Gender Discrimination Persists in the Workplace

Women may outnumber men in the workforce and on US campuses, but gender discrimination hangs on stubbornly in the workplace. The oft-quoted statistic that women earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man can be debated, as various complicating factors do enter the picture (such as education, experience, and choice of profession).

But taking all that into account, women still earned less than men in 2007 in every industry and every occupational category, including those fields dominated by women. It’s no wonder 1 in 2.94 employed females believes she is paid less than her male counterpart.

A study conducted by employment firm Hudson Highland found female managers tended to aim lower than their male counterparts, but it was middle-aged women, rather than younger ones, who had the most significantly lowered career expectations, perhaps suggesting they’d grown discouraged over the course of their careers. The odds an employed female believes she has fewer career advancement opportunities than her male counterparts are 1 in 3.85. And 1 in 5.56 believes she isn’t offered the same training or learning opportunities.

Overall, the odds an employed female reports she has ever experienced discrimination in the workplace are 1 in 4, and almost half of those—1 in 8.33 overall—say they have actually been fired because of their gender. The US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has fielded a 30% increase in wage discrimination charges over the past three years. In 2008 the agency resolved over 24,000 cases and recovered $109.3 million in monetary benefits for aggrieved parties—and that’s without taking into account monies awarded through lawsuits.

The issue resonates everywhere from your local mall to the Supreme Court. One-third female for the first time in history, the Court is deciding whether to review a lower court ruling granting class-action status to female Wal-Mart employees who had sued the retail giant for discriminating in promotions and pay. Meanwhile, a jury recently found drug company Novartis’s US subsidiary guilty of systemic discrimination against female employees.

The Novartis case involved not just pay and promotions but also pregnancy policy. It’s been suggested that gender discrimination persists mostly against mothers—that childless women have essentially achieved parity with men. David Leonhardt, writing in the New York Times, recently pointed to the fact that all three of the most recent female Supreme Court nominees have been single and childless, in contrast to the recent male nominees.

It’s true that taking any time off work (e.g. for childrearing) exacts a price in pay and promotions. But some argue that basic discrimination against women remains common regardless of motherhood status. Sexual harassment (with the obvious damage it can inflict on a career) certainly hasn’t gone away, and most of its victims are women.

Gender discrimination in the workplace is against the law. But however you slice it, this longstanding inequity is still with us, more than a half century after the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In spite of years of progress, there’s more to do—or at least the House of Representatives thought so when it passed the Paycheck Fairness Act last year, designed to expand available remedies available under the Equal Pay Act.

Opponents, including the US Chamber of Commerce, object that it would result in an onslaught of lawsuits and might force equal pay for unequal work. We will have to wait and see what the Senate will do.

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