To the women out there, have you ever wondered how much you are making at your job relative to the males who you work side by side with everyday?
We are conditioned as women in American culture to believe that we can have it all: professional success, exciting personal lives, and everything in between. Many of us grow up with aspirations of becoming "Superwomen," believing that if we just work hard enough we can have it all. And while there are certainly greater opportunities for women in our culture relative to ones where there are gross violations of women's basic rights, this should not overshadow the fact that pervasive gender inequality remains a reality in the professional lives of women.
To return back to my original question, would you be surprised to learn that a pervasive gender gap remains between what women are paid relative to males for comparable positions? In fact, women make about 75.5 cents for every dollar that males earn, a figure that has remained relatively stagnant since the 1990s. Moreover, although women make up 66% of the workforce today, only 15% of them hold senior positions. This is a pervasive phenomenon that represents what researchers refer to as the glass ceiling, a term coined by the Wall Street Journal in the ‘80s that refers to an invisible barrier that disrupts an individual's attempt to attain senior positions professionally. The term itself is metaphorical, for it implies that one can see the next level that they aspire for professionally, but that this subtle barrier disables them from achieving advancement. Of course such advancement also undermines the ability of women to achieve higher salary levels, in addition to the higher status afforded with these positions.
Interestingly, the print edition of the October 2011 issue of Psychology Today noted that while females still face the barriers of the glass ceiling, males may be experiencing the perks of what they refer to as the glass escalator effect. Hirsch (2011) writes:
Men in typically female roles such as nurse benefit from the glass escalator effect: They're rated as more competent, more likable, less hostile, and more deserving of promotion than men in ‘male' positions. Women who jettison tradition for jobs like VP of finance, however, are ranked negatively across all measures---and perceived as less deserving of promotion. (50)
How can such blatant inequity still exist in the professional world today? Certainly we have become more progressive with regards to gender roles, however, the inequity in pay in particular highlights that as professional women we should not be complacent. Moreover, as a society it is naïve to believe that equality between the sexes has occurred in the workforce. Such illusion puts an unfair burden on women when they face the barriers that often exist in the professional world. While there is no quick solution to how these inequities can be rectified, as women we must be mindful that the women's rights movement is not a passing trend, but must be a social fixture. In fact, this is an issue that impacts everyone.
Research has consistently found that gender balance would actually improve long-term performance in business (e.g. Maitland, n.d.). For instance, studies show that "venture-backed companies run by women produce higher revenue than average with less capital used," and that "mixed-gender investment clubs perform better" (Maitland, n.d., para 1). Such findings are consistent with the notion in developing countries that in order for these countries to come out of poverty women in particular need to be given access to education and jobs.
While this is a pervasive systemic problem that is difficult to change at the micro level of society, knowledge of this disparity for women entering the workforce today can go a long way towards rectifying it. So to the women out there, be more assertive when negotiating your salaries, and don't be afraid to make noise when it comes to earning what you are worth. It's time to upend the notion that we females are "sugar and spice and everything nice," and to roar like the lionesses we can be. Our male counterparts should be pushing to bridge that gap as well, for companies that have greater representation of women at the higher tiers also tend to thrive more economically. So in this case, we have the bottom line on our side.
Hirsch, M.L. (2011 October). Gender Contender: The ups and downs of flouting gender norms at work. Psychology Today, 50-51.
Maitland, A. (n.d.). Women Needed for New Era of Capitalism. Retrieved October 19, 2011 from http://www.20-first.com/356-0-gender-balance-needed-for-future-he... .
Copyright 2011 Azadeh Aalai