The Declaration of Independence, our nation’s founding document, made radical statements about the equality of “mankind.” Yet nearly two-and-a-half centuries later, some Americans have yet to see the reality of those proclamations in their everyday lives. Even a century after having their right to vote codified in the nineteenth amendment to the United States Constitution, parity for women is not yet a reality. In the twenty-first-century American job market, women continue to struggle for equal pay and equal treatment.
Even with equal education and experience, women still suffer economic inequality, often receiving lower pay for the same jobs. Righting this wrong will take deliberate action, and it is high time for us to consider the use of legislation and regulation to force what still hasn’t been achieved. Here are four ideas that can be implemented to help achieve parity.
- End Salary Secrecy
Statistics show that women consistently earn less money than their male counterparts. Arguing for equal pay is nearly impossible when the current system strongly encourages or even contractually prevents employees from sharing pertinent details, such as salary. The failed “Paycheck Fairness Act” would have taken measures to end pay secrecy, provide extended remedies, and attach more stringent punishments to employers who refuse to ensure equal pay for equally qualified workers.
- Guarantee Paid Family Leave
Many developed nations have enacted family leave legislation that guarantees paid time-off to workers under specific circumstances, such as the birth or serious illness of a child. Women, still most often the primary caregivers, are therefore harder hit by the lack of paid leave. Only 11 percent of privately employed workers and 17 percent of government employees currently have even basic maternity leave benefits.This can put workers, especially women, in the position of either having to choose work over family or taking unpaid leave, which often leads to borrowing to cover lost wages. By providing paid leave, the workplace becomes more welcoming of women’s dual roles as workers and mothers.
- High-Quality Child Care
It is not uncommon for a family with two working parents to pay the equivalent of average home’s rent in their area for professional childcare. This makes two-income families less feasible since so much of a second income would often go to cover just the basic necessities. Employer-funded or partially subsidized childcare care could correct this problem. Public funding proposals that exist could ease the burden of out-of-pocket expenses faced by parents of young children. Since only 20 percent of families have a stay-at-home father, this policy would primarily benefit women, allowing them to stay in the workplace, or to work at jobs that are more demanding of their time.
- Gender Targets for Corporate Board
Studies have shown that companies who welcome a woman on their board consistently outperform those that do not. Despite this evidence that business success is tied to gender diversity, fewer than 20 percent of America’s Fortune 500 companies have at least one woman on their board of directors.Through incentives and regulation, we should be encouraging gender targets on corporate boards. Women seated on these boards would enjoy influence that could go a long way towards correcting other gender-based discrimination.
Progress is Good, but it Could be Better
These simple steps are not onerous regulations that would unduly burden corporations. In fact, research shows that correcting gender inequalities would improve business profitability and the quality of life for workers across the board. As we progress, we may finally see a world that more closely reflects the idea that sparked the American dream: we are truly equal.
Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience.
The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter.
She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS.
Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.