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The Fight for Equal Pay: Mothers and Others

Updated: Feb 28, 2021

“Equal pay for equal work.” This has become the motto of women who have been marching for years to achieve the same level of respect that men enjoy. In today’s world, people everywhere continue to march for women’s equality. It’s an issue that’s close to me and our organization. However, as time goes on, it seems as if progress hasn’t been made. In particular, women’s participation continues to lack in STEM fields and in positions of power. Now you may ask, why? Didn’t women get the vote 100 years ago, and haven’t we as a country progressed since then? While the answer to both of those questions is yes, women and men continue to face different social expectations, which results in the hindrance of women’s progress.


In our society, women are seen as the primary caregivers, and men are seen as the breadwinners. Let’s start with a basic example. Let’s take a husband and wife, both of whom are lawyers at a firm. They decide they would like to have children. The woman is most likely going to be the partner that has to sacrifice her job in order to take care of the child, while the man remains at work. Several years later, while the woman is working part-time or even not at all, the man continues his work and slowly begins to rise in the hierarchy at the firm. Eventually, the man becomes a partner at the firm whereas the woman has fallen off the corporate ladder completely. This disparity further increases the difference in the wages that either person receives. The expectation that women need to be the primary caregivers is one of the main factors that keeps this wage gap open.


Let us also consider the motherhood penalty, which makes up about 25% of the wage gap. According to research done at the Harvard Kennedy School, mothers are 6 times less likely than childless women and 3.35 times less likely than childless men to be recommended for hire. The issue starts with women applying for jobs. Most women are overlooked for jobs for which they have the qualifications, simply due to the fact that they may have children in the future. Now, one might raise the question: didn’t these women choose to have their children and leave work? Although women do make the decision to stay at home and take care of their children, it doesn’t mean that they wanted to perpetually freeze their careers. In many cases, the ‘choice’ not to return to work isn’t much of a choice at all.


In fact, the main reason that some women stop working after having children is due to the lack of proper maternity leave given by their employer. The lack of proper maternity leave results in 2 issues. First, women aren’t given enough maternity leave, and therefore instead of going back to work, they choose to stay at home and take care of their children. In the second situation, women have to go back to work sooner than expected in order to be able to provide for their children. Sadly, many women have returned back to work only a few weeks after the birth of their child for fear of not being able to make enough money to pay the bills. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 16% of private industry workers had access to paid maternity leave, whereas 88% had access to unpaid maternity leave. As a country, we don’t have universal maternity leave despite being so well-developed. We pride ourselves on being world leaders, however how can we be world leaders if almost 50% of the population’s voice isn’t heard? If we were able to support both mothers and nonmothers in their endeavors then the issue with the wage gap would slowly resolve itself as it has in many other countries.


Of course, America isn’t the only country in the world that faces issues with the pay gap. However, many other countries have begun to take initiative to solve the issue. The primary example is Iceland, currently leading the world in reducing the pay gap between men and women. It all started in 1975 when many women across the country left their jobs and protested in the streets for equal pay. This activism led to a shift in the mentality of society and more women began to get jobs in positions of power. As more women became part of the decision-making process, more policy changes were implemented. Employers were required to give women 6 months of maternity leave. In 2000, Iceland took the issue one step further and also implemented a paternity leave. This policy changed the perception that men were the breadwinners in the family, and women were the sole caregivers.


Certainly, Iceland hasn’t fully solved their problems, as women still earn only $0.90 to every $1.00 a man earns. While the $0.10 might not seem like a huge difference, imagine that you hold a $100,000 job; if you only made $90,000, you’re missing $10,000 - this is equivalent to about 3,600 coffees or a trip to the Winter Olympics! This discrepancy highlights that there is still a huge issue with the gender pay gap that stems from the discrimination women face for simply being women. This perception can only be altered by teaching young girls that they can continue working at their jobs, and by teaching young boys that they should also consider taking care of their future children if their partner wants to work.


As a society, we need to begin implementing change by not pushing down young girls’ dreams of becoming an astronaut or telling a young boy that he’s not manly enough. By changing the way we think we can begin to look at all people as simply people and the issues we face can begin to get resolved. Emma Watson, an actress and advocate for women’s rights, said

"The reality is that if we do nothing it will take 75 years, or for me to be nearly a hundred, before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work."

To start bringing change, we can donate to organizations fighting for gender equality such as the Mona Foundation, an organization dedicated to empowering girls worldwide and National Women’s Law Center, an organization that has successfully pushed for policy advocating for pay equity for women. By donating and advocating for equal pay we can ensure that our future daughters won’t have to live in a world in which the work they do is deemed to have less value than that of men; a world where equal pay for equal work becomes a reality.