The ever-present statistic that women are paid, on average, 77 percent of the salaries of their equally qualified, equally positioned male counterparts, is inescapable in today’s conversation of wages and inequality.
As a shocking statistic and the pinnacle of disparity between men and women in the workforce, this ratio works as a focal point leading the discussion to question what can be done to change the status of financial inequalities.
However, the crux of the issue is looking behind this disparity at why women are seen as inherently inferior and what can break the glass ceiling for women who aspire to have roles beyond middle management.
As per the international gauge for corporate financial success, females CEOs only run five the 100 top-ranked FTSE companies. In a society that seems to prioritize gender equality more and more, where are we going wrong?
In light of the undeniable, factual relevance of gender inequality, the annual Women of the World Festival in London provides a platform for women from various walks of life to discuss their good experiences with regard to societal progression, as well as their ideas to combat inequality, and the undercurrent of backlash that follows the feminist movement.
At the Bloomberg-presented conference about women in business, parliament member Tessa Jowell explained her first experience of gender bias with regard to careers, which occurred at the hands of her own father.
As a young, ambitious girl, she told her father she wished to study medicine and become a doctor like him. “No,” he replied. "You’ll waste the education money and go have babies. You can become a nurse, not a doctor."
At what age are girls taught that they’re inherently inferior to boys? Are middle-aged women paid less because they’ve been groomed since childhood to accept they’re less capable than their male counterparts?
The height of the financial disparity between professional men and women is in a person's mid-30s, but the trend starts at the beginning of careers.
Jowell explained that adolescent girls are initially paid less than boys when they work on a paper route. I can see no reasonable justification that young girls would deliver newspapers door-to-door to any lesser a degree than a young boy.
Such overt discrimination, which is based solely on intrinsic, unchangeable differences, would surely leave a lasting impact on a girl’s self esteem, potentially affecting her long-term expectations for the future.
Assuming this existing trend is continued similarly throughout a young girl’s life to adulthood, can we extrapolate that the logical effects of long-term, patriarchal grooming is the appalling disparity that affects professional women at what should be the peaks of their careers, but is, instead, the plateau of their professional shelf lives?
Perhaps, there other factors that impact the overt, financial materialization of covert discrimination against women in a modern, industrialized society.
The truth is, as well as being paid less to work in the same positions as men, women are rarely even promoted to work those same positions, namely at the top levels of business.
Confirming the aptness of the “glass ceiling” metaphor, the Glass Ceiling Commission by the same name released a report that acknowledged the unthinkable barriers professional women endure.
Considering 97 percent of Fortune 1000 companies’ senior managers are white and 95 percent to 97 percent are male, the invisible barrier is nearly tangible and is rarely penetrated by women or minorities.
In addition to being confined well within the bounds of their potential, women are also subject to a cruel kind of discrimination in the workforce, the kind that can be aptly summarized as the “childbirth penalty.”
The pay disparity between men and women is at its height when women are in their mid-30s, conveniently when many would return to the workforce after taking a break for maternity leave.
It is because of a biological ability to have children that women are significantly missing out on promotional opportunities and are punished for leaving, with 25 percent lower wages than their childless counterparts.
A 2010 report from the University of Massachusetts cites that fathers, on the other hand, earn 11 percent more than childless men.
Perhaps, it can be cruelly rationalized women are less dedicated to their careers and more inclined to domestic lives because most will, at some point, have to choose between career promotions and committing to a family.
However, the fact that men in the same position are paid more is a point that highlights the delusion in society’s view of progression.
Nonetheless, there are many feats to still celebrate.
Women have come a long way from 1968, when sex-segregated "Help Wanted" ads in newspapers were deemed illegal, to the Supreme Court allowing women to apply for higher-paying jobs that were previously only open to men; to Obama’s passing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which gives victims of pay discrimination the right to file complaints against their employers.
Still, there is a long way to go.
The UN’s International Labour Organization has conceded that at the current rate of progress, without targeted action, women’s wages will trail behind their male parallels until 2086.
The landscape is evolving, but too slowly. There is a time for patience and a time needed to channel widespread discontent.
In light of the gross under-representation of females in business, Germany has passed gender quota legislation, requiring a minimum of 30 percent of non-executive members hired by large businesses to be women.
Positively, the quota forces influential companies to look where they potentially would not previously; however, some see potential stigmas as an inevitability, as new hires may be appointed solely for the purpose to fill the female quota.
Although being chosen to fill a quota wouldn’t make the female executives any less qualified, do the potential repercussions of the authoritarian legislation outweigh the potential positives?
While, admittedly, not an ideal solution, is this forceful legislation the authoritative action needed to solve the disparity of male dominance at the top of every chain of command in major businesses?
Other countries break through these barriers of inequality with methods of sexual equalization, like paternity leave.
While still simply a concept of legislative development in many countries, those who have implemented government-protected paternity leave have achieved improved conditions for new mothers and fathers alike, as well as dispelling irrational discrimination against professional women who take maternity leave.
Other potential solutions include price transparency, a topic currently in debate in the House of Lords of the UK under the “Equal Pay (Transparency) Bill.”
The overwhelmingly backed bill (258 votes to eight) necessitates companies with more than 250 staff members to publish information revealing the difference between male and female wages.
Criticism includes that such transparency may create a culture of distrust and dissatisfaction among employees, leaving employers to react angrily to the proposed bill.
The other reality is that many large companies reward employees covertly with bonuses and holiday trips, a substantial item that could be significantly more difficult to regulate and record.
Although still an imperfect system, is this a necessary step to encourage influential businesses to reflect and self-regulate their potentially unintentional discriminatory actions?
While the horizon appears hopeful, the UN-founded forecast for gender-based pay equality still maintains that it won’t be acheived for another 70 years.
As a Millennial woman who will soon enter the workforce, hearing successful women speak of their trials and tribulations of dealing with discrimination for an unchangeable physical factor that has no effect on their abilities or intelligence, I am disheartened by my inherent disadvantage due to factors outside of my control.
While waiting for 2086 to arrive, here are some key pieces of advice from Bloomberg’s “Women in Business” to young women entering the workforce:
1. Be so clear about your personal drivers and values that there is little anyone can do to shift them.
As a woman, you make up an inherent minority, especially in fields like science, technology, engineering, maths, finance and politics.
Where the disparity is so plainly obvious, it might be increasingly testing as a visible minority, which is why coming on board with your own self-belief gives you the confidence to remain unmoved if sexual discrimination occurs.
2. Don’t get angry, get organized.
It’s easy to be marginalized as an “angry woman,” or to be written off as overly emotional, instead of passionate. To be powerful and influence significant change, it’s important to express opinions strategically, in a way your target audience can hear, rather than disregard.
3. Push doors, don’t wait for them to open.
If you know the field in which you want to work, make yourself present, instead of waiting for job postings. Be proactive and create opportunities for yourself, instead of passively waiting for them.