With the Women of the World Summit well underway, I found myself asking questions surrounding the topic of wage equality between women and men. As with any subject matter I address, I typically approach it thinking I already know what I want to say. To prevent myself from creating generalizations and cliches, I generated questions that led me to become more aware of what was there all along.
Plenty of reports, articles and statistics are out there concerning this popular issue. Days ago Barack Obama even tweeted: FACT: The majority of minimum wage jobs are held by women #RaiseTheWage. As I compiled more and more facts I realized that none of these were in fact the real cause of the wage gap and detracted away from the real root of the issue, which stemmed from societal influences and expectations of gender roles. According to news source Daily Beast "much of the wage gap can be explained by college majors." Most women are found to major in and thereby enter "caring professions" such as education, psychology and human and social services versus men who largely enter fields deemed "people free zones" such as engineering and computer sciences. Essentially these are more lucrative professions thus explaining why women earn less than men. Further reports by Pew Research state that women are less likely than men to aspire to top management positions and fewer say they are not interested in becoming a boss or top manager as opposed to their male counterparts. 51% of millennial women and 55% of their older counterparts say society favors men over women with only 6% of both groups claiming it favors women over men. Among working parents, mothers are three times as likely as fathers to believe that being a working parent has made it more difficult for them to advance their career (51% vs. 16%). Seems the most noteworthy gap is actually in the hypergender constructs we place on our boys and girls. Without it's recognition, how will human equality progress in the future?
From the time we're born we are drenched in pink, from our clothes to our toys. Our toys, including the infamous Barbie instills what society deems as gender appropriate for us. Women don't just tend to dominate in professions centered around caring for other people. We are given baby dolls to care for and plastic pets to tend to or baking sets and dream houses that indoctrinate us to become teachers, psychologists, veterinarians and housewives even. Opposed to more masculine toys which according to Forbes, surround science and building and promote more creative thinking and spatial skills found key in most top professions. Interestingly the aforementioned "female-dominated" occupations are some of the most noble professions but are still "less lucrative" than professions men tend to fill. The question of who placed the premium on certain professions, and as a result allocated who makes what is another conversation. But I don't find it surprising that male dominated professions seem to be the most "lucrative."
Charles Cooley's 'looking glass self' theory characterizes 'self' based on and constructed by how others in society behave towards us. We need to explore the experiences of girls and boys and see how that shapes their attitudes about what they can or can't go after or achieve. If women feel as though society favors men and so do men, what does that suggest about their confidence in asking for a raise or promotion? In seeking top management positions the problem is not just women shying away from more responsibility, it's attributed to women who plan for children. The steps taken to accommodate the demands of motherhood can interfere with a woman taking on more responsibility on the job. In all this I wondered, where are the men? Parenting should be the shared responsibility of both parents, not just one. Our society has conditioned us into these false gender roles that encourage women to spend more time with children and men more time at work. This is evidenced in some Scandinavian countries and in particular, Iceland where there are increased incentives for fathers to spend more time caring for their children while on the other end of the spectrum women have sacrificed pay, promotion and networking opportunities.
We, and by we I mean women and men must be cognizant of the messages we send our children especially in the most subtle ways. Women Are a Powerful Force for Development as outlined by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) shows how empowering women professionally has not only proven to be good morals alone; it's good economics.