Why the greatest gap won’t close

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Photo by Annika Galloway

Across the United States women on average make only 82.1 percent of men’s yearly earnings. In Colorado, the gap becomes vastly larger at 78.3 percent and is on trend to continue to grow wider, painting a bleak picture for women looking to enter the workforce in the near future.

Accounting for differences in education, qualifications, and across all fields of work, women are paid less.

Equal Opportunities International defines discrimination as, “the provision of unequal benefits to people of different ascriptive statuses despite identical qualifications and merit.”

In 2009 President Barack Obama attempted to combat gender discrimination by adding the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. This act, in addition to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, was supposed to eliminate any gaps by “restoring the bedrock of American law”, through equal rights for all. However, the gap did not change.

Maddie Herrud, a senior at the University of Denver, believes that inequality in America’s workforce is rooted deeply in societal norms, and not necessarily a lack of legislation.

“I think the gender wage gap exists because there is an idea that women are going to be the first ones to leave the workforce when they start having families,” Herrud said, “so therefore women aren’t going to be in there as long so you can pay them less because they aren’t going to have a staying power”

The New York Times also believes that the discrimination in the workforce is much more closely rooted in the United States preconceived biases and historical nostalgia of women’s place in the workforce.

Within professions, different tiles are used to distinguish work done by women versus men. The New York Times points out that within the cleaning profession, the title janitor, or maid, not only attributes a distinction of gender but also of pay resulting in a 22 percent gap.

Paula England, a sociology professor at New York University was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “Once women start doing a job, it just doesn’t look like it’s as important to the bottom line or requires as much skill.”

In addition to the common misconception in America that women’s work is less valuable simply because of the history it has as free labor, education among the female population is also misunderstood and wrongly linked to the wage gap.

Herrud explained how she witnesses the educational bias.

“I think it also goes back to gender notions of race and the idea that women are less educated, especially black women and latino women or all these different characteristics which just isn’t true,” Herrud said. “You can have the same exact resume and still be paid less than a white man.”

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Herrud is spot on. The Bureau’s research found that by 2011, women were not only more likely to have a higher average level of schooling, but women were also more likely to hold advanced degrees than men.

Yet, the gap has not closed.

Hava Gordon, the director of the Gender and Women’s studies at the University of Denver believes the solution to close the gender wage gap lies not only in changing society’s perceptions but also making big changes in our legislature.

“There needs to be a soft cultural change, but also the hard legislative change,” Gordon said. “Social safety nets like more affordable child care or paid sick leave, and welfare nets especially for women, so those are the hard structural changes.”

Besides legislation that adds support to marginalized communities like women, and especially women of color, Gordon points out the lack of legislation protecting women against the most basic form of discrimination.

“Prohibiting sex discrimination in jobs, we still don’t have a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace,” Gordon said, “You know we have state laws but no federal protection.”

Chaye Gutierrez, a sophomore at DU, has her own theory of why our legislation is still lagging behind our fellow industrialized nations.

“I think there is still a gender wage gap because the people we would look to is lawmakers in Washington and they don’t reflect our population,” Gutierrez said, “the people in Washington  don’t feel the impact that women do, so it’s not a priority for them.”

The Center for American Women and Politics reports that out of the 7,383 state legislators nationwide, only 1,814 are women.

The Daily Kos also reported the United States ranking among the lowest for female representation in government for industrialized countries. The compiled list ranked Afghanistan and Rwanda above The United States for having a greater percentage of women in government. 

For this reason, in aspects of both legislative and social perceptions, The United States is severely falling behind its fellow developed nations in terms of the gender wage gap. The National Bureau of Economic Research analyzed 22 developed countries and found that The United States ranked 20th in terms of equal or a good gender wage gap.

CBS News and The New York Times conducted a study together that asked participants, “In general, do you think women in the United States are paid more, less or about the same for doing similar work?” This poll found that 65 percent of respondents reported believing women, in general, are paid less.

The majority of the general public is very aware of the gender wage gap, and even believes that there should be stronger laws prohibiting any discrimination based on gender. NBC News and the Wall Street Journal proposed this question, with 80% of respondents reported “strongly agreeing” that there should be stronger laws against gender discrimination.

The gender wage gap is not a hidden issue but is one that is deeply rooted in many aspects of American life. Unfortunately, the changes in society and legislature will not change overnight. However, Gordon provided some more immediately productive advice that women can practice daily to attempt to push for equality in their personal lives.

Gordon believes that the most important thing women can do is “to be aware when you are being placed in a feminine position in the workplace and to speak out against that.”

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