Gender Inequality in the Workplace

Education does not equal success.

Since 1980, there have been more women enrolled in institutions of higher education than men. Today in the U.S., men constitute only 42% of college students. Additionally, women receive a greater number of the honors degrees at many universities. For the Harvard Class of 2006, 55% of the women graduated with honors while barely half of the men did so. In 2009, once again roughly 55% of women were awarded honors degrees compared with 51% of men. At Florida Atlantic University, not only did women make up 64% of the graduating class in 2006, they also received 75% of the honors degrees and 79% of the highest honors. According to census figures released in April 2011, among the population age 25 to 29, 36% of women had a bachelor degree or more, compared with 28% of men. Women are clearly trouncing men when it comes to academics. It’s great. Until you graduate, that is.

Gender equality goes downhill once you enter the job market. A woman earns only 80 cents for every dollar a man earns. Women are performing better in school than men are, and women definitely have equal qualifications, if not higher. Yet, in our supposedly merit-based, capitalist society, women still lag behind men in wages. Despite the huge advances women have made within the education system, women are still at a disadvantage in the workplace. The modern American workplace simply does not reflect the fact that women are equally qualified for the same jobs as men are, and thus due the same pay. So why doesn’t a woman’s success in school translate into success in the real world?

This disconnect can only be attributed to gender differences and the different treatment each gender receives. The lack of wage parity despite the fact that more women than men hold a bachelor’s degree or higher demonstrates that it is not the difference in qualifications that creates the gap in earnings, but rather gender. Indeed, blatant gender discrimination is mostly nonexistent; however, the workplace itself is inherently biased against women through the stereotypes and expectations of women’s roles and their accordant actions.

During my time at Harvard, I hear again and again from multiple sources that women are disadvantaged right from the job interview. Because both the interviewer and the interviewee have been brought up in a society that expects women to be demure, not aggressive, women are not expected to ask for a higher starting pay (or more of anything in general). Even so, one would expect that women would work harder than men on the job as they did in academia, and thus reach wage parity at some point in the middle of their career. This doesn’t seem to happen, and one of the most commonly reasons given to explain this disparity is pregnancy.

People say because women get pregnant in the middle of their career, they have to take time off and go on maternity leave. In addition, as mothers, women who are working just simply can’t work as many hours as men do. And because women can’t work overtime or travel frequently because you know, they’re mothers, women often get passed up for promotions. This is seen as fair because women are putting in fewer hours for work. However, it is not the lower work hours that prevent women from reaching work equality—it is because the workplace is structured in such a way that it forces women to take up a larger share of responsibility in the household.

Because the U.S. does not require paid parental leave, parents are often forced to divide domestic duties in such way that one person must continue working to support the family while the other becomes responsible for most of the household obligations. This contributes to the perpetuation of the problem because people often end up falling back on the societal assumption that women are the primary caregivers of the household. Lack of paid parental leave takes away the couple’s choice of equally dividing household duties, because both parents risk their jobs in taking lower hours to split domestic responsibilities.

Yes, women have come a long way in probably almost every aspect; however, now is not the time to be complacent. Yes, girls are doing great in school – better than the boys, in fact – but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that women have broken the glass ceiling. Men still dominate the math and sciences, earn more money, and wield more power. Nevertheless, the progress women have made in academics in the past few decades serves as proof that such progress is also achievable in the workplace.

Cindy Hsu ‘14 (cindyhsu@college) will make absolutely sure she gets paid just as much as every man, and probably more. I mean, she does go to Harvard…

  • Dave

    Perhaps a significant reason why men generally make higher salaries than women, aside from the pregnancy issue (which is NOT a fallacy), is that men are better at negotiating when it comes to salary. Men in general will not accept the first offer from a prospective employer, and quite often renegotiate earlier down the road. Women have a tendency to accept whatever is given to them, without question, and that usually translates to a lower salary.

    My boss is a woman, very successful, and among the best (bosses) I’ve ever worked for! She’s a leader in the truest sense of the word; she looks out for her people, always encourages them, is genuinely concerned for them both personally and professionally, and is very straight forward–you always know where you stand with her. I don’t always agree with her, but she listens to me, and she’s open to letting me convince her of my way. At the end of the day, I work for her, it’s her call, and I completely respect that.

    • Bob the Lunatic

      I can’t imagine where these ideas are coming from, but I question their statistical viability and it sounds like a very classic stereotype to me. Did they pay you to demonstrate it or did you come up with it on your own?

      I don’t have any data for or against this claim of “superior negotiation skills”, but I do have negotiation training. I begin with that as very few people do-and of the rest, most I encounter have no clue what it means and think it is an adversarial situation to be won. I deal with dozens of tenants every year, and broker real estate for a living. I negotiate for a living. I’ve always found impossible people to be the worst in negotiation, and found this in both men and women. But Ego is the biggest threat to a negotiation, which gender has more of that? I don’t know, but if there’s a correlation between gender, and ego, then I think negotiation prowess would be inversely correlated with that. If no correlation can be found, then I would bet its equal in skill.

      And gender inequality has its roots in the mostly obvious place: The home, the family. Not the workplace.

  • abigail

    The gender inequality in the work place is one of the high rated issues that have been publicly ringing through society for years. With that statement above, definitely, I do agree with it. Gender inequality can be refers to the obvious or hidden disparities among individual based on gender performance. In this case, we will see the inequality towards the women in the work place. In order to identify this situation, we must try to get to the root of the problem and must understand the sociological factors that cause women to have a much more difficult time getting the same profits, wages, and job opportunities as their male complements. The society in which we live right now have been shaped historically by males for centuries.

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