she still was paid less since her initial decision to take maternity leave.
To insure the research found was prevalent towards women in 2019, three female subjects from different fields and salaries were interviewed. All three subjects were asked the same question: Have you ever experienced discrimination in the workplace? (The question was purposefully asked as broad as possible.“I support everyone in my family. My mother, my daughters, and my ex-husband. I work 80-100 hour weeks and as soon as I come home, I am on the clock again tending to my 10 year old’s math homework. I am extremely stressed but am the only one able to provide for my daughters. I work mostly with men, who are the main providers for their wives and children. I feel like I am sacrificing so much being in an office that has no respect for me. But what else can I do? If I stop working, then the bills do not get paid. It is this awful limbo that I have been in for years, constantly seeing promotions that I deserve be handed to my male coworker with years less experience. I would understand if I was making up “excuses” to leave work early, making sure I did not miss ballet recitals, karate lessons, etc. but I am there every morning at the same time as everyone else, and I am the last person to leave the office. One time the excuse that I had two daughters was made for me by my male boss so that I would not have to travel, and I booked the flight the same day.”
Subject C: White female, late 50’s, aerospace engineer, 120-150K salary, mother of two adult children. “I have worked extremely hard to be where I am today. I was the first person to go to college in my family, let alone graduate, and had absolutely no support from my family. I started working after dropping out of high school as a sales associate at a warehouse. It was a predominantly male work force, but I was good at sales. I realized one day that there was no opportunity for growth, and women all around the world were inspiring me to go back to school. After school, I was 1 in 4 people in the nation that was chosen for a NASA interning position. I have been here for more than 30 years now and am blessed with opportunities that I never dreamt. At first, I would say it was extremely hard to be heard in the office. My ideas were not taken as seriously as my male co-workers. But with constant patience, and many private break downs, I “proved” myself equal. I guess that was the hardest part for me because I deserved to be there. Years later, NASA chose me out of thousands of applications to further my education at Harvard, and I was chosen. I was then faced with the harsh social discrimination that I had two young daughters at the time and that I would have to leave them with their father if I chose to go to Harvard. Of course, I was heartbroken explaining to them that I would be gone for months at a time, but to see my little girl’s face light up when I told them their mommy was going to Harvard, made my decision for me; I was going. I was told that young girls needed their mother’s during this time. I totally agree, but they also had a capable, loving, nurturing father that would physically be with them every single step of the way. And guess what? They turned out completely fine. Haha.”
After analyzing this small case-study, it was surprising to find that Subject A, even though much younger, has lost the drive that Subject B and C possess. Even though Subject B and C both come from a generation that was near impossible to succeed in as a woman, Subject A has had her value of speech compromised in the work force. Has America made progress, or are we in jeopardy of making the same mistakes that were made back in the 50s?
While America has not found a resolution to the social aptitude that men are breadwinners, Iceland approached the problem in a unique process. In 2000, Iceland passed a law that allowed fathers to take a 6-month paternity leave, that they could either use or lose. Obligational paternity left positively impacted impressions on Iceland’s culture, both at home and in the job market. Now Iceland’s government is ensured that when a young man or a young woman is hired, either will take a maternity/paternity leave. Placing equal responsibility on the woman and the man to take care of the children and to provide. Iceland is the closest county to eliminating the gender pay gap, with women making 90 cents on the dollar (Explained).
Another solution to gender pay gap is salary transparency. Dane Atkinson, CEO of SubAlt, which was founded as a salary transparent workplace. He decided to make the salaries of the company public because “transparency blocks a lot of evils” (Pay Gap Podcast). Atkinson created this system so that his employees felt that the company was being fair and equal towards everyone since there were no secrets. This also created opportunities for promotions since the employees would know the value of their work and leverage for negotiation. The employees have an open understanding what the company values.
Although America has made significant improvement since the early 50s, there are still areas for major reform towards the gender pay gap. While progress has been made toward the inequality of sexes, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that it [gender pay gap] will not be reached until 2059. Instead of looking at gender pay gap as a singular unit, the problem has to be broken down in their factors and where they originate from. Media, social aptitudes, economic, political, cultural, and legal factors all contribute towards the inequality of women in the work force.
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Looking Beyond the Numbers. (2021, Jun 30). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/looking-beyond-the-numbers/
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