The Status of Gender Inequality and the Wage Gap Today

Gender equality is not just a woman’s fight, it is everyone’s fight. While women make up fifty percent of the world’s population, studies show women still struggle for full economic and social equality. Hindering the progress of fifty percent of people results in an enormous loss of not just productivity, but economic growth. A major obstacle to all women achieving economic justice is the ever persistent “gender wage gap”, the difference in the average salary earnings between females. While it affects everyone differently on average women earn 80 cents for every dollar that men earn (the gap is even wider for women of color).  You read that right: men are paid more than females for completing the same work. Studies show there can be many causes of the gender wage gap including but not limited to lack of family leave policies and information available to women on salaries at their worksite, as well as implicit biases against women in the workplace. Across the world, there are examples of policies being implemented to tackle this issue head on, many spearheaded in California.

Many of the issues associated with the wage gap often stem from the lack of adequate maternity leave programs. The Scandinavian and Nordic countries are often associated with the lowest rates of gender inequality in the world; this is often attributed to their comprehensive maternity leave programs. These counties provide not only maternity leave but also paternity leave, something that is almost unheard of here in the United States. In the United States, we are struggling to provide women with maternity leave programs, whereas in Sweden it is expected that men receive paternity leave. The only maternity leave program that exists in the US is the Family and Medical Leave Act that gives women 12 weeks of unpaid time off work. The truth of the matter is that many women cannot afford this time off work, and they end up not taking time to raise their newborns in exchange for job security. In California things are slightly better; California offers 6 weeks of partial pay to mothers. Comparing the zero days of paid leave that the US offers to the 480 days, over a year, that Sweden offers, the US is really lagging behind in maternity leave programs. Yet the issue does not just lie there. It lies in the attitudes and mindset of people. The future president of the United States, Donald Trump, claims, “It’s certainly an inconvenience for a business, and whether people want to say that or not, the fact is, it is an inconvenience for a person that is running a business”. It is clear that the opinion that employers should not have to offer women maternity leave because the woman’s pregnancy is a burden to them is one that is still prevalent today. Something must be done to change people’s views and attitude on this issue.

The motherhood penalty is an issue that stems from societal and economic factors. Having children, causes a drop in the salary of women; this is known as the motherhood penalty. Women, oftentimes, don’t receive adequate maternity leave time; this leads to them leaving the work force or only working part time. When women try entering the workforce again they encounter the motherhood penalty. Employers are less likely to hire mothers and oftentimes when they do they are offered salaries lower than that of women that have not left the workforce. Women oftentimes face barriers and challenges when entering the workforce after having a child.

Implicit bias and gender stereotypes play large roles in the prevalence of gender inequality. Women are often seen as the caretakers and the nurturers while men are seen as the breadwinners. Early on we are taught these roles through movies and TV shows. These ideas are ingrained into our minds starting from a very young age. These prevailing gender roles are what lead to the existence of the double shift or the second shift. Women often do the house work. This affects their performance at work. They come to work tired and exhausted while men come to work rested.  This is known as the double shift; due to societal gender roles women end up having two jobs. There is clearly an imbalance in the paid and unpaid work that both sexes do.

Many of the problems stem from existence of traditional gender roles. For instance women are often tasked with the responsibility of housework which leads to them to be unable to perform their best when they are at work. In addition women have historically been the nurturers, an idea that is very much still prevalent today. It is embarrassing that the US does not provide a single day of paid maternity leave let alone paternity leave. Fathers should have an equal responsibility in raising their children as their wives. The idea that women should suffer for bringing life into the world is unthinkable. This leads to the idea that pregnancy is a burden to the employers, an idea that has been propagated by our future President. Pregnancy is the only way that we as a species exist; penalizing people for having children is absurd. It is because of these ideas that women are unable to get back into the workforce once they have had children. Employers are unwilling to hire them; they lose momentum and end up not working again. They have to choose between raising their child and having economic security, a choice that no one should have to make.

A solution that many people seem to overlook is unions. On average women in unions earn more than women that are not. In Iceland 80% of women are in unions, while in the US only 11% of women are in unions. In unions women’s jobs are protected by contracts. Transparency is important in the workforce, since oftentimes women don’t even realize that they are being paid less. Additionally, in unions there is one contract that represents everybody instead of 500 individual contracts. This way everybody is paid equally and fairly. Furthermore, unions allow groups of people to come together and fight for things on a state level, such as bills and laws. There is power in numbers.