How The Laws Of The United States Do Not Ensure Equal Participation In The Workforce For Women And Mothers
The United States is part of a select group of countries, comprised of the U.S., Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Liberia, and Lesotho, who do not mandate any type of paid maternity leave for new mothers. Additionally, the United States is also in a select group of countries who have not adopted the “Equal Pay for Equal Work” convention of the International Labor Organization, even though 39 other nations have accepted it, including nine Iron-Curtain countries. Furthermore, the United States has more than a 10% disparity in the employment rates between men and women.In addition, women who work full time only make 77 cents for every dollar that a male earns. In the largest companies, men are 96.6% of CEO’s, 92.5% of top earners, 85.9% of executive officers, and 83.9% of board members. Additionally, in the 2012 election cycle, it was heralded that there were now 20 women senators, even though this means that 80% of the United States Senate is still comprised of men.
This paper explains that these disparities are a result of a system in the United States that does too little to afford women and mothers equal participation in the workforce. I will compare the laws and regulations of the United States to those of Canada, Belgium, Iceland and Sweden, and show that the United States is failing its women, mothers, families and economy. I will show that not only would it be economically and socially equitable to encourage workforce participation, but that it would be economically and socially beneficial to promote an agenda of inclusiveness when it comes to women and mothers in the workforce. Section I will explain the background of women’s participation rates in the United States and the history of the applicable U.S. laws. Section II will explain the current state of the U.S. law, the failed U.S. laws, and applicable laws and regulations of other countries. Section III will argue that the women’s movement within the United States has hindered the growth of the law, and it will compare the laws of other countries with the United States’ laws. It will also explain how the foreign laws can be applied responsibly within the U.S, or be a guide to help the U.S. develop new and innovative programs to ensure equal workforce participation.
a. History of Women’s Participation in the Workforce
Historically, women had surprisingly high rates of participation in the workforce, as long as those women were not married or a mother; when one of those events occurred, the historical rate of participation in the workforce among women plummeted. From about 1900 through 1950, the rate of single women who worked remained constant at around 50%. However, the number of married women who also worked was only about 10% from 1900 through 1940. Yet, with the large entrance of women into the workforce in the early 1940’s with the beginning of WWII, the highest rise of women in the workforce was among married women, many of whom also had husbands overseas. In 1930, only 11% of married women worked, but in 1940, that number rose to 15%, and by 1950, the number rose to 23%. The number has been increasing dramatically from decade to decade, and by 2000 over 61% of married women worked, compared to 68% of single women who worked. In 2000, 60% of mothers also participated in the workforce. However, compared to other industrialized countries, the disparity between male and female participation in the workforce is still huge. In Sweden, the difference between male and female participation in the workforce is less than 5%, and in Denmark and France, the difference in the participation rate between males and females is less than 10%. Comparatively, the United States has over a 10% disparity in female and male employment rates. Additionally, the participation rate of women in the workforce hit a low in 2012, with only 57.6% of women in the workforce, the lowest percentage since 1993.
b. Historical View of the Laws Related to Women’s Employment
In 1932, the federal government passed the Federal Economy Act, which required under section 213 that no two persons in the same family could be working in government service. Over 75% of the workers discharged under this Act were women. However, Section 213 was repealed in 1937. In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed, which, although not directly addressing the issues of women in employment, established a minimum wage, a maximum 44-hour work week, and abolished oppressive child labor for anyone under the age of 16. This was seen as a victory for many employed women, who often worked for very little in textile mills and sewing factories.
The Supreme Court did very little to protect the rights of women, even when state laws went above and beyond to protect their rights. For example, in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, in 1923, the Supreme Court voided a District of Columbia law that set minimum wages for women. Until 1971, the Court took the position that women’s rights, responsibilities, opportunities, and obligations were determined by their role in the family, and women were first and foremost wives and mothers. However, in 1941, when the Court upheld the FLSA of 1938, it stated that the minimum wage requirement was valid as to either sex. The turning point was in 1971, when the Court unanimously held unconstitutional an Idaho statute giving preference to males in the appointment of administrators of estates in Reed v. Reed. The Court stated that there was no rational basis for giving preference to males.
II. CURRENT STATE OF THE LAW
a. Current Laws in Place to Protect Women in the United States
i. Title VII and The Civil Rights Acts
Title VII prohibits both intentional discrimination and any practices that have the effect of discriminating on people based on their race, color, national origin, religion or sex. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA) was passed, although only barely made it through, because prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex was added into the legislation at the last minute.The original Act prohibited hiring, firing, or promoting on the basis of sex, and the Act has been amended several times since its passage. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 amended the CRA. A new section was added to the CRA to allow for compensatory and punitive damages in cases of willful violations of Title VII.
However, proving “willful” violations has been difficult. Title VII states that punitive damages are only available if the plaintiff demonstrates that the employer engaged in a discriminatory practice with “malice or reckless indifference” to the plaintiff’s federally protected rights. One exemplary case stated that “negligence” in following a law that they had knowledge of, was not equal to malice or reckless indifference, while even acknowledging that the employer did not “act in good faith”. It is difficult to imagine a case where one could prove willfulness if negligence to follow a known law, and acting in bad faith does not rise to the level of willfulness. In the case above, a woman was hired as a “Junior Buyer” for a company, where all the “Buyers” were male, even though she performed substantially the same duties. She earned $7200 less per year than her male counterpart, who was promoted to “Buyer” within one year of becoming a junior buyer, and it took six years for the woman to be promoted even though she had satisfactory performance reviews. The court stated that even though the woman met all of the prongs of discrimination, it did not rise to the level of “willful” discrimination in order to justify punitive damages. Finally, the court stated that even if there is “intentional refusal to promote and in intentionally treating (the woman) differently from similarly situated males” this does not rise to a willful discrimination under Title VII.
ii. The Equal Pay Act
The Equal Pay Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in the payment of wages. In order to establish a case under the EPA the person must show that within the same establishment they received unequal pay on the basis of sex for equal work. Guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that the jobs do not need to be identical, but that they must be substantially equal, and job content, not job titles determines if two positions are equal. If there is an inequality of wages between two sexes, the employer cannot decrease the pay of either one, rather the lower employees’ compensation must be raised. If a person alleges that a violation of this law has been committed, they have the right to go directly to court, and they must do so within two years of the unlawful compensation practice, or within three years if they can show that the violation was willful.
However, practically speaking, there are many overlaps between the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. While the EPA only bars wage discrimination on the basis of sex, Title VII applies to employment discrimination of all protected classes. A person who has experienced pay discrimination on the basis of sex may file suit under Title VII or the Equal Pay Act. However, the Equal Pay Act offers some advantages. Under Title VII, before filing a lawsuit, you must first make a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and they must issue you a “right to sue” letter, not required under the Equal Pay Act. Moreover, the Equal Pay Act has a longer statute of limitations than Title VII. Title VII also requires a company to have more than 15 employees, but if the company has less than 15 employees, you may still file under the Equal Pay Act. Finally, under the Equal Pay Act you can sue for liquidated damages up to double the back pay owed.However, under Title VII you can collect punitive damages, such as pain and suffering, unlike the Equal Pay Act. Functionally, in order to preserve all claims, it is suggested that a person file under both Title VII and the Equal Pay Act.
However, like claims under Title VII, the party claiming discrimination has many high burdens to overcome in order to prove their case. The party must show that a man and a woman were doing the same job for unequal pay, and they must put forth a prima facie case. She must show (1) the same establishment; (2) unequal pay; (3) on the basis of sex; and (4) equal work. The jobs must also require substantially the same skill, effort, responsibility, working conditions, and establishment. This translates to the fact that the party being discriminated against needs to show that her job requires the same skill, including education, ability, experience, and training. Her job must also require the same amount of effort and responsibility, and the job has the same physical surroundings and hazards. Finally, the party must show that the establishment is the same as the higher paying job, which means that jobs at different job sites but under the same company do not qualify as the same establishment. Once all of these elements are met, the employer then may show an affirmative defense, such as: the discrepancy in pay was necessitated by seniority systems; merit systems; systems that measure pay by quantity or quality of production; or a differential in pay based on any factor other than sex. By outlining the requirements in order to make a prima facie case, it becomes evident that proving a case under the Equal Pay Act is daunting and difficult.
iii. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended the CRA to prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The affected person will also be entitled to similar benefits as any other person who has the ability or inability to work not on the basis of pregnancy. Under this law, an employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant, or due to a pregnancy related condition. It also provides that pregnancy related benefits cannot be limited only to married women, and that pregnant women must be treated equal to any other temporarily disabled employee. However, when put into practice this law has been difficult to enforce due to the difficulty of determining motive when a woman has not been hired or promoted. In the last 40 years, there has been a large increase in the number of women who have chosen to work while pregnant, and have worked much later into their pregnancies. However, pregnant women are increasingly the subject of harassment and hostility in response to the pregnancy, and they are often subject to decreased work hours and forced to take unpaid leave or job loss. Moreover, in one instance, instead of allowing a pregnancy uniform, the woman was forced to take a leave of absence when her uniform no longer fit due to the pregnancy. It seems evident that better enforcement mechanisms need to be implemented.
iv. The Fair Labor Standards Act
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) establishes a national minimum wage ($7.25 an hour), overtime pay (not less than 1.5 times the regular rate of pay is required after 40 hours in a week), record keeping, and youth employment standards in the federal, state, and local governments, as well as the private sector. The FSLA also establishes the requirements for employers to provide pumping rooms for mothers who are nursing. The recent Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act amended the FSLA to require that employers provide a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth, each time the employee has the need to express the milk. Employers are also required to provide a private place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion by coworkers and the public, which may be used by the employee to express milk. However, the nursing mother does not need to be compensated for this break time. Additionally, if an employer has less than 50 employees, and meeting the requirements of the law would cause undue hardship, the employer is exempt from the law.
Some states have expanded the FSLA. For example, Colorado requires breaks for the mother to pump for up to two years after the birth of the child, and Maine and Vermont provide pumping breaks for up to three years following the birth. Hawaii states that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of an employee nursing or needing to pump during work hours. Indiana provides that the state and local governments must provide paid breaks for the mother to pump, and reduces the number of employees from 50 to 25, thus, any employer with more than 25 employees must provide pumping facilities and comply with the law.
v. The Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles employees to take unpaid, job protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. A person is entitled to 12 weeks of leave in a one-year period for: the birth and care of a child, the placement of an adopted child, the care of an immediate family member with a serious health condition, a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to work, or a qualifying situation arising out of an active duty military family member. If the mother has pre-birth complications, she may be allowed to take leave under the medical component of the Act. However, many employers are exempt from FMLA because it does not apply to small businesses who have fewer than 50 employees. This means that 40% of private workers are not covered by FMLA because their employer does not have greater than 50 employees.
Some states, however, have tried to close some of the gaps in the FMLA. Some states have enacted requirements that lower the number of employees required to trigger FMLA benefits. For example, Maine requires private employers to cover their employees under the FMLA if they employ more than 15 people, or if the entity is a city or town that employs more than 25 people, they must provide coverage. Other states that have lowered the threshold for when an employer must provide coverage are: Minnesota (21 or more employees, provides parental leave only), Oregon (25 or more employees), Rhode Island (50 or more employees for private employers, and 30 or more employees for public employers), Vermont (10 or more employees, and covers parental leave, 15 or more employees and covers family and medical leave), Washington (covers all employees for parental leave, and 50 or more employees for reasons besides parental leave), and the District of Columbia (20 or more employees).
California and New Jersey offer state maternity benefits as a part of the state’s disability insurance plan, which provides a partial offset of some lost income. Other states have expanded the FMLA to allow unpaid leave to parents attending a child’s school or educational activities (states include California, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Vermont). Other states have passed FMLA-type statutes to provide unpaid leave for workers to take family members to routine medical visits (states include Massachusetts and Vermont).
b. Failed Laws Related to Women’s Employment
Recently, in June of this year, the Senate blocked a bill that would have provided greater protection for women seeking to prosecute claims of unequal pay. The bill would have allowed increased litigation opportunities for women, closed a variety of legal loopholes, strengthened federal enforcement authority, and barred retaliation from employees who share pay information with other employees. However, some Senate members claimed that this legislation would require annual compensation reporting to the federal government, provide unlimited punitive and compensatory damages, and clog the courts with greater class action lawsuits.
Additionally, the Fair Pay Act of 2011 was introduced to end pay discrimination for those who work primarily in female or minority dominated jobs. For example, a company could not pay jobs held predominately by women, less than jobs predominately held by men, if those jobs are equivalent in value to the employer. The legislation made exemptions for wage differences based on merit, seniority, or quantity and quality of work. However, this bill was referred to Committee in 2011, and is unlikely to be enacted.
Another piece of legislation is the Paycheck Fairness Act, which strengthens and updates the Equal Pay Act, by expanding damages and narrowing the affirmative defenses available under the EPA. For example, there are some very broad exemptions to the EPA currently. A current defense to the EPA could include things like: the wage difference is based on a factor that is related to job requirements or that it is good for the employers business; or the wage difference is reasonable to further the employers’ business or to benefit some other employment practice. The Paycheck Fairness Act would have limited the differences in pay to only bona fide factors, such as education, training, and experience. The Act would have provided for a study to propose guidelines to show employers how to evaluate jobs to eliminate unfair wage disparities. However, this Act was defeated on June 5, 2012, on a 52-47 vote that was strictly along party lines.
c. View of Laws and Policies in Other Counties Protecting Women
The United States is severely lacking in legislation protecting both equal pay rights for women and mothers in the workforce. The United States could take important guidance from programs implemented abroad. For example, one Australian Law is The Equal Opportunity of Women in the Workplace Act of 1999, which renamed and updated the Affirmative Action Act of 1986. The Act is designed to promote merit in employment, eliminate discrimination, and encourage discourse between employers and employees on these issues. The act requires that designated entities with 100 or more employees establish a workplace program to remove barriers to women entering and advancing in their organization. Australia even has an agency dedicated to equal opportunities for women, titled the “Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency.”
Many other countries have provided much greater periods of paid leave for mothers, for example, in the Czech Republic, Greece, Finland, and Hungary, a mother is provided up to three years of paid leave. Germany has a “parent’s salary” encouraging one parent to stay at home, and most of these named countries actually have a greater percentage of women participating in the workforce after parenthood than the United States does.
i. Countries with Beneficial Maternity Programs
Sweden has one of the most extensive maternity and paternity leave policies in the world. First, a pregnant woman is required to take two weeks of paid leave before or after the delivery of a baby. A pregnant woman can also take indefinite leave for the duration of her pregnancy if the job poses a risk to the fetus, paid at 80% of her wages. A woman may also take 50 days of the last 60 days of her pregnancy on leave if her job is physically demanding, also paid at 80% of her earnings.
After delivery, the parents are (collectively) entitled to 480 days of paid leave. Of the 480 days, 390 are paid at 80% of the parents’ salary (up to 49,305 euros per year, or about $65,171 U.S. dollars), and the remaining 90 days are at a flat 20 euros per day, or about $26 U.S. dollars. Sixty days are reserved for each parent, and the remaining is split between the parents, but can be transferred from one parent to another. Additionally, the parent’s are each entitled to 18 months leave from work, unpaid. A parent may also take the same amount of parental and maternity leave if another child is born or adopted within 30 months of the earlier child. The leave can be taken any time before the child’s 8th birthday, and the paid and unpaid leave may be divided between the parents and used individually or consecutively for the most flexibility. The leave may also be used to split up full workdays, for example, a hundred days of paid leave would allow a parent to work half time for 200 days. In addition to parental leave benefits, either parent is allowed to reduce their workday by 25% (unpaid) in order to care for children up until the age of 8. Also, Sweden offers generous childcare and sick child programs.
In order to qualify for 80% of your salary, a parent would need to have had an income greater than 20 euros a day (or about $26) for 240 days before the expected date of delivery or adoption. If the parent has not met this requirement they are not entitled to 80% of their salary, but they are eligible for 20 euros per day for 480 days (or about $12,689 U.S. dollars total). In order to fund these extensive leave programs, payments come from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, and employers and self-employed individuals make contributions. Employers pay 31.42% on all employees’ earnings total, and 2.2% of this is earmarked for this parental insurance, and the government makes up any shortfall. Finally, a study found that because the leave policies allowed fathers to stay home at well, for each month the father stayed home instead of the mother, her income increased by 7% in the long term. Thus, these policies have also been a tool to help close the gender pay gap. Moreover, there is no incentive to hire men over women because both parties are entitled to leave for the care of children.
The Canadian government has both a leave and benefits program available to new mothers, where women can take between 17 and 52 weeks of leave from their jobs, depending on the length of the employment and the hours worked. A pregnant woman or new mother can take 15 weeks of maternity leave, and then either parent may take up to 35 weeks of paid parental leave, or the leave may be split between the two parents. The program pays the parent 55% of their weekly salary, up to a maximum of $485 per week, and low income families can receive up to 80% of their weekly salary, but still capped at a maximum $485 weekly.
This program is funded through the Federal Employment Insurance Program, where employers contribute 2.49% of earnings and employees contribute 1.78% of earnings. These benefits are also taxed in the same way as traditional wages. In order to qualify for the leave program, the employee must have been employed by the same employer continuously for 600 hours over the previous 52 weeks (totaling about 11 hours per week). Unlike Sweden, the program does not allow “stacking” of children, and there must be 600 hours worked between children in order to be re-eligible for the program.
ii. Countries with Beneficial Wage Equality Programs
Currently the United States has more than a 20% gender pay gap between men and women; however, Belgium leads the way with less than a 10% gap. Belgium has implemented an Institute for the Equality of Women and Men, which presents a yearly report on pay equality, and what can be done to help close the pay gap. The Institute has stated that a large portion of the pay gap can be attributed to segregation in the labor market, with men and women having different roles in the labor market, and women generally taking on labor market roles that pay less. Women also take more frequent breaks throughout their career, tend to work less hours, and tend to focus more on the intrinsic factors of work (such as whether or not they enjoy their employment, colleagues, etc.). The Institute suggests broadening the scope of the pay gap, and taking these non-external factors into consideration, which will possibly even lessen the gap. Additionally, Belgium has instituted a policy of de-segregating the work population, by guaranteeing gender neutrality in all sectors of employment by 2016. Belgium has also implemented a gender-neutral job classification system with gender-neutral hiring programs. The government has also set up programs to assist women with work-life balance, for example, by making professional help more available and affordable in the area of house cleaning. This also serves the function of creating employment opportunities for low educated women, and thereby activating women in the labor market. Belgium has also implemented programs dedicated to: the segregation of women in universities and engineering programs; ensuring higher market participation of women; and developing reliable childcare facilities. Finally, Belgium is making a point to better educate girls in school and help women gain employment in better paid sectors and occupations, rather than being stuck in low wage employment, while at the same time trying to increase the overall participation rate of women.
Iceland currently ranks #1 in the 2010 Global Gender Gap Report, which measures both equality in pay, and the number of women holding administrative positions. Several factors have contributed to this success in achieving a balanced workforce. First, Iceland has one of the highest percentages of women in government ministerial positions at 45%. Iceland also has a nearly completely gender balanced parliament and a female prime minister, which is in shocking comparison to the United States, where only 20 out of 100 senators are female. Next, in 2010, Iceland adopted legislation that required publically owned companies and public limited companies with at least 50 employees to have at least 40% of their board comprised of females by the end of 2013. Another important key to success in Iceland is the fact that they reached 99-100% literacy for both sexes several years ago, and there is equality in education at both the primary and secondary level.
Iceland has also implemented a broad Gender Equality Act, which is meant to establish and maintain equality between men and women in all spheres of life. The Act is meant to address issues involving work life balance and the gender pay gap. Iceland also has a Centre for Gender Equality, a Gender Equality Counsel, a Gender Equality Forum, and a Gender Equality Four Year Action Program. One requirement mandates that companies with more than 25 employees institute a gender equality program, and if the company fails, they may be subject to fines. These programs have had success, as Iceland has only 3% unemployment among both men and women, and women make up 49% of the labor force, at fairly equal wage rates.
a. Comparison of the Laws of the United States and Other Countries and Argue for
Adoption of Laws/Policies Similar to Other Countries
Many other countries have recognized the importance of mothers staying home and raising their children, while also having increased participation in the workforce. Many countries will hold a woman’s job open and pay her to stay home for the first several years of the child’s life, and yet these countries still seem to have greater participation of women in the workforce than the United States. Many other countries also do not have the same pay disparities between men and women as the United States still has. Some countries have even established entire agencies directed to the equality of women within the workforce, but still spent a comparatively small amount of that country’s GDP on these programs.
It seems unfathomable that the United States, which currently has the highest Gross Domestic Product of any country in the world , is unable to adequately develop and fund programs to ensure equal participation in the workforce for both men and women. A solution that seems to be a good compromise is following a system like Canada’s. Canada requires that 600 hours be worked in the 52 weeks preceding the receipt of maternity benefits, and there must be 600 hours worked between children in order to re-qualify. It also taxes the benefits as income. Thus, this is a more balance approach as compared to Sweden, which allows maternity benefits at a flat rate even if the mother did not work at all previously.
By requiring a certain amount of time worked in order to receive benefits, it ensures that the woman and the employer are paying taxes into the program, and thus, makes the program fiscally solvent. Therefore, it does not seem overly burdensome to enact a Social Security type system, where women and their employers both contribute a small amount of the employees salary to fund these programs (as low as 1.78% of earnings is contributed in Canada ).
In regards to pay disparity in the United States, the United States is on the right track, and recently went from #31st to #19th on the Global Gender Gap Report. However, where the United States scored most poorly was in the area of equal gender participation (the United States ranks #43rd in the world in this area) and wage equality for similar work (the United States ranked #64th in the world for this area). By implementing programs that ensure mothers are encouraged back into the workforce after having children, it seems that the female participation rates will increase (as demonstrated by a multitude of other countries that have a higher percentage of women in the workforce and also have maternity benefits programs). However, it is also a deterrent to women entering the workforce if they know that their work is not as valued as a mans’ work, or if their husband has a higher earning potential than they do because of wage disparity.
The United States has scored very well in equality in education and literacy rates, but the United States is severely lacking in the category of “women empowerment,” with very few women in government positions, or positions of political authority. This alone may be an unconscious signal to girls and women about their value in society. Moreover, if the government will not increase participation rates of women within its own political arena, it seems untenable that the United States could tell corporations to also increase the rates of women on corporate boards. The United States needs to begin to remedy this problem by valuing the role of women in government, and take proactive measures to increase women’s participation in the political process. Once this has been implemented, the next step would be a program similar to Iceland’s and Australia’s, where there are dedicated government advocacy organizations designed to mitigate gender inequality.
b. Response to Arguments Against Expansion of Women and Mother’s Equal Protection Programs
One argument frequently espoused in regards to fair pay legislation, is that new legislation is superfluous, and would not add any benefits, but only serve to add more litigation costs to corporations. However, it seems that if the current legislation was “enough” or that additional legislation was unnecessary, then it would be hard to understand why, when the first Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, almost 50 years ago, there is still such a large disparity in pay for women, even when accounting for controls, such as women who left the workforce for periods of time. In 1963, women were making 59 cents for every one-dollar a man made, which means that the pay gap is closing by less than half a cent every year. Over time, this means that over a lifetime of work (47 years) a woman with a high school diploma will earn $700,000 less than her male counterpart; a woman with a college degree will earn $1.2 million less than her male counterpart; and a woman with a professional degree will earn $2 million dollars less than her male counterpart. In 2011, the average earnings for women were $37,118, while for a man it was $48,202, with an $11,084 dollar difference in their wages. At this pace, it will take until the year 2056 for women to have wage parity with men.
Moreover, some critics claim that equality programs will burden employers and thus reduce the economy and the amount of employees that a company will choose to hire, and possibly the number of women working in general. However, this argument is without merit because the inclusion of women in the workplace will actually create a positive net gain. Women have now surpassed men in the holding of college degrees, with 37% of women holding degree compared to 35% of men. Additionally, women are beginning to outpace men in the earning of advanced degrees. In fact, women almost double men in enrollment at tertiary educational institutions. Therefore, in order to retain the most qualified, and possibly the most revenue producing workforce, the private sector will be forced to turn to highly qualified women. Also, women add non-monetary value to a workforce. One study showed that women have a particular skill set of being able to “do more with less.” Women tend to be more resourceful and develop a unique political awareness that allows them to build alliances, form unique relationships, and seize strategic opportunities. Women also tend to be more collaborative, have unique listening skills, and are able to multi-task and synthesize viewpoints effectively. These traits are considered an asset to “human centered design” which keys into empathy and human emotion, and makes women better able to connect with the employer’s key audiences. This is also important because women make 85% of all brand purchases. When considering all of these factors, it seems difficult to understand why corporations would not support women-centered programs in order to ensure equality.
Another argument is that the government cannot afford to subsidize paid maternity leave programs for mothers. However, my response is this: How can the government not afford to sponsor mothers during maternity leave? If by ensuring that a woman has a job to return to, and is taken care of adequately during her maternity leave, the government will have an overall net increase in the number of women working, who are then also (presumably) paying taxes on that income. Moreover, by allowing a subsidy for pregnant and new mothers, the government is simply redirecting funds. It is arguable that at least some portion of the women who would be forced to leave their employment while pregnant or after having a child will resort to welfare services, such as food stamps and cash assistance. However, if by refocusing the governments’ funds and giving it to mothers who will then reenter the workforce after their maternity leave expires, they will presumably be preventing the mothers from resorting to welfare services. Additionally, as argued in Section (a), these programs do not have to be costly, and can have restrictions on them, such as a minimum work requirement before getting benefits, and taxing the benefits as income.
This has been done successfully in California and New Jersey, by allowing pregnancy under temporary disability insurance. In New Jersey, benefits are payable for 4 weeks prior to the expected delivery date, and up to six weeks following, and longer if there are complications. The benefits program entitles a person to 2/3rds of their average weekly wages, and the maximum benefit is $572/weekly. The maximum benefit per year is 1/3rd of your previous yearly earnings, or 26 weekly benefits, whichever is less. In New Jersey, the cost of the program to the employee is .02% of the employee’s base wages on the first $30,300, and the maximum contribution yearly is $60.60. For the employer, the contribution rate varied from 0.10% to 0.75%, and this averages between $30.30 and $227.25 on the first $30,300 earned by each employee. New Jersey also taxes the benefits for Social Security and Federal Income Taxes. The benefits program is not only for pregnancy, but also for any temporary disability, and both men and women contribute to the program equally.
c. Women Right’s Movement Has Hindered the Growth of the Law
Finally, much of the history of the women’s rights movements have focused on getting women into the workplace, with equal pay, and equivalent jobs, that the rights and importance of mothers to also stay home and raise their children has been ignored. For example, the extreme women’s party, the National Women’s Party, while contributing much to the advancement of women’s causes in the workplace, has often shunned motherhood. Thus, as the law advanced, the laws in the United States have focused on equality within the workplace and not recognized the inherent differences that face men and women within the workforce, particularly the rights to maternity leave and the right to raise a child while still being able to have meaningful participation in the workforce after the child’s birth and early years.
Anne-Marie Slaughter was the director of policy planning at the State Department, who also had two sons, and she wrote a powerful article on the “do it all” mother. In the article she explains the difficulty of raising two children, even with the resources to be able to hire maids and tutors, many luxuries the average woman could not afford. She states that her traditionally feminist views were shifting from under her, and she had an epiphany that mothers cannot do it all, as was ingrained her from the feminist movement. She was not alone, and she explains how many high-level female government officials left because of the tensions between work and home life. It was phrased nicely when two women who had it all wrote: “What we discovered in our research is that while the empowerment part of the equation has been loudly celebrated, there has been very little honest discussion among women of our age about the real barriers and flaws that still exist in the system despite the opportunities we inherited.” She goes on to explain that in order to remedy the disparity of mothers in the workplace, mothers actually need to be represented in the workforce and the value of mothers needs to be acknowledged.
It is abhorrent that the United States is one of the only industrialized countries that does not mandate any type of paid maternity leave for mothers, and does not follow the International Labor Organization’s call for Equal Pay for Equal Work. The United States has the #1 GDP in the world, but women are still making only 77 cents for every man’s dollar. By refusing to acknowledge the problems that face women and mothers today, both the United States and employers are suffering, not just economically, but also socially and morally. By taking heed of other countries that have been successful at equalizing the disparity, the United States may be able to modernize its approach to womanhood and motherhood.
“In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.”
― Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide