|by Jennifer Hicks, Director of Online Content
“If women ‘have it all,’ then why don’t they have the most basic requirements to achieve equality in the work force?” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Susan Faludi wrote in 1991.
So, what are these basic requirements and why do many of us still experience some elements of inequality?
More Careers Require Advanced Education
Education has something to do with it. Eight of the 10 fastest growing occupations over the next few years will be in the information technology field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and about 11.8 million computer services jobs will be added by 2008. Most will require at least some higher education.
Yet women have been leaving computer science and engineering programs in droves over the past decade. And, although these degrees are not essential to go into the growing the fields, having one helps — and works as a lasso for higher pay.
WomenEmployed is one organization campaigning for women’s advancement in the workplace. They advocate increased education and professional training for women as paths toward higher pay and more control over work environments.
“The most important thing a woman can do is get more education,” said Executive Director Anne Ladky. “We recommend at least a two-year program after high school or special occupational training.”
According to Ladky’s organization:
Women Still Must Balance Work and Family
Also contributing to the barriers to equality is the fact that no matter how well-intentioned some dads may be, women still bear the brunt of child care and family work.
Although the Family Leave Act requires companies to allow working parents greater flexibility, real obstacles remain in reconciling work and family commitments.
A February 2002 report, ‘Integrating Work and Family Life, commissioned by the Alfred P. Sloan Institute and written by management professors at MIT and Penn State University, explains the reason:
Many women must still choose between career advancement and familial love and care.
Beginning to understand this, and desperate for talented workers over the past boom years, many companies (see sidebar “Working Mother’s Magazine Best Companies”) have instituted some family-friendly
policies such as offering onsite childcare, job-sharing, flex-time, or gradual return to work, but in general “there has not been much progress on family-friendly policies,” said Ladky.
In fact, some women have found the family friendly policies to be more an attempt at public relations than actual tools that help. They find that leaving a career to care for a child puts them on the “mommy track” rather than the fast track, and they hit the glass ceiling with a loud thump.
Career advancement and higher pay seems reserved for single women. “In 1981, women age 25-39 without kids earned 88 percent of men’s hourly wages,” according to an analysis of March 2001 Current Population Survey data by the Employment Policy Foundation. “In 2001, women in this group earned 96 percent of the amount that similar men earn,”
Highlighting the financial impact of having a family is work done by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett.
She surveyed high-achieving women, and found that 49 percent of those earning more than $100,000 a year were childless, compared to 19 percent of their comparable male executives. Only 14% of the childless women said they had not wanted children.
And meanwhile, the wage gap for all women looms.
Understanding the Wage Gap
The gap between men and women’s wages has been closing over the last 20 years and women’s earnings have climbed at least 12 percentage points relative to men’s earnings during that time, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis.
Yet we are still behind, and, in general, earn 76 cents for each dollar earned by a man. And for women in management, the news is less than heartening.
A January 2002 report, A New Look Through the Glass Ceiling shows that the gender gap was wider in 2000 than in 1995 in both earnings and percentage of management positions. The Government Accounting Office studied 10 industries — which in total, employ 71% of all female workers. It found the following:
A Dawning Recognition?
The increase in the number of women in the workforce, combined with some societal changes, has begun to have an impact.
“Women have made major advances into managerial, professional and technical occupations — high paying fields that have led both job growth and earnings growth,” says the Employment Policy Foundation in Washington, D.C. “In 1981, women accounted for 38 percent of jobholders in these leading occupations, but in 2001, the number of women in management, professional and technical field accounted for 51 percent of these jobs.”
There is also a new initiative in the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau called “Strengthening the Family.” It’s designed to address financial security for working women, increase workplace flexibility with family time, and address worker shortages in the interest of the welfare of women. “We will take a leadership role on several key issues important to women and families at the state and federal levels,” said Women’s Bureau spokesperson in reference to 2002 legislative priorities.
On the negative side however, consider the fate of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). After 23 years of advocacy by women’s rights organizations, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing in June to discuss the ratification of CEDAW, but has since postponed a scheduled vote. Ratified by 170 countries, the United States is the only industrialized nation that has not ratified CEDAW. A vote has been rescheduled for July 31, 2002.
If the treaty is finally ratified, it could signal better times for women — or at least a strengthening of our rights in the United States as well as the rights of women worldwide.
Where the Work Will Be
If you want to work where the wage gap is less, consider:
If you want an equal chance at a management spot, consider going into one of the five industries the GAO studied that appear to have no statistically significant difference between the percent of management positions filled by women and the percent of all industry positions filled by women:
And then, there are the areas of technology and science.
Between the 2000-2010 period, the number of computer specialists is projected to increase by more than two-thirds, adding nearly two million jobs, or nine percent of all projected growth during the period, according to the Department of Labor.
Women constitute almost half of the American labor force, yet fill only 12 percent of the nation’s lucrative jobs in science, engineering and technology, according to Linda Basch, executive director of theNational Council for Research on Women.
“Even with the considerable progress made by women and girls in science and technology, too many women still feel they learn and work in unfriendly or hostile environments in labs and other technological workplaces,” said Basch.
There is encouragement for more diversity in the sciences through recruitment programs. But while work continues to bring more women of all backgrounds and people of color into the sciences, strategists are now focusing on retaining members of these groups and advancing them into positions of leadership.
“I’m a supporter of all the science programs for women and girls, but they don’t necessarily make a lot of institutional change.” said Donna Hughes, director of Women’s Studies, Science and Engineering Curriculum Project at University of Rhode Island. “Once the programs are over, the old culture can just reassert itself. I sometimes feel we’re just rallying the girls onward against the wall and hoping a few more manage to make it.”
As President Lyndon B. Johnson declared in a 1965 speech, “It is not enough just to open the gates of equality. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.” And one way to walk through those gates is to encourage more family-friendly, women-friendly organizations.
Mary Funke, manager of JobSpectrum.org at the American Chemical Society, knows what it takes for a company to be women-friendly.