By Devin Morrissey
The workplace has been an equal rights battleground for women since we first started taking a significant role in the workforce. Today, women make up almost 50 percent of the U.S. workforce. Yet, we continue to deal with sex discrimination on a regular basis. From income inequality to sexual harassment, government legislation for equal rights seems to be moving at a snail’s pace.
Due to the growing push from equality campaigns, like the #MeToo movement, and equal pay for equal work, a spotlight has been placed on corporations and legislators to make changes. Gender equity in the workplace can be a difficult and seemingly abstract subject to measure, but, there is enough data surrounding pay and education to talk about gender equity in a way that deals with implications drawn from facts.
Ever Changing Workplace Inequality
Income inequality is not the only discrimination women face in the workplace. From Weinstein to R. Kelly, the entertainment industry has erupted over the last year with hundreds of women coming forward as survivors of sexual harassment and abuse via the #MeToo movement. Coming forward about abuse and harassment is a crucial aspect of fighting workplace inequality, as “traditional” gender roles are constructed to keep women quiet when harassment and violence occurs.
Workplace harassment begins for women while working int their teens as a result of their limited life experience and the unequal power dynamics between employer and employee. A culture of silence across all industries feeds into the shame and guilt young women feel when they come forward; for it demands action against the ideas people have about men of influence and their credibility. If we blindly trust men to be geniuses and leaders, how can they also be abusers? But, power is found in numbers and the more victims break their silence and come forward, the more can be done to hold abusers accountable.
While women’s rights have grown and changed through each wave of feminism, sexist societal constructs have been slow to adapt; only now are these constructs under enough pressure to spark much needed systematic change. Changing pay for working women, laws that discriminate against workplace pregnancies, and policies that demand justice for sexual harassment and discrimination will likely take generations. But, unlike previous generations, these changes will happen (slowly but surely) as more victims come forward, difficult conversations are had, and awareness is raised.
Diversity in the Workplace
Many companies aim to be progressive, not only for the way it helps them be perceived socially but because of the many benefits that accrue in a diverse workplace, such as attracting and retaining a more talented workforce with a variety of ideas they bring to the table. Yet, while more companies claim to practice inclusive and progressive workplace environments, they often fall short when it comes to actually putting employees with marginalized identities in positions of power. As systemic change to address gender equity is slow to arise, companies must take deliberate policies to ensure they are actualizing inclusion and diversity practices beyond the typical lip service.
Women continue making notable strides towards equality in the workplace by pursuing promotions and pay raises they once were thought to have trouble “leaning” into. Despite this new push for equality, women in upper management positions remains alarmingly low, and the pay gap is ever present, if not larger than once calculated. This can be attributed to the myths that keep women from attaining leadership positions such as a lack of ambition due to an over-commitment to familial obligations, health issues specific to women, and the “wrong” temperament for an effective leader. While these are all stereotypes, the income inequality between genders remains a continued demonstration of the way society values women’s contributions in the workplace in particular—an in the world in general.
In the context of the current stew of social justice movements, income inequality is recognized as a weapon of systematic oppression wielded by the white men who uphold the status quo and control the majority of wealth in the U.S. With legislative arguments at a constant impasse regarding what women can do with their bodies and how to handle accusations of sexual misconduct, it is not surprising that gender equity in the workplace remains unattained. As long as employment laws continue to limit protections for women, especially when it comes to areas like maternity, women will continue to be prevented from thriving in the workplace.
We’ve come a long way since the first wave of feminism won the right to vote, but we still have a ways to go. For while awareness around the pay gap and sexual harassment is rising, we need more policies ensuring repressive laws are changed. Talk is cheap. Fighting discrimination at work demands attention and deliberate action by both men and women. Until that happens, gender equity in the workplace will remain an issue in flux.