This March we celebrate Women’s History Month (WHM) – an annual event highlighting the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. Congress designated March as National Women’s History Month in 1987, seven years after the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) was founded in Santa Rosa, California. The first observance of a Women’s Day, however, was celebrated on February 28, 1909, here in New York. A year later, March 8 was suggested by the 1910 International Socialist Woman’s Conference to become an “International Woman’s Day.”
According to the NWHP, “Today our aim is as clear and simple as it was 25 years ago: to teach as many people as possible about women’s role in history.” And while this goal of accrediting exceptional women for piloting reforms in a society obstructed by its own hatred and exclusionary practices is worthwhile, limiting this praise and tribute to one month out of the year does not feel like enough. This is perhaps due to the fact that this year, WHM comes on the heels of numerous, high-profile sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations—many, if not most, of which occurred in the workplace (see a previous blog on this topic here).
The fact that so many women have been and continue to be ignored, while those who exploit, attack, and abuse are condoned and excused, has affected this year’s month-long celebration and commemoration of women like some parasitic astringency. And, as a result, it can seem futile at times to passively acknowledge the strength and excellence of a few, when so many women are subjected to unfair employment practices, unequal pay, and unwanted sexual advances.
According to the United States Department of Labor, women account for approximately 47% of the total U.S. labor force today, a 30% increase from 1950 (see a graph about this here). Yet approximately four in ten working women (42%) in the United States say they have faced discrimination on the job because of their gender. Gender discrimination in the workplace takes on many forms, from discriminatory employee-employer interactions to material wages gained from one’s job. For example, a recent study found that women are roughly four times as likely as men to say they have been treated as if they were not competent because of their gender (23% of employed women versus 6% of men).
One in four working women say they have earned less than a man who was doing the same job. In 2016, women earned, on average, 83 cents for every dollar earned by men (by comparison, the Census Bureau found that women earned 80% of what their male counterparts earned in 2015 when looking at full-time, year-round workers only). Based on this estimate, it would take an extra 44 days of work for women to earn what men did in 2015.
While this may be an improvement from 1980, when women earned 64 cents for every dollar earned by men, the reasons that the gender wage gap persists are complex. Women’s earnings tend to decline roughly 10 years into their work lives when many women begin to face the challenges that come with balancing work and family life, as women are still often affected by sexist stereotypes about a woman’s role in the home and family; for example, a 2017 study found that women of all ages did more housework than their male partners, regardless of income or how much they worked outside of the home (see a previous blog we wrote here about family-work trade-offs for female physicians). Moreover, there are other factors that are difficult to quantify, such as pervasive gender discrimination, the persistence of gender stereotypes, women’s limited access to male-dominated professional networks, and mentoring opportunities.
All people—whether male or female, employer or employee—must work to end gender discrimination in the workplace. The theme of this year’s WHM is Nevertheless She Persisted, adopted by the feminist movement after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell uttered this sentence to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was speaking out against the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, criticizing his record on civil rights. But achieving the goal of gender equality should no longer be the sole responsibility of strong individual women who persisted in the face of discrimination. Now, especially in light of this past year’s events, it is time for our workplace culture and policies to create a foundation of support and equality for all workers.
If you believe you are being discriminated against based on your gender or have been sexually harassed or assaulted at work, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.