There was a lot of focus on a dearth of middle-class jobs for men in the United States during the recent presidential election. This discussion centered on the loss of good-paying manufacturing and mining jobs for men, which have been in decline since the 1960s due to automation and globalization. Not much attention has been paid, however, to the declining number of women in the US workforce. This trend is the opposite of trends in women’s employment in other industrialized countries. What explains this difference for women in the United States?
I am the dominant earner in my household. My wonderful life partner/spouse of 25 years is a talented artist. I am a successful consultant, and consultants generally make more than artists in our society. My life partner and I have always been fine with our financial relationship, but I remember when his father was still alive and would yell into the phone from the background, “Tell that bum to get a job!” He could not stand it that I made more money than his son. This lack of moral support was very painful for us both, especially for my partner. We were trying to stay grounded in the choices that made sense for us in the face of societal attitudes about acceptable gender roles—and this was sometimes difficult.
“I am worried about my new boss,” reported my client, Julie, a bright young woman in her thirties. “I had to leave my last job because my boss demanded sexual favors from me in order to keep my job. I had no one to turn to for help because he is so powerful and respected in the small world of our profession. Reporting him would have been career suicide, so I just quit. Now I am worried that my new boss is starting to show signs of the same expectations. I need this job and I don’t know what to do! Can you help me?”
The United Kingdom and Australia have significantly increased the number of women on corporate boards in recent years, while representation in the United States has stalled. Nneka Orji of The Glasshammer reports that female representation in the United Kingdom’s FTSE 100 company boardrooms increased from 12.5 percent in 2011 to 26 percent in 2016. Similarly, Alexandra Spring writes in the Guardian that 26 percent of the director positions in Australia’s ASX 200 companies are now held by women, with a target of 30 percent by 2018.
The Massachusetts legislature just unanimously passed the strongest equal pay law in the country. In spite of a legal prohibition against gender-based pay discrimination passed by the state in 1945, the gender wage gap has persisted. Shirley Leung of the Boston Globe reports that currently
- Women in Massachusetts, in general, make eighty-two cents for every dollar a man earns
- Black women fare worse at sixty-one cents for every dollar a man earns
- Latinas fare even worse at fifty cents per dollar
Recently, during a women’s leadership program I was facilitating, a participant, Amy, had an insight. She had been complaining about being exhausted and stressed all the time while trying to juggle a full-time job and family life—she loved her demanding job and her family, but she had no time for herself and was tired all the time. What was her insight? She realized that her husband expected her to do almost all the work of maintaining their home and family and did not really do much to share this load. She had never seen so clearly that she was carrying an unfair share of the burden, and she had also taken it for granted that this was her role. She now began to question these assumptions.
I recently facilitated a leadership development workshop with a mixed-gender, mixed-race group and noticed a familiar pattern—the men, regardless of race, took up much more airtime than the women, and the women, especially the women of color, hardly said anything at all. I felt a familiar sense of annoyance rise up in me as one man after another seemed to go on and on whenever he had the floor, and I had to call on individual women and draw them out to get their voices and ideas into the room.
New research from the University of Massachusetts Boston on workers in Massachusetts finds that while a gender wage gap exists across all occupations for women, the gap becomes a chasm for Hispanic women, especially for low-wage workers. Here are some facts from the research:
- White women make 83 percent of what white men make in the same occupations.
- Hispanic women make 56 percent of their male equivalents.
More specifically, here are some numbers for low-wage workers:
- Latinas who work as cleaners make 54 cents on the dollar compared to all male janitors and 59 cents compared to their Hispanic male counterparts.