Are Women and Men Treated Equally in the Workplace?
April 4, 2017 is Equal Pay Day. The choice of date is not arbitrary; it is the projected day in 2017 that women would have to work until to make the same amount of money that men made in 2016.
In other words, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity, men are paid in a year what women are paid in a year, four months and four days.
Gender inequality in the workplace is nothing new, and in many regards, the situation is improving rapidly. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, both the number and the percentage of women in the workforce has increased significantly in the last 50 years. But unfortunately, gender-based inequality remains.
“I always believed that women could do anything men could do, and that I didn’t have any different opportunities they did,” says New England College Business’ program chair for the Master of Business Administration and Master of Human Resource Management programs Carla Patalano, who has a doctorate in business administration with a concentration in human resource management. “I have come to realize that I was looking through the world with rose-colored glasses.”
More women than men receive college degrees, and the percentage of women who have completed four or more years of college has more than quadrupled since 1962. But according to the Department of Labor, women still earn only 79 cents to each dollar earned by men.
Patalano, who has worked in human resources across a wide range of industries, explains some of the reasons behind this wage gap and the challenges women face in the workplace.
Whether its childcare or elder care, the brunt of caregiving often falls on a woman. With these major responsibilities outside of work, caregivers simply might not have the time to put in as many hours. Patalano stresses that it can be difficult to find a balance between these competing priorities:
“While women are still enmeshed in those [caregiving] roles — and it’s not bad — they just don’t have the time,” she says.
The data shows that caregiving does play a role in the wage gap. According to the 2013 national averages, unmarried mothers have significantly lower median earnings than married mothers and women in general.
Underrepresentation in High-Paying Fields
According to Patalano, women tend to gravitate toward fields that don’t pay as much and aren’t in as high demand. She points to human resources as an example.
“HR directors are one of the lowest paid executives. Finance professionals are paid substantially more,” she says. “In finance, if there are 10 women total and 90 men, proportionately, it’s going to be less likely that the women rise to the top.”
Patalano praises NECB for enrolling so many women in fields where they are typically underrepresented: “We try to find women interested in fields like finance. The more opportunities we can provide and the more support — it works really well.”
Playing into Stereotypes
Females may have a tendency to over-communicate, apologize and share credit, which creates stereotypes of women being more nurturing and collegial and less ambitious and aggressive. This is detrimental, Patalano explains, because it can be perceived as detracting from your accomplishments.
“The assumption is that you are not an individual contributor, and you will be working with other people,” she says. “It’s okay to take credit.”
How to Close the Gap
No matter who you are, there are steps everyone can take toward closing the wage gap and achieving gender equality in the workplace.
Patalano notes that in each individual workplace, it’s upper management’s responsibility to set the culture. Fortunately, she says companies are doing a better job these days of being sensitive to family issues and other concerns that disproportionately affect women.
And when there are issues, that’s when HR departments come in. They should be working to gender-neutralize the application process, ensuring equal chances for all.
Patalano advises women to find mentors.
“Seek out those resources — network in your professional area, identify those people you admire that are successful and figure out what makes them successful. Incorporate what works for you, and the opportunities will open up,” she says. “You have to have that mindset that you can achieve whatever you want to do.”
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