There is no doubt that women have made incredible strides towards gender equality since the women’s suffrage movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. History classifies three distinct waves of female activism. The first being the women’s suffrage movement which culminated in a woman’s right to vote. The second wave dates from the 1960s to the 1980s and challenged gender norms, cultural inequalities, and traditional women’s roles in society. The third wave began in the 1990s and some argue continues today in response to perceived failures of the feminist movements of the past.
Dramatic progress has been made in the women’s movement; however, in recent decades that progress has slowed to an almost standstill. To answer the question, why is there still a gender pay gap, we have to look at the roles we all play including men and women, and the policies in place today.
Here are four primary reasons why there is still a gender pay gap.
- Men occupy more senior roles than women. Just 6.7% of CEO positions in S&P 500 companies are women and 18% in senior leadership roles, yet women make up 57% of the workforce. It is believed that women cannot take on the responsibility of leadership roles due to family obligations including caretaking. This belief is antiquated and dates back to the 1950s were men earned a wage and women stayed home.
- Domestic responsibilities are not shared equally. Women have traditionally taken on domestic responsibilities including childcare and elder care. Women who have children are at more of a risk of gender bias. Taking time off work to raise a family leads to less work experience; thus, lower wages. Additionally, working in the home leaves less time to work outside the home leading to part time or flexible work schedules. It has been assumed that senior roles cannot be filled with part time or flex-time schedules. There is an assumption that business is between dedicated hours Monday through Friday.
- Gender equality is not a formal business priority. Most companies focus on what is legally required of them. Once those obligations are met, turning a profit reigns. However, this could be changing. Data is showing that having women at the helm leads to higher profits, greater innovation, and improved employee satisfaction. Additionally, millennials increasingly seek companies with a stated purpose. Women leaders are more inclined to support social causes and create a purpose-driven workplace.
- Women fill low-paying roles. Traditionally, hospitality, teaching, and caregiving roles have been filled by women. Whereas men choose to be doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Presumably this was because women needed flexible scheduling and additional time off. The perception was that women chose to prioritize children over work. Because of this perception, the gender gap exists “by choice” and relieves employers of making changes.
The pandemic may have been the catalyst to bridging some of the gender gaps while exasperating others. In 2020, 80% of the people that voluntarily left the workforce were women largely due to being unable to juggle work and home life during COVID. On the flipside, both men and women are amenable and prefer flexible scheduling. While women leaving the workforce heightens the gender gap, a more progressive flexible schedule may bridge that gap.
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