After a year dominated by exposing harassment in high profile entertainment and business industries, many people might expect to see dramatic changes in the way women are treated and supported in the workforce. Unfortunately, the issues women face in the workplace have continued from recent years – or, in some cases, have worsened.
After all, it is only in 2019 – and only in the state of New York – that African-Americans have won the right to wear their hair in the ways that it naturally grows, and that employers are prohibited from discriminating against them due to braids, locs, or other natural hairstyles.
These are some of the ongoing workplace issues that women face.
Gender Wage Gap
While some outlets are reporting big increases in overall wages and labor force participation, women are seeing less than their share of those increases. These issues are most pronounced for those who work the jobs with the lowest levels of wages – domestic workers and hourly wage workers, for example.
White women have seen a slight increase in their wages in comparison to men slightly narrowing the gender gap. Hispanic women have narrowed their gap in relation to white women. Black women, however, have seen the racial wage disparity increase since 2000.
Labor Force Share
Since the early 2000s, the number of women (of all races) participating in the labor force has dropped. After peaking around 61% in both 2002 and 2008, that percentage has dropped to around 58%. While the statistics in the above report only looked at women as a unified group, women of color have again been most affected by these changes.
Seeing the force of labor share drop often means that women are staying home with kids or family members, have jobs in unstable working conditions, or are working at “gigs” or as freelancers. This means they exist without benefits like health insurance, sick pay, overtime protections (working multiple jobs can lead to much more than a 40 hour work week) and more.
Occupation Gender Gap
Part of the gender wage gap has to do with how women of all races are segmented towards lower paying careers, such as teaching, nursing, and cleaning instead of administrative, physician, or business partner work. Although men and women in the same position will still have wage differences on average, career segmentation absolutely creates differences in pay throughout the economy.
In order to continue to earn income while taking care of family or when other work isn’t available, many women have started their own businesses.
Women are starting businesses at record rates, according to the American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. But while women own 40% of American businesses, it’s important to note that most businesses are sole proprietorships – there are no employees, and the woman herself generally runs all functions of the business.
So while more women are finding funding for STEM related businesses and there has been a significant uptick in women’s businesses worth more than $1 million, that uptick is only notable because 1.7% of women’s businesses fit in that category. It doesn’t take much to move that needle by 46%.
Lack of Protections in Non-Standard Work
As noted above, many women who are involved in non-standard work – multiple low paying jobs, freelancing or contract work, gig economy work – generally lack protections afforded to typical 9-to-5 employees.
For single women, this problem is already significant, but for women with families, this leaves children vulnerable to poverty and unstable living conditions. Some states have begun to enact provisions for benefits like maternity leave, but the idea of a portable benefits package – health and life insurance that follow the worker instead of the job, for example – is a long ways away.
After a year dominated by high profile #metoo stories, one might think that sexual harassment in the workplace would have decreased. Unfortunately, 70% of women say that the movement has not had any effect on their place of business.
In fact, some women continue to worry that the movement will make it more difficult for women to advance in business and STEM fields, as they fear the movement will make men less likely to take on mentorship roles. 17% of men, it turns out, agree; they avoid interactions with women to make sure that they aren’t accused of inappropriate behavior.
While there are signs that the economy is growing and recovery from problems in recent years, it is clear that women as a group are not keeping up with that growth. Black women continue to bear the worst of the gaps and discrepancies, in part due to systematic racial issues that plague the economy at large.
The good news is that there are more groups out there designed to help support women in the business world, such as venture capitalist that focus on firms run that women and organizations that focus on helping Black women grow their businesses. It is hopeful that this will, over time, turn the tide of women in the workforce and begin to create a more equal playing field for women of all races.