By Ahana Gupta
Women make up almost half of the workforce. They contribute to the American economy every day, yet that same economy does not equate their salaries to those of their their male counterparts.
Rubbing his eyes, shoulders slumping, John Smith works tirelessly almost twelve hours a day. So does Jane Smith. She has the same credentials, the same work ethic, yet gets paid a fraction of what John does. That fraction is even smaller for Latinx and African American women.
Women even at their jobs are imagined as cradling a child in their arms, an apron around their neck. The rhetoric surrounding working women makes them seem “weak and [like they] can’t handle failure and [have] too many emotions, so they won’t be able to deal with” the pressures of the workplace, Anagha Aneesh ‘20 said.
With traditional gender roles deconstructed in America, women prove that being a mother or caregiver and an employee or employer are not mutually exclusive. According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau, in 1948, men made up 71.4% of the workforce and women 28.6%. In 2016, that has changed to 53.2% and 46.8%, respectively.
In certain fields, women make up a majority of those employed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2016, 66.5% of married-couple families had either both parents working or only the mother working. That number would likely be greater if single mothers with families to support were included.
Despite their integral part in the economy, many women, especially minority women of color, are unable to adequately provide for their families– or even themselves. As reported by the National Partnership for Women & Families, African-American women earn a median of 48 to 69 cents and Latinx women 43 to 59 cents for every one dollar a white, non-Hispanic man earns. On the scale of a dollar, this may not seem significant. Nevertheless, according to a study done by GOBankingRates, in Chicago, a person needs $48,069 annually for necessities and savings. Based on the national $31,099 median for annual personal income, many female minority heads of households likely do not earn even half of what they need.
“Pay inequities and wage discrimination perpetuate poverty, and women of color suffer the most,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership as quoted by Fast Company. The difference of thousands of dollars means grocery trips, health screenings, opportunities for education lost. These fundamental tenets of being healthy and informed become unrealistic for these women and their families.
By being human, by being alive, we all have the right to basic access. Yet, trapped in this cycle of poverty– putting in the same effort as men but receiving less compensation in return– minority women of color in lower socioeconomic strata are unable to move forward.
So why does this pay gap persist? While it is shrinking as women gain higher levels of education and more work experience, gender discrimination persists, no matter what the pay grade. “My word does not carry the same weight… [and with] male superiors, the tone is to order versus have a dialogue [with female colleagues] compared to male colleagues,” said Dr. Bharati Prasad, a physician-scientist at University of Illinois at Chicago.
The foundation of gender discrimination lies in the prejudices of others, subjective in nature, which makes it difficult to measure and bridging the remaining wage gap complex. There are many other factors whose effects compound, like the choice to become a mother and lower confidence levels of women than men in asking for promotions.
The lack of confidence starts at a young age. Whether it begins because of doubts in academic abilities or appearances, Real Girls, Real Pressure: A National Report on the State of Self-Esteem, commissioned by the Dove® Self- Esteem Fund, found that 7 in 10 girls felt they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way. “I have [female students] who doubt their own abilities, which I think can be sourced to the systemic misogyny that pervades our culture,” said Ms. Parlor.
This can be seen from the student perspective too; “[if boys don’t understand something] they’re encouraged to keep trying, whereas girls feel they should stop and that they don’t belong in that field,” said Ella Marden ‘19.
Girls carry this with them throughout their adult lives. Less confidence in the workplace translates into fear of backlash for self-promotion. For women, self-promotion makes them less likable and arrogant. For men, they then have the qualities of a leader. This difference has been documented in many studies.
Confidence in females and its social acceptance, once normalized, is a fundamental way to narrow the wage gap. When women are confident, they empower themselves and can raise their voices to fight for equal pay. “If women stand up against the problem [of equal pay], it’s more than just an individual problem; it’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” Anagha Aneesh ‘20 said.
Change starts with the women affected.