Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony are credited with starting the women’s movement which eventually won women the right to cast their votes in elections, but their aspirations of equality have yet to be realized. Women have been deemed influential, but in terms of capital, women are not rewarded accordingly for their obvious valuable contributions. According to the Women’s Law Center, women face unequal pay for equal work, earning on average only 77¢ for every dollar earned by men, with African American and Latina women faring even worse. Legislative bills to strengthen the laws against discrimination are still in urgent need. Furthermore, depending on industry, women earn significantly less than the 77/100 that their male counterparts for working the same jobs.
Inequality is not a new trend. A comprehensive study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the gender wage gap can only be partially explained by human capital factors and so-called “work patterns.” The GAO study, released in 2003, was based on data from 1983 through 2000 from a representative sample of Americans between the ages of 25 and 65. The researchers controlled for work patterns, which include years of work experience, education, and hours of work per year, as well as differences in industry, occupation, race, marital status, and job tenure. With controls for these variables in place, the data showed that women earned, on average, 20% less than men during the entire period 1983 to 2000.
Even though the wage gap is explained away, let’s examine the factors in determining work patterns from a critical perspective. What does marital status have to do with how well one performs at her job? How does race determine value? There are a miniscule number of jobs solely based on possession of particular genitalia. The remainder should receive equal pay across gender lines, as we’re all humans with brains operating to complete functions of a specific goal. Furthermore, one can even inspect the structures which factor the explanations of disparity. In a subsequent GAO study in 2008, cleverly titled Women’s Earnings: Federal Agencies Should Better Monitor Their Performance in Enforcing Anti-Discrimination Laws, it was found that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor “should better monitor their performance in enforcing anti-discrimination laws.” When we explore this critically, we should remember how many women represent the population in governing structures. Women hold a mere 16 percent of seats in Congress currently. The U.S. Ranks 69th globally in respect to the percentage of women in government. Countries that have a higher percentage of women include Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uganda.
As women of influence and their supporters, what can we do? The answer is simpler than we imagine: keep reading, keep teaching, keep supporting, and keep fighting. Feminism and empowerment are for everyone. The best tools against the hydra of wage discrimination, sexism, misogyny, and even racism and classism are education and imparting information. For example, research what the average salary for a particular position is, demand that salary accordingly, and share that information with colleagues. Turn fellow office-mates into comrades by imparting experience and knowledge, planning events together, and fostering connectivity and empowerment. Empowerment looks like caring for people who need us, through opportunities of volunteering and mentoring, standing up for those who have no voice or whose voices are not as valued monetarily as others.
We have the opportunity, as women of influence and fellow progressives, to critically intervene in ways that challenge and change, as Bell Hooks said. When faced with seemingly stoppable barricades, we can employ the community created among cubicles to foster positive communication and problem-solving. There are avenues around obstacles and we can navigate them by utilizing cooperative action through conversation, research, and a supportive communication climate. Camaraderie is indeed powerful and the more we unify, the stronger we become both as individuals and as a collective.
Bridging the wage gap and therefore creating social change is a long, hard road, one that we must walk together. If capitalism is the preferred economic structure, at the very least, we should all struggle for equality, since we donate the same biological make-up of sweat, blood, thoughts, energy, and stress for our participation. Hillary Clinton said “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it has about 18 million cracks in it and the light is shining through like never before.” Her words acknowledge the barriers that hold women down and remind us – men and women alike – to keep trying, keep soaring, as high as possible, in order to smash through it to a shiny new world where we’re all realized as equals. The world needs constructive change and as a community of people dedicated to influential success, we all can overcome any disparity, beginning with the monetary one.