On International Womens Day 2012, Gender Inequality in American Business Still a Problem


On International Women’s Day, we pose the big question: how far have women come? Recent statistics demonstrate that despite an increase in women’s income, the number of women completing post-secondary education and the number of women finding full-time employment, there is still a visible disparity in income and workplace presence between the two genders in the U.S.

The fact that women continue to face all these inequalities regardless of the progress that has been achieved in the past few decades, means that employers and companies need to undertake long-term initiatives to ensure that there is equality in both employment opportunities and income between their male and female employees. This needs to be executed through implementing quotas, creating campaigns and programs that increase awareness and promotion of equality in the workplace, and to establish programs that support women who return from maternity or child care leaves, and to raise awareness of the option of paternal leaves.

Quotas for women in the workplace have already been enforced in several European states including France, Italy, and the Netherlands, with the European Union now considering enforcing mandatory quotas for all member states. Quotas raise a few issues of their own, one of them being that they could unjustly eliminate qualified employees from positions for the purpose of fulfilling a mandatory quota. However, the representation of women in the Fortune 500 boards is increasing at a glacial rate, climbing from 12.4% in 2001 to 16.1% in 2011; an increase that comprises less than 4%. Quotas are necessary in institutions and companies where equality has persistently lacked, as it presents the opportunity for qualified women to be a part of the most influential groups in their companies.

Women’s enrollment in degree-granting institutions and at levels of education and at varying ages has increased at a steadily growing rate in the U.S in the past century. In 1989, the total fall enrollment in degree-granting institutions for women was 7,348,545, a decade later in fall of 1999 the rate of enrollment for women had increased to 8,300,578, and another decade later, in fall of 2009, enrollment for women had increased to 9,969,839.

Women’s enrollment in education is currently at its highest in the U.S., with statistics showing that women’s total enrollment in degree-granting institutions has steadily increased over men’s total enrollment since 1979. Comparing enrollment levels of the two genders exposes a discrepancy that cannot be explained – why does employment and income inequality remain between the two genders, when women are completing post-secondary education at a higher rate than men?

The Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963 to eliminate income disparities in the workplace that form due to discrimination. Since then, income equality between men and women has grown at an extremely slow rate. In 1963, when the act was signed, women’s dollar earnings were 58.9% of what men were receiving, and by 2010 – 47 years after the act was signed – women’s dollar earnings had increased a meager 18.5 per cent to 77.4% of men’s dollar earnings.

In order to fix these persistent issues, businesses need to create programs and campaigns geared to raising awareness of income disparities, employment inequalities and the unconscious bias that revolves around women in advanced positions, and to consequently eliminate them.

Companies also need to establish preparation programs for women who are returning from maternity or child care leaves so that they can be quickly integrated into their work without feeling at a disadvantage due to their break from work. Another option pertaining to pregnancy and child care is that of paternity leave. Paternity leaves are protected by The Family and Medical Leave Act as much as maternity leaves are protected by the U.S. Pregnancy discrimination Act and should therefore be promoted in the workplace to encourage men to share the drawback of being absent from work due to matters pertaining to family, such as adoption or a child’s birth.

Women have made significant strides in the workplace in the U.S. with statistics demonstrating a steady climb in women’s pay, employment in highly esteemed positions, and full-time employment. However, the increases are occurring at a very slow rate, and do not reflect the rapid increase of educated women in the U.S. Employers need to develop long-term plans to ensure equality in both income and opportunities between female and male employees.

Photo Credit: mirmicfly