Bold New Proposal to Close the Gender Pay Gap

As the 2020 presidential contest heats up, exciting proposals to address our nation’s problems are being offered by individual candidates. Astead W. Herndon of the New York Times reports that Senator Kamala Harris of California recently announced a proposal to close the gender pay gap. Harris’s proposal requires larger companies with one hundred or more employees to certify every two years that women and men are paid equally. While similar laws are being passed on the state level, this proposal would combat the problem on the federal level and put teeth into enforcement not always available on the state level. Harris’s plan would fine companies that do not meet pay certification standards, which is 1 percent of their profits for every 1 percent difference in pay between women and men.

Herndon notes that previous federal legislation required employees to report or sue their employer if pay discrepancies existed—but salary information is generally kept secret by employees, and employees struggle to find out whether they are caught up in a gender pay gap. In a previous article, we wrote about a case where employees at Google had to gather pay data voluntarily from colleagues. When they found a gender pay gap, they published their spreadsheet to put pressure on their company to take action to eliminate the pay gap. Harris’s proposal will take the burden off of employees and create transparency and fairness.

Laura M. Holson of the New York Times writes that the myths surrounding secrecy about sharing salary information justify secrecy as protecting individual privacy. In fact, Holson notes, secrecy benefits companies that save money if employees underestimate their value in salary negotiations. She explains, “Managers want to keep salaries down and pay people less. It is easier if they control the information.”

But secrecy is costing women a lot. Holson cites federal statistics that find “a woman working a full-time job earns 80.7 cents for every dollar a man makes.” Herndon notes that this gap adds up to more than $400,000 in missed wages over the course of a woman’s career. She goes on to point out that the numbers are even worse for women who are racial minorities—about $1 million in missed wages over a career, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center.

Holson suggests that pay standards should be set and adhered to if we are to have fair and equitable systems. Herndon cited Senator Harris as saying, “For too long, we’ve put the burden entirely on workers to hold corporations accountable for pay discrimination through costly lawsuits. . . . We’ve let corporations hide their wage gaps, but forced women to stand up in court just to get the pay they’ve earned.”

Let’s support a solution at the federal level for this persistent problem.

 

 

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Black Women Lead the Way to Change: Four Strategies That Work

Black feminists in Chicago have been breaking ground as leaders and we can all learn from their strategies and successes. Salamishah Tillet, writing for the New York Times, reports on some of their recent accomplishments:

  • Lori Lightfoot became the first black woman mayor of Chicago in 2019.
  • In 2016, Kim Foxx, a black woman, became the city’s top prosecutor.
  • In May 2015, black feminist activists pushed Chicago to become the first city to award reparations to people who survived police torture in the 1970s and ’80s.
  • Rahm Emanuel, the previous mayor, decided not to seek a third term as mayor after black women organized a citywide campaign against him.
  • Thanks to black feminist activists, Illinois became the first state in the Midwest to approve a path to a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Tillet highlights a four-point model for change used by the black women in Chicago that can be a guide to change for the rest of us:

  1. Blend activism and the academy—Organizers and professors at many universities in Illinois work together to ensure that community activists and young black people work together and listen to each other. Young black people who feel engaged and empowered affect change. Their engagement can make the difference in elections and policy changes.
  2. Work across generations—Older feminists encourage young activists to be at the forefront and utilize their expertise, while older feminist activists provide guidance from the sidelines.
  3. Share power—The black feminists of Chicago encourage many local leaders to emerge rather than allow a single charismatic figure like Louis Farrakhan or Jesse Jackson to set an agenda. People show up for each other’s campaigns rather than align with only one candidate. People show up for each other’s issues as well.
  4. Work on several issues at once—Collaboration that brings focus to the intersection of issues such as low wages, police violence, and the recent murders of black women and girls is a critical strategy. For example, in 2015 after Black Lives Matter of Chicago organized a rally outside of a McDonald’s to stand with food workers striking for a $15 minimum wage, they all marched to a nearby police department to demand the firing of a police officer who shot an unarmed bystander. This last strategy has always been a hallmark of black feminism—a focus on the intersection of sexism, racism, classism, and other forms of oppression.

Potential presidential candidates have a lot of good reasons to court the support and votes of black feminist activists, whose proven track record of successfully organizing for change is formidable.

 

Photo courtesy of Johnny Silvercloud (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Gender Bias—Past Is Present

Gender bias in the workplace, defined as forms of discrimination against women that reflect the values and mind-sets of the men who created the settings and practices, is a deeply ingrained part of our culture. While many of these gender-biased mind-sets and practices are changing, Marisa Porges, writing for the New York Times, points out many interesting ways that the legacies of gender bias from the past are still impacting the present:

  • NASA didn’t have enough space suits that fit female astronauts. Only a few days before the much-publicized first all-female spacewalk was to take place in April 2019, it had to be canceled because of the lack of space suits that fit women.
  • Two years after Porges began flying jets for the navy, somebody noticed that the ejection seat on her jet was not designed for her five-foot-two-inch female frame. It had been designed and tested by and for only men, which increased the risk of major injury for a woman if she needed the safety equipment.

The legacies of gender discrimination are also present in small ways that affect the daily lives and careers of women. Porges notes that while women face many systemic barriers, such as wage gaps, family leave policies, and blocked career pipelines for women in underrepresented fields, the small legacies are also significant:

  • Lack of adequate lactation rooms in most office buildings
  • Antiquated office dress codes that require female employees to wear high heels
  • The size of safety gear available for female astronauts
  • Temperature settings in most workplaces, which are calibrated to men’s metabolic rates and are too cold for women

While Porges focuses on legacies of past gender discrimination reverberating in the present, new sources of gender discrimination are also concerning. Megan Specia writes about the broad gender disparities in the technology and artificial intelligence (AI) sectors, noted as problematic in a new Unesco study released in conjunction with the government of Germany and the Equal Skills Coalition. Specia reports that women are grossly underrepresented in AI, making up 12 percent of AI researchers and 6 percent of software developers in the field. The Unesco study states that “a lack of diversity within the industry . . . is reinforcing problematic gender stereotypes.” The report states several alarming examples:

  • Most virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa have female names, female voices, and often a submissive or flirtatious style. They also often have a “deflecting, lackluster or apologetic response” to insults, which provides a powerful illustration of gender biases coded into technology products.
  • Gender and racial biases have also been built into sexist hiring tools developed by Amazon and facial recognition technology that misidentifies black faces.

The report points out that “the more that [technology-enforced] culture teaches people to equate women with assistants, the more real women will be seen as assistants—and penalized for not being assistant-like.”

The absence of diversity in engineering teams that are overwhelmingly staffed by men means that gender bias continues to be perpetuated. Our whole culture needs to change and confront the multilayered problem.

 

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Fathers Want Parental Leave Too

As a coach and consultant, I have known many men in organizations over the years who wanted to take extended parental leave when their children were born but were discouraged from doing so. They saw the careers of their male colleagues who took parental leave derailed. They heard these colleagues discussed as “not committed to the company” and were afraid to ask for leave. Yet Noam Scheiber of the New York Times reminds us that, as Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted in the 1970s when she founded the Women’s Rights Project for the ACLU, women will “not achieve equality in the workplace as long as men [are] discouraged from taking on caregiver roles.”

Recent class-action settlements won by fathers against JPMorgan Chase and Estée Lauder are forcing changes in paid parental leave policies, which previously placed the burden of childrearing on the mother. Before the new class-action suits started to put pressure on company policies, many large organizations had discriminatory policies in place:

  • In the case of JPMorgan Chase, mothers were eligible for sixteen weeks of paid parental leave while fathers were offered only two weeks as secondary caregivers.
  • Estée Lauder had a similar policy that discriminated against the fathers of newborns.
  • In 2015, CNN was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for granting biological fathers only two weeks of paid parental leave compared to ten weeks for mothers.

A small number of companies offer long leaves to all new parents. Scheiber notes that “Hewlett Packard Enterprise recently announced that new mothers and fathers would both receive at least six months of paid leave.” Six months is unusually long in the United States. Only a minority of companies offer paid parental leave at all. In a 2018 survey by the Society of Human Resource Managers, 35 percent of respondents offered paid maternity leave, usually for a maximum of six weeks, and just under 30 percent offered paid paternity leave. In addition, only salaried workers have access to any paid parental leave. Low wage and contract workers do not have access to these benefits at all.

While the numbers of companies offering paid parental leave have been rising rapidly in recent years, many men are still reluctant to take advantage of these policies when they do become available because they fear negative repercussions. They need to hear positive stores from other men and encouragement from managers to utilize these policies.

Class-action lawsuits and multimillion-dollar settlements are a great way force change. We are moving in the right direction to support gender-neutral family policies. This is good news for all of us.

 

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Women and the Age Dilemma: When Are We Too Old or Too Young to Be Promoted?

Media coverage and public reaction to the slate of Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election offer a window into a core double bind for women—gendered perceptions of age that women face as they compete for advancement. A double bind is a term describing a situation where a person is caught between two irreconcilable demands or expectations. Jill Filipovic of the New York Times describes the age-based double bind for women represented by the excitement generated by the younger men running for president. She notes that in the world of work, research shows that women are promoted once managers see them perform well, while men are promoted if managers believe in their potential or promise. In other words, women have to prove themselves and men don’t. Filipovic observes that these same beliefs and practices are being played out now in politics.

The age range of the 2020 Democratic candidates is quite large: from 37 to 78 years of age. Filipovic notes that being between 37 and 46 years old and relatively unknown seems to be an advantage for the Democratic men who are generating excitement for being fresh faces and young, but for the women, “unfamiliarity and youth end up being tied to incompetence.” As in the workplace, the young men in the race are generating excitement without having accomplished nearly as much as the older women in the race:

  • Pete Buttigieg, at 37, is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana; Beto O’Rourke, 46, is the Texas congressman who lost a Senate race to Ted Cruz; Andrew Yang, 44, is a corporate lawyer turned entrepreneur; and Tim Ryan, 45, is known as the congressman who challenged Nancy Pelosi for the speaker role.
  • In contrast, the women in the race, who are in their 50s and 60s, had to prove themselves first. They entered politics later in life after spending years building up accomplishments and legislative and executive experience and recognition to be considered credible. But they are no longer considered “fresh” or exciting by the public or media.

In fact, Filipovic points out, age poses an unsolvable problem for women. She notes that “they are seen as too young and inexperienced right up until the time they are branded too old and tedious,” as is the case for Elizabeth Warren. In her late 60s, she is portrayed in the media as old, along with Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, although she is ten years younger than they are. Men running for president in 2020 who are more or less the same age as Warren—Sherrod Brown (66), John Hickenlooper (67), and Jay Inslee (68)—are not lumped in with the white-haired candidates.

Filipovic notes that women in their 40s are seen as in a hurry, too ambitious and unwilling to pay their dues; women in their 50s are seen as old news; and women in their 60s are seen as old. She asks, “When, exactly, is a woman supposed to go to the White House?” That is the question that we must keep asking.

 

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Work Has Changed: The Impact on Women

New research, reported by Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times, notes that while American women are more educated than ever, a smaller share of college-educated women in their early forties are working today than a decade ago. In fact, the most educated women face the biggest gender gap in seniority and pay. Miller points out that women aren’t only opting out of careers because of discrimination, a lack of childcare, or a dearth of paid family leave policies. While these factors all contribute, research by sociologists and economists has converged on a new understanding of the way the nature of work has changed and how this change disproportionately impacts women’s careers. Researchers Youngjoo Cha at Indiana University, Kim Weeden at Cornell, and Mauricio Bucca at the European University Institute explain that “new ways of organizing work reproduce old forms of inequality.” Their findings include multiple alarming statistics:

  • In the last two decades, salaried workers have earned more by working long hours. Four decades ago, people who worked fifty hours a week made less per hour than did those who worked forty hours per week. Today, people who overwork—working sixty hours a week or more—are paid a premium and those with round-the-clock availability earn disproportionally more.
  • Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard, notes that overwork is most extreme in managerial jobs and in the greedy professions, such as finance, law and consulting. These professions demand long, inflexible hours—which has canceled out the effects of women’s educational gains.
  • Goldin explains, “Being willing to work 50 percent more doesn’t mean you make 50 percent more, you make like 100 percent more.” Goldin notes that financial rewards for working extra long hours don’t’ have a gender gap, but far fewer women seek such rewards, particularly mothers. Someone has to take care of the children, and usually that person is the mother. She cuts back on her hours, diminishes her future earning potential, flatlines her career, and underutilizes her education so that her spouse can maximize his earning potential for the family by overworking.
  • Men are much more likely to have a spouse who is on call at home. Cha reports that three-quarters of men in the top 1 percent of earners have an at-home spouse. Just one-quarter of women in the top 1 percent of earners do. In dual-earner households in which a man worked sixty or more hours, women were three times as likely to quit their jobs.

Miller points out that highly educated women aren’t the only ones impacted by the changing nature of work. Unpredictable and inflexible hours pose a challenge to family life and careers for same-sex parents, middle-class families, and low-income workers. She notes that researchers have focused on college-educated women because they are most prepared to have big careers, but their careers tend to flatline. In dual-career families with children, when one career takes priority, it is generally the man’s.

Several factors have contributed to the overwork trend affecting women. Technology makes people more accessible at all hours; business has become more global and people are now expected to work across time zones; the wealth gap in society makes people feel less secure; employment is increasingly unstable; work has become more competitive; and working long hours is a status symbol and a way to stand out.

What can be done to change the nature of work? Goldin states that most solutions for how to close the gender gap are merely band-aids because the problem is systemic. She suggests that the very nature of work needs to change, which will only happen if people demand it. Younger men say they want more involvement in family life. Employers want to keep talent and may listen if young men start to quit. Employers may even begin to notice that they are losing out on women’s talents and training by requiring and rewarding only long and inflexible hours.

We need to start a discussion on a national level about the nature of work and how to make it more humane for everyone. Everyone will benefit if work is predictable and flexible and rewards reflect quality instead of quantity of hours, and employers will gain access to talent pools that are not available to them now.

 

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How We Can Elect a Woman President in 2020

It’s happening again. We were told that Hillary Clinton did not win in 2016 because she was “unlikeable.” Now six amazing women are running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and none of them seem “likable” either. What is going on? Claire Bond Potter, writing for the New York Times highlights the discrepancies in women candidate coverage:

  • None of the exciting female presidential candidates has yet led in the polls.
  • Men keep joining the race and receiving glowing press coverage while the women are described in the press as follows:
    • Kamala Harris is “hard to define.”
    • Amy Klobuchar is “mean.”
    • Elizabeth Warren is “not likeable enough” as a “wonky professor.”
  • The press overlooks the fact that Harris raised the most money at the opening of her campaign while they exclaim over the lesser amounts raised by male candidates.

Jennifer Wright of Harper’s Bazaar writes that while “four very nice white men”—Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders—are all on covers of magazines, women and men of color are also running but are hardly visible. Instead, she notes several differences in news coverage:

  • Vanity Fair gushes over how much O’Rourke likes to read but ignores that Warren has written eleven books.
  • The press exclaims that Buttigieg speaks Norwegian but doesn’t mention that Kirsten Gillibrand speaks fluent Mandarin.
  • While Warren and Gillibrand have never lost an election, O’Rourke is best known for losing to Ted Cruz and Biden lost in 1988 and 2008, yet the media keeps discussing whether the women are “electable.”
  • Women running in the campaign have solid national leadership experience and policy plans but are discussed as standing no chance against less-qualified men.

Let’s be clear, both women and men have internalized the notion that women can’t be leaders and judge women harshly for aspiring to executive office. In a previous article, we cited Nilanjana Dasgupta of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who explains that “when people are consistently exposed to leaders who fit one profile [male], they will be more likely to notice leaders who fit that same profile in the future.” This is an example of unconscious bias. In other words, even when a woman acts like a leader, her talents are less likely to be noticed or identified as leadership because the generally accepted profile of a leader is a man.

Perhaps because we have never had a woman as president of the United States, both women and men in this country cannot imagine or feel comfortable with women in the role of president. It does not help that the women candidates get very little coverage in the media and we do not get to know them. We also all need to examine our unconscious bias about women leaders and the “likability” factor. Potter challenges us to stop focusing on likability, a “nebulous, arbitrary and meaningless” standard, and instead vote for candidates who you trust to do the work of leading our country and our world. She notes, “If Americans can learn to like and trust women in Congress in record numbers, maybe they can learn to trust women as presidential candidates too—and maybe even like them.”

It’s really time to dismiss and eradicate the likability factor as relevant and focus instead on ability and experience.

 

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Sexual Harassment in the Military: It’s Getting Worse for Women

The American military has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the last ten years in sexual harassment prevention and education, but the problem is getting worse for women. Dave Philipps of the New York Times reports several alarming statistics:

  • Sexual assaults in the military have increased by 50 percent in the last two years against women in uniform.
  • The Department of Defense’s Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military estimates 20,500 instances of “unwanted sexual contact” in 2018, based on a survey of women and men across all branches of the military.
  • Assaults on men remained flat while assaults on women recorded the biggest increase in years.
  • Women make up 20 percent of the military but are the targets of 63 percent of the assaults.
  • Active military personnel are experiencing more assaults, but despite significant increases in the availability of sexual assault specialists and victim advocates, they are less likely than before to report the assaults.
  • Philipps notes that a separate report in January 2019 showed that the number of sexual assaults at the service academies has also risen by 50 percent for women since 2016, showing that the problem is just as rampant among the military’s future leaders as for the current ones.

Representative Jackie Speier and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand are each leading two different concerted efforts to pass legislation that would create an independent prosecutor for sexual harassment cases in the military, but the military has lobbied against this legislation. Under the current system, only military commanders have the authority to determine whether an assault has occurred and to impose punishment. The commanders do not want to relinquish any of their authority. Even Senator Martha McSally, who came forward last year to reveal that she had been raped by a superior officer and suffered numerous other sexual assaults, opposes shifting authority over assault cases away from commanding officers. McSally even admits that she never reported her assaults for fear of retaliation.

The current system is not working. While the survey found that more assaults are occurring, fewer are being reported: fewer than 30 percent were reported in 2018, down from 32 percent in 2016. Philipps notes, “A large majority of victims do not trust the system” to handle the cases well or protect them from retaliation. Structural change is needed.

Please encourage your congressional representatives to support legislation that protects women in the military.

 

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Where Are the Women?

As an adult woman, I am always looking for or tracking whether women are represented in different settings. I look at photos of national and world leaders and count the few faces of women in these groups. I go to art galleries and look for the works by women artists, often searching in vain. I notice lots of statues of military men on horses in public places and rarely see statues of women.

Children also notice the lack of female leaders and role models in public life. Elizabeth Renzetti of the Globe and Mail of Canada writes that after recent losses in national elections, for the first time in many years, Canada currently has no female premiers for any of its provinces. Renzetti cites research by Kate Graham, a political scientist at Western University, involving groups of five-year-old girls. When the girls were shown a group picture of Canada’s current premiers and asked if they noticed anything, they all did. “There’s only one girl,” the children responded. Only one of the premiers was a woman when this research was conducted before the recent election. Now there are none. The children noticed.

Renzetti notes that adults should also be concerned about the absence of women in Canada’s leadership for the following reasons:

  • Diversity promotes better decision-making when developing public policy.
  • Young women need to see themselves represented if they are to believe they can go into political life.
  • Women bring particular knowledge and life experience to policymaking that has implications for half of the population. Their perspective will be missing if they are not at the decision-making table.

On another note, Gail Collins of the New York Times writes that, at last, some statues that honor the accomplishments of women are being created by the City of New York, a city she describes as having a “wildly man-centric population of public monuments.” New York City has commissioned five new statues, one for each borough:

  • A statue will be placed in Manhattan to honor Elizabeth Jennings, a fearless twenty-four-year-old black woman who started the integration of the New York City transit system in 1854. Long before Rosa Parks, Jennings refused to leave a trolley car when told it was for whites only. Collins reports that Jennings clung to an open window frame crying “murder” when the conductor tried to pull her from the trolley. A police officer shoved her off the trolley onto the street, ruining her dress and bonnet. Her family filed suit against the street car company for discrimination and won. Several follow-up lawsuits later, segregation in the New York City transit system came to an end. A statue to Jennings will be placed next to Grand Central Station. It’s about time.
  • A statue to honor Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in Congress, will be placed in Brooklyn at the entrance to Prospect Park. It’s about time.
  • Billie Holiday, the great blues singer, will have a statue in Queens. It’s about time.
  • A statue of Helen Rodríguez Trías, a pioneer in treating families affected by HIV, will be placed in the Bronx. It’s about time.
  • Katherine Walker will be honored with a statue on Staten Island. A tiny widow, Walker ran a lighthouse alone outside of New York Harbor in the early 1900s until she was seventy-three. When boats would start to sink in rough waters, she would row to the rescue and is credited with saving at least fifty lives. It’s about time.

The absence of women in public roles and public spaces sends a strong message to girls that they do not belong. It’s time for us to send a different message.

 

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Men Know What Consent Is

As I read and hear about continuous accusations of date rape on campuses and sexual assault by bosses—accusations that are usually denied vigorously by the men accused (and it is usually men)—I cannot help but wonder how people think that men do not know what consent is. As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I have no question in my mind that I did not give consent and that my attacker knew full well what he was doing. How can a person think that it is acceptable to use physical force to pin someone to a bed who is struggling to get up or to force someone’s head down to perform oral sex? This is not consent.

Because of these questions, I was interested to read an article by Peggy Orenstein, a well-known scholar on gender differences. Orenstein reports that she interviewed high school and college students over the past two years, most of who came across to her as “friendly, thoughtful, bright, engaging young men.” Many of these young men reported to her that they have “sort of” raped girls, have pushed women’s heads down to get oral sex, have taken a Snapchat video of a date performing oral sex on them and sent it to the baseball team—and yet see themselves as “good guys.” How can this be?

Orenstein cites the research of Nicole Bedera, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan who interviewed male college students in 2015. Bedera reports that each male student could articulate at least a basic understanding of consent: both parties wanted to be doing what they were doing. Many of the young men had a sophisticated understanding of refusal and consent. Most of these students also endorsed the standard of “yes means yes,” which requires “active, conscious, continuous and freely given agreement by all parties engaging in sexual activity.” Yet when asked about their own recent sexual activity, “even men who claimed to practice affirmative consent often had not.” When this conflict between their understanding and actions was pointed out to them by the researcher, they expanded their definition of consent rather than question their own conduct. In some cases, the researcher reports that the expanded definitions of consent became so elastic that they met the legal definition of assault. If they were aware that their sex partner had become upset by their behavior, some young men rationalized it, got angry with the woman involved, and blamed her for refusing them.

Orenstein cites another study conducted on 1,200 college students in 2016 by researchers at Confi, an online resource dedicated to women’s health. In this study, one in four men believed that women usually have to be “convinced” for sex to happen and the behavior of a “tipsy” guy was more acceptable than a sober one. These beliefs allow young men to let themselves off the hook if they are accused of assault.

Orenstein offers these conclusions:

  • Young men still too often learn to prioritize their pleasure over women’s feelings and interpret a partner’s behavior through the lens of their own wishes.
  • We need to fully educate boys not only about the importance of consensual, ethical, and mutually pleasurable sexuality but also the ways their own sense of entitlement may blind them to those values, leading them to cause harm.

We still have a long way to go to educate both boys and men.

 

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