As we exit Women’s History Month, we still seem to be talking about the same old story: how true gender parity never existed and doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.
Historically, as we celebrated the 100th anniversary of our nation’s women’s suffrage, the United States ranked disappointingly 53rd out of 153 countries around the world in the 2020 Gender Gap Report. in the world of the World Economic Forum. Today, women in this country still lag behind, earning 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. Over a 40-year career, that could mean almost a million dollars lost in income for women.
The pandemic has been a disaster for women, just as Helen Lewis predicted in her Atlantic article at the start of the pandemic a year ago. Women have been and remain caregivers who, historically and today, risk their lives to provide this care. The pandemic “amplifies” (as Lewis comments) the need for care as well as the existing economic inequalities women face. Women are more likely to be single parents. Thus, they had no choice but to drop out of the labor market to go to home school and provide care. Additionally, even when there were two parents working as a couple, women are still likely to be the lowest paid, so again, they were nominated to be the stay-at-home parent.
We can discuss whether it is for economic or cultural reasons. But the effect has been that women are dropping out of the workforce.
American women as a group have given up a decade of job gains, according to The Washington Post. Of all the jobs lost in this country since the start of the pandemic, 55% of them have been female. This represents 5.4 million female jobs lost since February 2020, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Even more dramatically, in December 2020, women represented all net job losses, the center reported. The men actually got a job.
Then, 275,000 women left the labor market in January 2021, compared to 71,000 men. One reason is that men have been more able to work from home, while women take more of the service and caregiver jobs that require personal contact. And more shockingly, women make up more than half of the 7 million people in the workforce who are not even counted as unemployed, despite wanting to work. Thus, in total, nearly 2.4 million women left the labor market for a year in February, against less than 1.8 million men. Black and Latin women suffer even more.
“We’ve come a long way, baby,” or have we? We can exhibit gender biases with our own babies without even realizing it. Research shows that there is a real gender disparity in the payment of allowances to children. Boys receive twice as many benefits as girls. Boys earn an average weekly allowance of $ 13.80 compared to $ 6.71 for girls, according to a BusyKid study.
Solutions to consider at home and at work:
Your dust has no gender identity; your household’s to-do list shouldn’t either. Make sure you don’t have sexist chores in the household. It may seem “normal” for your boys to take out the trash and your girls to do the laundry. But you get to establish a new normal. You want all of your children to learn the life skills necessary to manage a household. This means that girls have to learn what could be considered “male” tasks, and vice versa.
Employers will need to start changing their rules around sick leave and paid family leave. In 2020, 75% of workers in the private sector had access to sick leave. However, 7 in 10 low-wage workers do not have paid sick leave. The good news is that in President Biden’s new Covid relief program, federal workers will be able to take more than three months to take care of themselves or their family members. Hopefully the private sector will follow their example. As people return to work, companies will have to revamp their policies, as women are disproportionately more affected because they remain caregivers. The Biden provision expires on October 1, but the pandemic has shown that change is necessary.
These benefits should universally extend to men and women equally. They are also good for business. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows workers to take up to 12 weeks for parental leave. Your job is protected, but your employer is not required to pay you for maternity leave. But interestingly, about 70% of women only take about 10 weeks off. I think they may be concerned that their work is really there when they return.
Overall, only 16% of all U.S. workers in the private sector worked at companies that offered paid parental leave to both birth parents, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And it’s still a stigma for men to take paternity leave: study found 73% of fathers agreed there was little support from the workplace for them to take leave of paternity. In fact, one in five people were afraid of losing their job. Old stereotypes seem to hover over their heads that women should take care of babies and men should bring bacon home.
But common sense tells us that if working men and women are happier, they should be more loyal employees, so these companies are short-sighted.
We also know that when men take paternity leave they are more involved with their children and with the household and what it takes to make it work. Just ask a new dad about how difficult it is to juggle the baby and the housework, and the new appreciation he has gained for his spouse.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research calls on the government to create policies to facilitate the return of caregivers to full-time employment. Think of a “return” as a full-time paid internship for adults who have not been in the workforce for some time. Path Forward, which works with approximately 85 employers, is an organization whose mission is to empower people to restart their careers after focusing on caregiving, works with companies such as Walmart, Amazon, Netflix and Facebook to support recycling.
Things are changing and women are finding their voice to achieve equality, but it is not fast enough. I hope that next year I can write an edifying article on the great progress we have made on gender parity. But for now, I want to share the words of Malala Yousafzai who said it best; “I raise my voice, not to shout, but so that those who have no voice can be heard. … We can’t all be successful when half of us are held up.