Closing the Gender Gap

Monica Potts has a really great article over at The American Prospect that does a terrific job of explaining why it is hard to make the case that there is a gender gap and that we should do something – through federal legislation – about it.

Money quote:

Real-world discrimination isn’t as obvious as we’d like it to be: An employer will never say, “By the way, I’m paying all my female employees less.” It’s much more subtle and affects women from the start of their career, from the often internalized belief that women are naturally suited to traditionally low-paying careers like teaching rather than high-paying careers like finance, to the persistent belief that women are paid less because they’re not solely devoted to climbing to the top of the career ladder.

A 2007 study by the American Association of University Women found that women were paid 5 percent less than men with equivalent jobs just one year out of school. Those differences compound: A woman who is paid less would have to get higher raises or better starting salaries at subsequent jobs to catch up with men. But raises and new salaries are anchored by previous earnings. It might be difficult for individual actors to see how their life paths are affected by society as a whole, and women themselves do not always recognize individual injustices for what they are — systemic discrimination. That’s the hard part about dealing with discrimination in America: We have a skewed idea of what it is, and many women, struggling or not, do not even know when they are a victim.

Monica is dead on here. It is really hard to build public will for civil and human rights legislation if the very people you are trying to help don’t think they need it.

Often in the work we do at The Leadership Conference in communities around the country, we have to start by establishing that there is still a problem that needs to be addressed. Believing that we have, as Americans, conquered issues of inequality and that the playing field has been leveled is attractive.  It means we can let our guard down. It means we no longer have to be hyperaware of how we are treating one another. And it means we can relax and just live our lives.  We so desperately want that and that’s why Republican messages tend to penetrate, I think.

But the truth is, of course, that we must always be vigilant and advocate for policies that can truly level the playing field – because it is not level yet.  The Leadership Conference and its member organizations pushed really hard for the Paycheck Fairness Act, and are committed to pushing for policies that close the gender gap (and provide remedies to women who are victims of pay discrimination).