The United States is among the worst of industrialized nations when it comes to making allowances for the professional challenges that women face relative to men. A woman who stops working in order to have children and/or raise a family may find that when she returns to the workforce, her opportunity set has diminished significantly. This doesn't even consider typical gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment and other daunting barriers to advancement.
You may already know that according to the U.S. Department of Labor, women now outnumber men in the workplace (64.2 million to 63.4 million). This takes us a long way from the days when women weren't allowed to vote, or female attorneys couldn't be more than legal secretaries. Given that we have grown so much as a society, our nation has to step into the 21st century when it comes to equalizing the employment landscape.
Women still earn 77.5 cents for every dollar earned by men in equivalent positions. It must be acknowledged that some of the gap could be due to personal choices, given that many men correlate life success to professional success and therefore may make different career decisions. We must also, however, acknowledge that much of the gap is due to gender discrimination and the fact that our society has still not acclimated itself to constantly evolving gender roles in the home: for some, the mother is still expected to cook, clean and take care of the children, even after a long day at work.
One might expect that educated women are immune to the challenges of unequal treatment in the workplace, but this is not the case. Actually, the more education a woman has, the larger the gap in pay. Women in administrative and managerial positions only earn 72.7% of what men make, which is lower than the overall average of 77.5%.
African American women are even worse off than white women, earning only 68 cents for every dollar earned by the average man in America. The black community is especially unique in that over 70% of black children are born to a single mother. Therefore, most African American households are already being run and funded by a female.
The gaps in pay and opportunity are obviously greater in male-dominated professions, such as engineering. Some argue that women deliberately avoid these professions, but the numerical imbalance may exist because women are not invited to participate in the "good old boy club." President Obama signed a bill into law that addressed the pay gap, and Congress is also looking into battling discrimination based on gender. But critics are saying that our government has not done enough. Not only are women the majority of the workforce, they may soon become the majority of the bread winners in American households. This requires an adjustment in our thinking, for this is an important issue in the future of American family security.
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There is no job more important than being a mother. Therefore, as women are supported in their roles in the workforce, we must also support them in raising families. This is especially true in the black community, where our mothers are sometimes all we've got.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action Resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.