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Laws fail to remedy workplace inequality of women

Guest Blogger

What underlies gender inequality in the workplace? In “Gendered Tradeoffs: Family, Social Policy, and Economic Inequality in Twenty-one Countries,” Becky Pettit and Jennifer Hook discover that a complex mix of national polices and personal choices contribute to unequal employment conditions for women. Although many nations have enacted progressive laws, the authors find that the inequality still persists in the workplace. Pettit is associate professor of sociology at the University of Washington. Hook is a research scientist in the School of Social Work at the University of Washington.

By Becky Pettit and Jennifer Hook

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced that he will establish a National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force. The task force is charged with improving public education, compliance and adherence to equal pay laws. It it vitally important to ensure that equal pay laws and other key civil rights statutes are obeyed and, while the task force is certainly a positive step, much more could be done to address the root causes of gender inequalities at work. For instance, parental leave should be thoughtfully-designed and well-compensated -- and should include fathers.

Equal pay laws primarily address wage inequities of women and men working in the same jobs. However, women and men often fill different jobs and have career paths that diverge, especially after they have children. Existing equal pay legislation does not address critical causes of gender gaps in work, occupation and pay associated with the arrival of children in the household.

When men and women enter the workforce, they experience little difference in employment, occupation and wages, according to recent research. However, mothers generally have less success in the workplace than do childless women. Men, by contrast, see their workplace fortunes improve after they become fathers. These differences only only sharpen with the arrival of a second child.

America should study the experiences of other countries as they, too, grapple with ways to close the gender gaps in the workplace. Mothers in France, Germany, and Spain have the option to take three or more years of parental leave, at least some of which is paid. But evidence suggests that such lengthy leaves have negative consequences for women in the labor market. Norway and Sweden, in contrast, provide more modest paid parental leave for women and reserve 6 weeks or more of paid leave for fathers.

In the United States, the central provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 include 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for mothers and fathers. Hawaii, New York, and Rhode Island allow women to take six weeks of paid disability leave after the birth of a child if they are covered under temporary disability insurance. Only in California and New Jersey can fathers also take paid parental leave through temporary disability insurance. In many American families neither women nor men can afford to take parental leave to care for newly born or adopted children or manage other family caregiving obligations.

American families sorely need paid family leave. A survey of other countries suggests that when family leave is available and attractive to fathers, it can go a long way toward reducing gender inequalities in the workplace. Federally-supported, well-paid parental leave will serve the interests of children by giving mothers and fathers the permission – and financial support – to participate in childrearing. Paid parental leave that is attractive to fathers will also serve the interests of employed women by encouraging men to take on an increasing share of the domestic work that keeps women from achieving equality in employment, occupations, and pay.

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By Steven E. Levingston  |  April 26, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags: Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, Parental leave, inequality in the workplace  
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Posted by: ElyceGaliana | April 26, 2010 5:59 AM | Report abuse

Gender inequality exists largely because of unethical leaders who continue to reinforce the bullet-proof "glass ceiling" instead of shattering it. It is not enough to enact laws or codes of ethics because it is difficult to change the attitude and approach of unethical people, who fail to lead by "ethical" example. Some thoughts for consideration:

Can any law or ethics training program prevent Bernie Madoff, Vincent Lacroix, Conrad Black, etc. from being themselves? No, but a well-designed & implemented law or ethics program can

(a) help good people to do the right thing consistently

(b) make it more difficult for wrong-doers to succeed &

(c) raise people’s ethical IQS

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Posted by: crespin79 | May 6, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

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