In Mrs. Burrows’ seventh grade English class, I wrote a paper entitled Women vs. Men in the Work Force. I researched for weeks and weeks to get all of the information I could on pay differences, percentages of working women and what jobs they were doing.
In 1988, my paper focused on sexual discrimination and the wage difference. For example, in 1998, ?women received 63% of the pay men received for the same job.? I remember finding that out and asking my dad why that was happening. My father, parent of two daughters who instructed them never to be dependent on a man, did not have a good explanation for this inequality.
Sexual discrimination was just starting to be a hot topic in 1988. Here is my favorite quote from my paper:
?Sixty-two percent of working women who are employed full-time believe that discrimination prevents them from getting top jobs in business and government. Sexual discrimination seems to occur the most. For example, one female executive on her way to the top told of how she fought back. She and some of her male colleagues were in a business meeting when they started to kid her about her short skirts. In reaction to their joking, she put a shapely leg up onto the table and asked her challenger whether or not he saw anything wrong with it. This unusual comeback won her points from her adversaries. Women who have reached top corporate positions have said that getting used to such joking is one of the hardest problems to overcome in an executive job.?
Joking is one of the hardest problems to overcome in an executive job? It seems so trivial compared to issues such as the slowly shrinking wage gap, new family-friendly company benefits, and the ever popular catch phrase the ?glass-ceiling?.
I have found that the three P’s are main issues for today’s working woman trying to have it all. The three P’s are Pay, Position and Parenting.
Despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act was signed more than 35 years ago, full-time working women between the ages of 25 and 35 earn only 84% of the weekly earnings of men their age. Alexis Herman, Secretary of the US Department of Labor, has the following to say: ?This generation of women has invested greatly in education, returned quickly to the labor force after child birth, held more full time jobs and sought more nontraditional jobs than any in our nation’s history. Their mere presence in the labor force has transformed our work culture, spurred new industries, and infused the nation’s labor force with a ready supply of educated and skilled workers. It is difficult to imagine our nation’s economy without them.?
Indeed, working women have come a long way since 1963 when the wage gap stood at 59%. In 1997, the ratio was down to 26%. The expansion of the female labor force in the 1960’s and 1970’s largely reflected the entry of married women into the labor force, especially those with children. In 1960, only a quarter of married women with children worked or was looking for work. By 1975, 44% of married mothers were in the labor force. The numbers of women graduating form college and graduate school grew as well. In 1960, 35% of all bachelors and first professional degrees were awarded to women. By 1975, 45% of all bachelors’ degrees went to women. Women’s’ rising level of education and experience in the labor market, and their growing share of better-paying managerial and professional jobs have been critical in increasing women’s real earnings during the 1980’s and maintaining their level during the 1990’s.Yet, even with these good-paying jobs, women’s average earnings have not reached those of men. 1997 Bureau of Labor Statistics has weekly wage data showing that women earned less than men in 99% of all occupations for which data is available.
I have had first hand experience with this wage gap. Recently, our small electrical contracting firm (about 15 office employees and 120 field employees) hired the president’s brother, Jim, to perform purchasing and accounts payable tasks. He had worked in the warehouse of one of our large oil clients and was being downsized. He is mid-thirties with no college education. The job he was being hired for was pretty straight forward and had a lot of room for him to improve the way we did things. As the office manager, I was to oversee and train him in the accounts payable portion of his job. When I asked for his employment package to enter payroll information, I was shocked to see that he was hired at $2000 more a year than myself. (Which is a pretty penny with the amount of money I make.) I let it go and figured that he was worth it and would indeed be worth this amount.
Four months later, he has created more work for my assistant, the receptionist, the Controller and myself. We have had to take the accounts payable function away from him to avoid collections and dump it on the newly hired receptionist. Ironically, the receptionist is a woman who earns much less than Jim also and is doing a terrific job. His job has been cut in half, he does a terrible job, and yet will never be fired due to the nepotism issue.
Meanwhile, the three women in the company (my assistant, the receptionist and myself) are among the lowest paid personnel in the company.
Education levels for women at the undergraduate and masters degree levels began to match those of men in 1981 and 1982. Earnings for college educated women finally began to surpass those of men who had not attended college. In my case, this is not true even today with the situation I face. Both my assistant and myself have AA degrees and I will have my BS in Business this spring. As I stated earlier, Jim has only a high school diploma and a brother who owns the company. Evidently, the nepotism aspect is more important than quality work.
Among women in the 25 to 34 year age group, the fields that led to the best earning ratios within occupations were: accounting, chemistry, computer and information sciences, engineering, mathematics and pharmacy.
Gains for young, highly educated and motivated women without children have been impressive indeed. However, as economist Katha Pollitt has pointed out, ?young men and women have always had earnings more comparable than those of their elders. Starting salaries are generally low, and do not accurately reflect the advantages that accrue, or fail to accrue, over time as men advance and women stay in place, or as women in mostly female kinds of jobs reach the end of characteristically short career paths.?
Another notable way women are making strides in the work place is in terms of position. As technology re-invents the way we do business, clerical jobs are becoming more technical, allowing women in these positions to flourish. Two such women who have made tremendous progress were recently featured in the Wall Street Journal.
People like Sharon Leahy, a Vice President for Tri-United Co, have morphed the secretary’s role into a position of greater responsibility and authority. This new role goes by many names: executive assistant, office professional and even vice president. Ms. Leahy’s job was developed over more than two decades with her company into a management position. She is a Vice President, Operations, Office Manager and Executive Assistant to the CEO, Mr. Moshe Menora. Her career illustrates that dead-end jobs are often in the eye of the beholder.She has shown with some anticipation, ambition and assertiveness, you can create new challenges for yourself by re-thinking the dimensions of your job.
Another woman who has made inroads on the international front is Monique Maddy. As part of a graduate program at Harvard, she decided to study the commercial potential for expanded phone service in Tanzania. Instead of holing up in a library, she led a team of six students to Africa for a three-month investigation; a $100,000 venture she financed by selling her research in advance to Sprint, Motorola, GE and Lockheed Martin.
Eventually, after almost going bankrupt and fracturing her leg in a running accident, Adesemi Communications International has 1000 wireless pay phones in Tanzania and contracts in Ghana and Sri Lanka are imminent. The company is also developing wireless kiosks for Internet access and will hose web pages enabling artisans, farmers, and other small time entrepreneurs to set up shop in a global marketplace.
As seen with Ms. Maddy, the trend towards women owned businesses has had phenomenal growth. In 1977, women owned fewer than 1 million businesses. By 1992, they owned nearly 6.4 million. Today, that number has increased to 8 million ? one third of all firms. Women-owned businesses contribute in revenues $2.3 trillion annually in revenues to the economy and employ one out of every five US workers ? 18.5 million.
In the last few years, some women’s leaders have commented that the continuing existence of the glass ceiling has fueled the sky rocketing growth in woman-owned businesses. A February 1998 study by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners found that 29% of women business owners with corporate experience said that ?glass ceiling issues? were significant in motivating them to start their own company.
Most working women in the US have children at some point in their prime working years. In 1997, 40% of all working women had children under the age of 18 at home. New mothers are returning to the work force sooner after having children and are more likely to continue working for pay than they are to become homemakers and care for their own children exclusively. In 1996, 54% of women were back on the job by their baby’s first birthday, while 63% of moms with 2-year-old children held paying jobs.
During the late 1980’s and 1990’s, the proportion of families maintained by women increased greatly. In 1997, women maintained 18% of all families.In these families, women’s earnings made up 75% of total family income. Child support or public assistance, we can assume, probably provides the other 25%.
This participation of mothers in the work force has led to the new catch phrase of the 1990’s ? ?family friendly? workplaces. Recently, The Today Show featured Fannie Mae as a family friendly workplace on their MSNBC web site. Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest provider of funds for home mortgages, was included for the fourth time on MSNBC’s list of family friendly businesses. Females (1838) staff fifty-six percent of the company.
Some of the benefits for employees of Fannie Mae include:
1. Work at home programs
2. Job sharing
4. Compressed workweeks
5. Part-time benefits
Other family friendly benefits are:
1. An on site child care center in Washington DC. The company covers 100% of the operating costs of the center. It provides after school, holiday and summer programs.
2. Provides backup child care subsidies, pre-tax set asides, reimbursement of child care costs for business travel and overtime, and sick child days.
3. Leave for child birth, paternity leave, adoption assistance, time off for R;R
4. Profit sharing with company matched funds, scholarships for children of employees, 100% health insurance coverage for employees and 50-100% for dependents, elder care and more.
Another site entitled KidsCampaign by the Benton Foundation has 101 ways to improve your workplace. Number fifty-three is entitled: The first step to making your company family friendly: Establish a checklist of goals. On this page, it defines a family friendly company as ?a company that provides a job to a parent who would otherwise be without employment.?
I took the quiz offered to see if my company was family friendly. The quiz included about 20 features that a family friendly company might offer. Some of the features include schedule flexibility, healthcare, time off, job sharing, etc. However, the first feature was compensation. ?If your company is paying women less than men for comparable work, it’s hurting children ? particularly the children of single mothers. Ironically, two out of the three women in our company are single mothers.
Another problem I have encountered at my company is the hiring of single mothers with small children. Currently, the two single mothers at the company both have older children. Recently, before these two women were hired, we had numerous women, all with small children, who constantly missed work because of the children. In the interview, they offered the information about being a single mother and guaranteed it not to be a problem or interfere with their work schedule (8 to 5, Monday through Friday). In every case (4 women total), they missed work too much and were let go because if it. Now, my boss will not hire any single mother, period.
Another example of this kind of treatment is one I heard tonight from a fellow classmate. She is a single woman with no children, engaged and about to finish her degree in the spring. She works in a male dominated field and is looking to move up within her small company after graduation. Her boss, a good friend of the family and an all-around nice guy, flat out stated that the first thing he thinks when he has hired women in the past is about the pregnancy issue. Will she get pregnant and need a lot of time off, forcing me to hire temporary help and costing me money. This is the dilemma facing single mothers and employers today.
As we move into the new millennium, we must wage a multi-faceted effort for equity. We must strengthen and enforce vigorously our laws against wage discrimination. We must shatter the glass ceiling so women can compete fairly for well-paying jobs in business, government and other arenas. More companies need to recognize the need for family friendly workplaces to accommodate both men and women who are responsible for a family.
The battle for equal pay, positions and the ever-increasing awareness of the importance of parenting issues within the company continues to improve the quality of life for all working men and women. I hope that in ten years I can write
Women vs. Men in the Work Force ? Part Three and show that the wage gap has been sewn shut with the thread of economic equality.
Castro, Ida. Equal Pay: A Thirty-five Year Perspective. US Department of Labor
Conshafter, Jana. Women vs. Men in the Work Force. Mrs. Burrows’ seventh-grade English class at Actis Jr. High, Bakersfield, California. 1988
Lancaster, Hal. Sharon Leahy Turned Her Clerical Position Into a Management Position. Wall Street Journal. September 23, 1998.
Petzinger, Thomas. Monique Maddy Uses Wireless Pay Phones to Battle Poverty. Wall Street Journal. September 25, 1998.
Post, Lawrence and Weber. Business and Society: Corporate Strategy, Public Policy,Ethics. Irwin McGraw-Hill. Ninth edition, 1998.
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Handbook of Labor Statistics, 1989
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment and Earnings, January 1998
? NOTES ?
Table 1 source: Economic Census Women-Owned Businesses, selected issues