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SAJU: Discrimination against women still prevalent

Column: Pride, not prejudice

James Damore’s workplace discrimination lawsuit has now gone down in infamy. Last year, the then-Google software engineer sued the company for workplace discrimination and claimed that there was company bias against conservative white men. 

After being fired by Google, Damore posted an analysis of why the company had failed to hire more female engineers: He cited a woman’s biology, among other factors, as a reason for this gender inequality. He stated women were naturally less able to handle stress and blamed Google for creating an environment where he felt his opinions were silenced. 

Damore’s sexist attitude toward women in the workplace skims the surface of why the gender pay gap is so detrimental to women across disciplines. The gender pay gap, the difference in payment between men and women, is deeply rooted in our society. 

It maintains gendered divisions that exist in the domestic sphere and has functioned as a mechanism to devalue women’s contributions in the public sphere. The gender pay gap is more than just unequal pay for the same job. It hints at the societal trend of pushing women toward lower-paying, care-focused work. These types of jobs, while essential for the well-being of a society, are paid less because they are labeled as “women’s work.” 

The Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, but this equal pay mandate would not remedy the preference for male job applicants. Because almost every society is heavily influenced by patriarchal norms and notions, the American understanding of work correlates to the contributions of men being priced and the contributions of women being devalued

In her book, "That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together," Joanne Lipman reveals how the cultural biases against women begin almost from birth: Mothers overestimate the crawling abilities of their sons and underestimate the crawling abilities of their daughters. 

She also debunks Damore’s argument that women are biologically less able to handle stress. By interviewing experts Brian Welle, a Google data scientist, and Laszlo Bock, a former head of Google's People Operations, it was determined that Google employees had blind spots about their prejudices against women and minorities. It was not the fault of the women they were overlooking. 

Regardless of how many times the gender pay gap is referenced in American culture, there have only been narrow improvements since the 1980s. The projected timeline for the closing of the global pay gap is 202 years, and women in America will not receive equal pay until approximately 2059. 

Year-round, full-time female employees in the U.S. earned 80% of what their male counterparts earned, and over a lifetime of work this difference in payment adds up: $700,000 for a high school graduate, $1.2 million for a college graduate and $2 million for a professional school graduate. 

That is too much money to sacrifice for being female — but any amount of money lost to the gender pay gap is too much money. No matter how you analyze it, the gender pay gap is real, persistent and harmful to women’s economic security.

It is not just the pay gap that we should be concerned about. The wealth gap in America, a far more accurate measure of an individual’s economic situation which can be calculated by subtracting debts from assets, is far greater than the income gap: In comparison to men, women own only 32 cents on the dollar. 

Women are not able to save money because they are paid less than their male counterparts, are more likely to work part-time jobs (limited in employer benefits like retirement savings plan and 401K) to take care of familial responsibilities, and are often barred from accessing federal and state tax subsidies that encourage savings and investment because of the way that these subsidies are structured. 

While working toward equal pay requires that women fight for pay equity, affordable childcare and paid family leave, tackling wealth inequality can be done by addressing and restructuring retirement savings and tax benefits.  

Economic equity contributes to a better economy for all of us. The policy changes needed to even the financial playing field are within reach. We must do more than just lean in — we have to care enough to change things.  

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