There is no gender pay gap, but that doesn’t mean the workplace is fair to women (Part 1/3)

January 15, 2018

Making equal pay the main issue women face in the workforce is a mistake. Women make $0.76 compared to every dollar men make —black women make even less, on the surface that seems pretty outrageous, sexist and an issue that deserves continuous attention until resolved. But that’s on the surface. When you delve into the numbers you begin to see that painting the picture in this way is a bit deceptive. The figure $0.76 for every man’s dollar is a comparison of all women’s wage earnings and all men’s wage earnings over a lifetime.  Comparing the wage earnings of all men and all women then attempting to close that gap is both impossible and potentially unjust. For one, more women work in minimum wage jobs, more men are willing to ask for a raise, and men do in fact work longer hours than women —43 minutes a week more, which adds up in the long run. So at this point some may be tempted to assume that all is well for women in the workforce, women simply make different employment decisions, they value home and family life more than men —according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “85% of women compared to 67% of men often spend some time doing daily housework, and on the days that women do housework they spend an average of 30 more minutes doing so than men and… spend as much as double the amount of time on childcare than men do” and don’t desire to take the risk of asking for raises or spending any more time on the job than necessary. The problem with that conclusion is that it pretends these are easy choices for women to make when the reality is that women are often forced into these decisions because the workforce continues to lack women-friendly policies. Knowing that women make $0.76 for every man’s $1.00 is useful in that it begins to tell us something may be awry, but it is not the issue in and of itself.

In discussing how we can make the workplace more women-friendly we have to have a discussion about the differences between men and women, it’s unavoidable. If we don’t talk about our differences there will never be any justice for women in the workforce and I believe more women will begin to choose home over work if the US continues to ignore their needs —this past decade was the first time in decades that the number of women not in the workforce, rose. One of the differences between men and women is how their work habits change when they have a family. When men have a family, they tend to work harder. When women have families we tend to work less. Is that inherently a bad thing? Of course not, women and men are free to choose their own path in raising their family but if we want to support women, we have to acknowledge that when they have family they don’t want to spend as many hours in the workplace, how can we allow someone to spend more time with their families while still excelling in their work? We have to fight for both flextime and maternity leave.

Fairness for women without injustice to men

Some feminists have acknowledged that men work more than women, their solution? Get rid of overtime. That’s not only injustice to men, it doesn’t support women in any way —especially the women who benefit from their husbands’ overtime when they take time off of work to be home caring for their family. If we want to support women, we have to focus on what women actually want, and what a lot of women want is to spend less time at work when they have a family and even less when they have a new baby. On the other extreme conservatives may say, well that’s a personal choice women make I.e. why should anyone have to support someone’s personal choice. But having a family is not merely a personal choice, it’s a part of life that most women will experience —most women will have a family, and so it is as much a personal issue as it is a social one. Let’s also think of what would happen alternatively if women decided not to have children in preference for having a career, then we’d be in a panic about slowing birthrates —which has already begun to creep up

Ignoring the needs of women is a degradation of our value that stems from the aftermath of World War 2. After WW2, women in the US were asked to leave the jobs they’d taken over from men during the war, return home and let the men work. Alternatively, in Europe, many countries, who also had women working in place of men during the war, wanted to retain those women after the war, and so they incentivized the workplace in order to keep women working. The US stills sees women as expendable and doesn’t see fit to help women, most of whom will have families, retain their jobs or succeed in them. Considering the fact that over 70% of women are in today’s workforce it’s strange that it remains as unfriendly today as the day it asked them to leave.

Gender-neutral policies won’t cut it

And gender-neutral policies like FMLA don’t cut it. FMLA gives workers 6 weeks off unpaid for family or medical emergencies. If a pregnant woman attempts to use this, that’s 6 weeks to have your baby, recover from pregnancy and bond with that baby, unpaid. Again, someone may say, Well it’s her choice to have a baby but how can one hide behind the “personal choice” argument when it’s an issue that most women will face —that’s like saying menstruation or menopause is a personal issue, personal sure but it’s also a women’s issue and therefore a societal issue. To listen to women calculate how they’ll group together their sick days, vacation days and their 6 weeks from FMLA -how they’ll work until the very last moment of their pregnancy so they can take most of their time after the baby is born, is heartbreaking.

A workforce that benefits from the labor of women needs to figure out how to support those women in their time of need, the only way to honestly do so is to acknowledge and support a woman’s role as caregiver. The “equal pay gap” is a distraction that removes us from acknowledging the real issue, which is that the American workplace was never built to accommodate women with families, the questions that are far more valuable then asking why women only make $.76 on the dollar is to ask why more companies don’t have nurseries, nursing rooms, flextime and maternity leave? These are the questions that matter most and their resolution will have a significant impact on the lives of women.

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