Women in the Workplace

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A fan of my blog (yes, I have one) told me today that my last post didn’t seem to fit, because it didn’t have anything to do with feminism. I beg to differ, although I agree I didn’t spell it out. Losing your job has everything to do with feminism, because it is women who have the bumpiest road in the job market.*

First of all, women make up 66% of the part-time labor force. So what? Isn’t that by choice? Not always. Many women work part-time because they can’t find full-time employment. They often work full-time, just not at the same job. They may work two or three part-time jobs just to make ends meet. And not get benefits at any of them.

Secondly, women make only 66-85% of what men make for the same or comparable jobs. (The figure varies depending on the occupation itself, the worker’s race or ethnicity, and the part of the country she works in.) Think about that: that means that if a man makes $24,000 a year, a woman might make only $16,000 for the same job. That’s the difference between a living wage (just barely) and having to seek out food pantries and government assistance, especially if you’re the sole wage earner and have a dependent.

Thirdly, women make up more than half of service sector employees. These jobs are notoriously low-paying. But they are the jobs that are most open to women. And even here, if a man is employed in the same type of job, he will often receive higher wages than a woman does. (Think nursing or secretarial work.) When men “infiltrate” female professions, they receive more pay and prestige, because they are, after all, men. And we all know that men are more important and more productive than women.

Fourthly, women are routinely discriminated against for being wives and mothers. The assumption is that they’re partially supported by their husbands and therefore don’t need as much pay. Or that they’re more likely to take off work for sick children or to have babies. And if a woman happens to be unmarried with dependents, she is in a double bind. Employers don’t look at single women having to support families in the same way as they do men who do. The male needs higher pay, because he is supporting a family. Never mind that he may have a wife who earns a second income.

Fifthly, women don’t receive the promotions that men do. Citing the “facts”–women aren’t as responsible or productive, aren’t willing to put in the long hours or to travel, put their husbands and/or children first–employers collude to keep women out of upper management, partnerships, tenured positions and leadership positions. For example, only 5% of the CEOs in the Fortune 500 are female. And at good old Walmart, even though 75% of its labor force is female, 90% of its management positions are held by men.

Sixthly, women make up most of the transient jobs. Because they are not valued or seen as indispensable, they are often the first fired. It is assumed that they don’t have the same skills as men (look at the construction trades, or the military), even though they aren’t given the opportunities to develop those skills. And basically, they are fired because they’re women. Never mind that they have a shitload of responsibilities that men don’t have: caring for children and elders, running households, and playing the supportive role of wives and girlfriends.

And lastly, women may be more prone to voluntarily leave jobs because of a lack of good, affordable childcare, inflexible hours, unrealistic demands, sexual harassment and discrimination and insufficient or no benefits.

Is it any wonder that single mothers end up on welfare? And when they are put to work (thanks to the welfare “reform” of 1996), it is usually in jobs that have high turnover, low pay and/or no benefits. In other words, in the types of jobs that are deemed suitable for women.

Now do you see why I felt that the post on unemployment compensation was relevant on a feminist blog?

*Some people would hold that this position is held by people of color, but since there are women in every race and ethnicity, I feel that women suffer more if you cut across such distinctions. Does a black woman suffer more than a white woman? Probably, but make no mistake, both women are at a disadvantage in the workplace. Does a black woman suffer more than a black man? Yes, if you’re considering the issues outlined above.

U.S Department of Labor Women’s Bureau
United Nations Development Programme: Women’s Empowerment

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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