Gender Inequality in the Workforce

Twenty cents.

Said aloud, this amount of money seems meager and unimportant. But that’s the common discrepancy in a dollar between the hourly pay of the average American woman and average American man. Imagine this two dime difference: not even a handful of change. It’s not a staggering number at first glance. With a broader perspective, it represents the irrefutable inequalities women face in the workplace; a 20 percent wage gap is just one revealing example among many inequalities.

Women’s experiences in the workplace differ vastly, partly due to their educational background, their upbringings, their occupational choices and specific values in their workplace. In comprehending workplace gender inequality, it’s crucial to see the underlying factors and variations of a face-value statistic, such as the national gender wage-gap average.

Lisa Beedon, the 2015-16 president of the American Business Women’s Association (ABWA), calls for a closer look at discrepancy in wages between men and women.

“Statistically, it’s 20 cents different for every dollar a man makes,” said Beedon. “When you look at it that way, it doesn’t sound like much. But, over the course of a career, you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars — if not millions — women are not getting. It’s important for women to ask for more. Pay needs to be equal.”

Social categorizations such as class, sexuality and ethnicity intersect with gender to directly correlate with differences such as a woman’s pay rate. Astoundingly enough, Latina women in the United States, on average, earn only 55 cents for every dollar paid to white men, according to National Partnership for Women & Families data. That’s almost half of what the average white man receives. If that data isn’t riveting enough, experts in the field analyze the broader reasoning behind such disturbing discrepancies.

“It’s not just gender, it’s also ethnicity within gender,” Beedon said. “We really need to make sure we’re doing what we can to tighten this gap.”

Emily Conroy-Krutz, a history professor at Michigan State University (MSU), stresses the significance of intersectionality of experiences in understanding workplace disparities.
“If we know anything, we know the ways that the ideas of race profoundly shape ideas about gender. We can’t talk about one without the other,” Conroy-Krutz says.

It’s easy to forget that one of the catalysts for disparities in the workplace can be traced all the way back to women’s educational experiences.
Lydia Weiss, educational program coordinator at the MSU Work Life office, explains that social influences in male and female education can result in lifelong effects.

“One of the major differences in [educational upbringings] is socialization with boys and girls. That happens in not only the family and the home, but in the classroom.”

The ABWA’s Beedon explains, “There’s a lot of psychology behind this gender gap. Women are taught to be pretty, to be princesses, to not be competitive, to not get dirty. As that changes, as young girls are playing sports and becoming more competitive, you’ll see changes in the work place.”

This influential rhetoric reminds girls that they’re seen as the lesser sex, said Beedon, leading to a lack of confidence and self-worth.

Smaller, yet resonating jabs and dialogue, known as micro-aggressions, can add to discomfort in the work environment.

“I do think one of the main focuses now is micro-aggression,” Weiss explains. “These are little comments that over time add up to what feels like a hostile environment. That doesn’t necessarily have to be based on gender: it can be based on ethnicity, race, gender. It can be based on sexuality, nationality — it can, just, feel a little uncomfortable.”

In reflecting on workplace gender inequalities, these experts all believe women have made a great deal of progress. However, each expert has wisdom and efforts they say should be made to reduce the gender gap.

Conroy-Krutz says a cultural transformation in “larger social and cultural ideas about what authorities look like and what experts look
like,” is key in fixing gender inequalities in
the workplace.

Weiss says starting as “early as possible with self-esteem and confidence,” talking with boys and girls about “what is gender, or socialization,” will have profound results.

“It’s great to be empowered as a woman, but if you don’t have the other half of the world’s population backing you up, it’s really hard to make progress,” Weiss said. “It’s important to start looking at the disparities because a lot of people falsely believe that it’s equal.”

“As women, we need to find our own voice and be our own best advocate,” Beedon said.

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