Workplace Equality, and who gets penalized when men and women have kids

Once again, the Republicans are trying to convince women that the Democrat fight for our rights is condescending. And once again, their feet are lodged in their throats up to their thighs.

“When it comes to employment, the fact is many women seek jobs that provide more flexibility for their family over more money, which is the choice that I made as a young working mom,” Jenkins said.

Of course, loads of studies still find a significant gap even when you account for the differences in jobs. That is, when Dad takes the more flexible job so he can drive the kids everywhere they need to go, he still tends to get paid more than the women doing precisely the same work he’s doing as they care for their kids. Or when Mom is the big earner putting in the wild hours, she tends to be paid less than the guys doing the same work.

So this point completely misses the boat. One could understand if employers tended to reward employees they perceived as working harder, and it just happened that most of the ones putting in long hours and all that were male. But that’s just not the whole story:

One economist testified to Congress that hundreds of studies have consistently found unexplained pay differences which potentially include discrimination.[3]:80 Another criticized these studies as insufficiently controlled, and opined that men and women would have equal pay if they made the same choices and had the same experience, education, etc.[4]: Other studies have found direct evidence of discrimination. For example, fewer replies to identical resumes with female names[3]:10 and more jobs went to women when orchestras moved to blind auditions.[4]

Even people who intend to be perfectly fair and unbiased aren’t, because evolution just didn’t favor that outcome. Our unconscious minds take all sorts of shortcuts that doubtless saved our lives many years ago, but today result in irrelevancies like the inability to picture a woman directing a film or ordering troops into battle, or a man knitting or tending kids. If employers are aware that we are hard-wired to have such biases, and systems are put in place that force us to account for precisely why we ignored a certain resume, for example, they can do better.

But it may also be a myth that women choose jobs that are more flexible to give them better options for combining career and family. From the above Wikipedia link:

However, Jerry A. Jacobs and Ronnie Steinberg, as well as Jennifer Glass separately, found that male-dominated jobs actually have more flexibility and autonomy than female-dominated jobs, thus allowing a person, for example, to more easily leave work to tend to a sick child.[48][49] Similarly, Heather Boushey stated that men actually have more access to workplace flexibility and that it is a “myth that women choose less-paying occupations because they provide flexibility to better manage work and family.”[50]

In my experience, low-paying jobs do not correlate with flexibility. The paralegal is chained to her desk while the lawyer is out and about most of the day, maybe at court, maybe seeing a client, maybe at his kid’s soccer game, maybe scoring drugs. Who knows? The receptionist has to ask someone to cover her for a bathroom break – if she wants to leave for her kids, it is a Huge Big Deal in which the company scrambles to discover Whether Anyone Else Knows How This Switchboard Works and can drop their uber-important work to cover it. And 99% of the time, it’s a woman who fills in, no matter what her position is. Most people in offices have no idea where their bosses are, but their bosses know precisely where they are or else there’s hell to pay. So… where’s that flexibility, again?

The reality is: people perceive men as more valuable in many occupations, and those occupations command higher wages because they are perceived as something men are good at. No one pictures a man for their administrative assistant, so it remains a low paying job. Additionally, employers steer women into lower-paying jobs. I’ve lost track how many women, myself included, were advised in film school to go into production, not directing. Many of the men offering this advice may have been well-intentioned: they just couldn’t picture a woman they love going through the sometimes brutal work of directing a movie or TV show, while production is something you can do from a nice little office. But others simply will not even consider women for directing positions, preferring to pay Guild fines for discrimination and continue hiring men – including far younger and less experienced men (and directing is one of those few occupations where age is respected and valued).

I can’t resist sharing some anecdotal evidence. I used to temp, which means I filled in on jobs where other employees had washed out, taken time off, etc. I’ve had bosses tell me straight to my face that hiring women sucks because they just go off and leave the company to have babies anyway (and the fact that they said this to a young female temp who might be hoping to find a permanent job speaks volumes to how unaware they even are that there’s anything wrong with what they just said). I’ve heard employers – including female employers – moan about why anyone needs as much time off as they’re taking. I’ve heard employers complain that someone who went on maternity leave a few days or weeks before her due date must’ve just been lazy and gotten her doctor to lie about her needing bed rest.

If it was just about having kids, you’d expect to see childless women on par with men for earnings. But instead, employers invest less in women generally, because any woman is perceived as someone who might dump them to have babies. And men are not, even though some do precisely that these days.

That Wikipedia link is overflowing with citations of studies verifying this very sort of thing. One that goes straight to the heart of the argument that if women didn’t take time off to have kids, they’d get paid the same:

In a subsequent audit study, Correll et al. found that actual employers discriminate against mothers when making evaluations that affect hiring, promotion, and salary decisions, but not against fathers.[96][97][98][99][100][101] The researchers review results from other studies and argue that the motherhood role exists in tension with the cultural understandings of the “ideal worker” role and this leads evaluators to expect mothers to be less competent and less committed to their job.[102][103] Fathers do not experience these types of workplace disadvantages as understandings of what it means to be a good father are not seen as incompatible with understandings of what it means to be a good worker.[104]

Your side is clearly losing when a single Wikipedia article offers credible studies that shoot down every argument you have. And it does. If only the GOP was interested in fact-based debate. Or had the basic sense to understand that facts are important to reality.


  1. AmyCooper says

    At one of my previous places of employment, we were hiring and our (female) boss told us we had to hire a man because the job was technology related and only men can really grasp technology.

  2. Alice Rozen says

    “I’ve had bosses tell me straight to my face that hiring women sucks because they just go off and leave the company to have babies anyway”

    I’d love to see him say that to me. I’m transgender, so it’s physically impossible for me to get pregnant and have a baby. There are also cis women that physically cannot have children either, yet I bet they’re not getting paid more/treated better because of that.

    Mind you, I may not be able to get pregnant, but I got fired when I came out as transgender, and haven’t been able to get a job since. Cis women get paid less, but at least they can get work. On the remote chance I can ever get a job again, I’ll get to enjoy lower pay even though I cannot possibly get pregnant. What a crock.

    • says

      Excellent points, Alice. I’m sorry about your job situation and I hope it improves. You’re right – cis women are the “lesser” gender, but transgender people suggest by their very existence that gender is not necessarily defined by the body one is born into, and that idea bothers some people tremendously. :(

  3. Gabriella says

    In my experience in hospitality ‘flexibility’ works one-way. YOU are expected to be available all operating hours (usually 10-15h/day, 6-7 days/week, if you’re not a 24/7 outfit) but THEY don’t have to give you regular shifts or hours or make allowance for things like employees having children.

    • says

      This is why I fled fast food as soon as I got into an MLS program. The alarming part is that it required not only having a BA but being in a master’s program just to get an hourly job with stable hours that’s willing to be flexible in return– I’m only just realizing now what it means to work somewhere that treats me like a human being. I’m almost 23 and this is by no means my first job.

  4. Cerasive says

    What really bothers me is modern employers’ expectation of a 1950s-era ideal worker (which was never the reality for a majority of families even then). They expect offhand that every employee has no responsibilities or attachments other than their job, and that if they do have a family, they want to avoid being around it as much as possible because work is so much more glamorous and interesting than spending time with those pesky partners and children.

    Employers need to face reality. Most people want to spend more time with their families and less time working. Even those that don’t have partners or children want time to pursue other interests and generally enjoy their life.

    To use myself as an example, while I do enjoy software development, I simply cannot sit still for 8 hours a day without some major breaks for physical movement. I certainly have no desire to continue working longer than that, except on rare occasions for real emergencies (as the saying goes, “lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”). Luckily, I had the luxury of being able to quit a job that paid decently but demanded far too much time during the week (and sometimes weekends). White-collar sweatshops are alive and thriving in the U.S., to the detriment of all workers.

    People of all genders, with or without families, entry level to senior level, need to make it known that people work to live, not the other way around. Employers expecting and demanding otherwise need a serious change of corporate culture.

    It also peeves me when I hear “they just go off and leave the company to have babies anyway”. Women do not reproduce asexually. If women leave work more often than their male counterparts do when they have children, it’s probably because the men are making a higher salary and it makes more sense for the lower-wage parent to quit. The lower-wage earner being the woman is the result of exactly these discriminatory ideas and practices.

    And the other quote: “the motherhood role exists in tension with the cultural understandings of the ‘ideal worker’ role”. What about the fatherhood role? What about equal parenting? I understand the historical foundations of the ideas they are expressing, but it’s 2014 and high time society moved past them.

    • Gabriella says

      That just makes me think of an episode from Big Bang when Howard wants children and Bernadette doesn’t. She actively can’t stand children. By the end of the episode she comes up with the solution that, since Howard wants children and she makes far more money, He can stay at home and raise the children while she goes to work, does things she enjoys etc. While it was played as ludicrous, it made perfect sense to me, but Howard only agrees because Bernadette’s logic is extremely sound. But I digress…

      I currently juggle 2 jobs, a kitchenhand and casual relief work as a librarian. Since the kitchenhand work is reasonably stable and the casual relief depends on staff being sick/on holidays within a small (2 library) shire, the arrangement I have with the restaurant is that I do any shifts that I’ve already been rostered for, and only take library shifts offered that I either already have off within the existing roster schedule, or is far enough in the future that I can ask for it off. My boss isn’t happy about this but things are ok for the moment – don’t know how secure my job is though, now they know I’m not going to be as available in my non-rostered hours as I was before.

      This has happened to me in the past. Employees don’t want to give me ft hours but they get cranky when I find another job to fill my hours outside the roster. (Also, screw them if they think I worked hard for that library degree and applied for every job I qualified for for two years and now I’m going to be all ‘sorry but I can’t do it in case my other boss wants me to make sandwiches’. In my experience, finding another hospitality job is much easier than finding another library job.) This isn’t strictly related to the article, just a general rant about how bosses want ‘flexibility’ but by that they mean ‘flexible to do a ridiculous range of hours even if we only give them 10pw but still be available if we need them to do extra and not have any other commitments, oh, and don’t make a fuss if we call them an hour in advance not to come in’.

  5. Shara says

    All in all it points to the fact that there is no equality between the sexes. A man could just as easily take paternity as many infants are not nursed long term or fed on pumped breast.

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