In the year 2018, women have made great strides in the workplace. Women are now employed in virtually every vocation, but are they treated equally? There are two areas that seem to suggest the answer is no: 1. pay equity, and 2. securing and keeping top, opportunity-rich positions.
Unfortunately, the gender wage gap is still alive and well (but not for women). In spite of increased attention on pay disparity, research shows little progress on closing this pay gap. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy and Research, between 2016 and 2017, the gender gap for full-time workers with weekly salaries actually grew wider by 0.1 percent. Much of the progress made on equal pay and reducing wage disparity occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. This means that progress has significantly slowed down and, by some estimates, even “plateaued.”
The most recent research shows women in the United States making 80 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. The gap is even wider for African-American and Latina women, who earn 62.5 percent and 54.4 percent, respectively. At the slow rate things are going, it is predicted that pay parity won’t be achieved until the year 2059.
Securing top positions and keeping them
So-called “glass ceilings” continue to be in place in many occupations in which women seek employment.
The glass ceiling refers to the invisible barrier that exists in many fields which prevents women from attaining senior positions. The difficulty women have in rising to the top of their field may be spurred on by many things, including the realities of motherhood, household responsibilities and gender-related biases. Many mothers are left too weary to take on high-profile projects or compete for top jobs.
Women are often expected to be congenial and passive rather than decisive and assertive, lest they be characterized as too “pushy.” There are other persistent forces working against women’s rise to the top. It has even been suggested the #MeToo movement may have created a backlash, whereby powerful men may be reluctant to support their female colleagues at work, for fear of rumors about their true intentions.
In addition to glass ceilings, some analysts suggest women often run into “glass walls” and fall off “glass cliffs.” Glass walls are those walls that ex ist between divisions within a company, whereby women may be promoted to the top position within certain divisions, but cannot rise to top positions within divisions where they would be in line for top leadership positions within the company, such as vice president or CEO. For example, women may become leaders in Human Resources departments, but not in Research and Development, where the top leaders of the company are cultivated. These glass walls box women into traditional roles and limit their opportunities.
The existence of glass cliffs is less well-known but arguably a more pernicious problem. This is the phenomenon of women making it to the boardroom but finding themselves disproportionately represented in leadership positions that are inherently unstable. In these situations, women are often ousted for apparent failure to solve unsolvable problems or take on impossible challenges. The women in charge are held personally accountable for failure, ultimately leading to their forced resignation or termination. This in turn creates a damaging, self-fulfilling prophecy that women are unsuitable for leadership positions.
What can be done?
One suggestion to assist in closing the wage gap is creating more pay transparency, such as by making tax returns for all citizens easily accessible.
Decreasing occupational segregation is also needed. In 2018, there is still little integration between male- and female-dominated occupations, including the male-centric jobs of building construction and computer software development.
Policies and initiatives can help create a culture shift in the workplace that would pave the way for pay parity. One suggested policy is barring companies from asking prospective employees about their salary history, intended to halt the continuation of paying people (especially women) a lower wage. Another initiative focuses on pay transparency within companies, so that employees can better leverage themselves in negotiations and hold their employers more accountable.
Women must take it upon themselves to negotiate for pay raises and promotions. That said, ultimately it will take business leaders and politicians to change company policies in order to help women achieve equality in the workplace. Employers must impose gender-neutral workplace practices and ensure gender parity in leadership roles within their companies. Coaching and mentoring opportunities may help support women leaders and keep them from falling off glass cliffs.
The #MeToo movement has promoted a national conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace.
Similar conversations need to be had regarding gender equity in employment.
Veronica Henderson is a local attorney. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, with a Master of Arts in sociology and a Juris Doctor from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. She lives in El Centro.