Making the workplace work for women

Why do we remain so economically disadvantaged?

By Sarah Goldstein
March 17, 2006 3:19AM (UTC)
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Despite playing a greater role in the American economy today than at any time since World War II, women continue to get the shaft on the job (any and all jobs), according to "Womenomics 101," a comprehensive piece by Joshua Holland on AlterNet.

Some of the issues Holland explores include the 20 percent pay gap between men and women, which remains four decades after the equal wage law; the lack of mandated paid maternity leave (of 168 countries studied the U.S. is one of only five without mandated pay); and how having children lowers women's wages on average by 7.5 percent. But rather than recounting Holland's list of rage, let's focus on some of the encouraging suggestions for change that he puts forward.


Citing various think tanks, such as the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the Center for Policy Alternatives, Holland argues that "we need expanded parental leave, universal pre- and after-school programs, more flexible work hours and time off to take care of sick kids and elderly parents." CEPR analyst Heather Boushey suggests addressing the wage gap with tax credits for women, and Holland points out a series of bills like "the 'Fair Pay Act' and the 'Paycheck Fairness Act' that have been floated -- and defeated -- in recent years, which would have enforced the fair pay laws that are already on the books." Holland urges that this kind of legislation be revived, and some 28 states are currently considering equal wage bills.

He also contends that "family-friendly policies are also good for business." He cites economist Gene Sperling's book "The Pro-Growth Progressive," which investigates companies that have implemented paid parental leave, and finds that such policies resulted in a 2.5 percent increase in profits. Simple stuff: If you treat your employees like human beings they'll be happier and more productive.

Finally, Holland looks at legislation like a California program adopted in 2002 that "replaces slightly more than half of lost wages for six weeks for 'any individual who is unable to work due to the need to care for an ill parent, child, spouse, or domestic partner, or for the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a new child.'" Legislators in 21 states, who have grown impatient with the inaction of the federal government, are looking to adopt similar legislation.


Although Holland's research makes clear that women at all levels experience economic discrimination, his reporting mostly focuses on a white-collar workforce. Nonetheless, his critique is commendable, and as he notes, when all of these factors are taken in at once, "you get a picture that puts the lie to the right's claim on 'family values.'"

Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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