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Final Paper: Gender Discrimination in the Workplace

kscire's picture


Katie Scire 

Final Paper 


Gender Discrimination in the Workplace


It is not up for debate whether women are discriminated against in the workplace it is evident in census data; in 1998 women made 73 cents to the dollar paid to men. Even today, there is still a pay gap that exists between women and men. It is said that the organizations that are pro-equal pay, including some unions, support the idea that the government should set wages for all jobs. To the contrary, the organizations that are proponents of equal pay are not for job wages being set by the government-they wish to have the discrimination taken out of pay scales from within the company. Commonly, this pay gap is attributed to the fact that women in the United States are still expected to attend to familial obligations over work. Data shows that women do attend to family obligations, like having a child, caring for a sick family member, or caring for an elder; but they also do not give up on work. Yes, women often chose lower paying jobs in exchange for flexible hours and do spend a lower number of hours per week long-term at their jobs than their male counterparts. Because women are socialized to be the primary care givers they are kept at these lower paying jobs that are more flexible, the jobs allow them to care for their family yet still retain an income (possibly a second income for the household). Women’s changing roles in society has resulted in this workplace problem. Women are allowed and often encouraged to work but they are not rewarded or compensated at the same level, for their efforts, that men in the work force are. The pay gap would be narrowed if companies were more conducive to family schedules. Men and women would receive equal pay for the same job. Companies would benefit by retaining quality employees. Men and women need to start out making the same amount of money for the same job, companies need to offer women ample maternity leave, families need to be offered childcare (or childcare compensation), there needs to be a  flexible work environment, and men should never be discouraged from taking paternity leave. It seems that women workers have reached a plateau in society. In order for women to be respected (as men are) in the workplace there needs to be a redistribution of domestic and family work. It’s acceptable now for women to work; but this acceptance into the workforce has not drastically changed what they, women, are expected to perform at home. There is no way for women to move forward to equality in pay if they are not recognized as contributers to their job (i.e. women are still expected to perform outside of work in the family setting as well in a way that men are only expected to perform at work and not at home).

As soon as more domestic and family work is allocated to men then women will be able to attain equal pay. Women, with less work at home, will be able to commit to full time jobs, have to leave the workforce less, take less leave, and be able to climb the corporate ladder just as men are today.

Since 1942, gender inequality, at least in pay, can be traced. In 1942 the National War Labor Board issued a general order that authorized employers to make voluntary adjustments in salaries or pay in order to demonstrate gender equality (at least in jobs were women and men worked the exact same job and had comparable quality and quantity of work) (CNN). Rates of women in labor unions has been increasing since they have entered the workforce. Even with the increase of women union numbers this inequality of pay still exists. Women are encouraged by unions and other organizations to sue their employer if they are being treated unfairly in the workplace. Women are unlikely to pursue this option against their employers because of limited resources, i.e. money and time. 

Gender discrimination in the workplace is not only evident in the pay gap but also in sexual harassment and the “glass ceiling” in organizations. The term glass ceiling began as a reference to discrimination against women in the work force. “Glass ceiling” encompasses many different kinds of discrimination against women workers including but bot limited to: differences in pay for comparable work, sexual harassment in the workplace, and companies that do not have family-friendly policies. The glass ceiling is an unwritten rule in many businesses. The ceiling is an invisible barrier that usually affects minorities and women. This barrier is extremely debilitating for women in their job because it makes them feel inferior and that their bosses do not take them seriously because of their sex. Women feel that their bosses aren’t taking them seriously because the bosses do not view them as potential candidates for the most prestigious positions in the establishment. The glass ceiling is another oppressive means used by corporate America to keep women out of powerful positions and keep them from raking in a lot of money; in terms of their gross income. A study done by the U.S Department of Labor in 1991  reviewed nine Fortune 500 companies and the results confirmed that workers in these companies, minorities and women especially, came into contact with the invisible barrier, “the glass ceiling”, very early on in their careers. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has designated two different types of sexual harassment in workplaces: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 is harassment that directly results  in an employment outcome (ex. the harasser would say that if you don’t do X you will lose your job). Sexual harassment of Type 2 is not nearly as direct but creates a hostile work environment for the harassed worker. This hostile in environment can be created by rude gestures, sabotaged work, inappropriate name calling, vulgar jokes, unnecessary touching, comment on the appearance of others (physical attributes), etc. 

Women are now surpassing men in the amount of education, in years and higher degrees, they have. If the workforce does not allow them to pursue executive career options then they will find themselves unable to fill these positions. Women in 1996 earned 1,255,057 college degrees as compared to men who earned 992,638 degrees (Career Planning). The ever increasing amount of women furthering their education makes them more likely to want to enter the job market. Also, the longer a woman is in school the longer she will be in the workforce, when she enters it, because it is likely that she will delay childbearing. Even though female graduates may be even more qualified for a position than her male counterpart the woman will be much more likely to be recommended for a job as an assistant or secretary job than the man. She will be told that this assistant or secretarial job is her way to get her foot in the door at the company. The employers will act like this is a typical entry-level position when in fact a man in the same situation will immediately begin at a much higher level in the company.

Women are over represented in the lower paying jobs in the company- almost all assistants and secretarial positions are filled by women while men crowd the top and fill the most prestigious positions in the company. This concentration of men at the top and women at the bottom is called “occupational segregation”. 

I began the Intro to Critical Feminist Studies course with a very clear idea of what feminism is yet I was hesitant to call myself a feminist. A feminist, to me, is someone who advocates for women’s rights and their equality as compared to men. Women and men are equal yet both are very different. A feminist is someone who capitalizes on and embraces the differences between men and women. Anyone can be a feminist but feminism, to me, means only advocating for women’s issues like gender discrimination in the workplace. Through the semester my definition of feminism has not changed drastically; yet I am much more willing to associate myself with this movement/name. My hesitation in calling myself a feminist was based on worries about the social implications of the word “feminist”. I don’t judge people merely because they attach this label to themselves or associate with other “feminists” so there must have been some deeper concern about the social implications of being one. a feminist. I don’t think that individuals necessarily associate being a feminist with negative things but that socially, in group situations and in the larger context of society and politics, being labeled as a feminist will limit your options. Specifically, I am concerned with the implications of being a “feminist” in the workplace. The workplace, to me, is the center of the politically correct and somehow labeling yourself a feminist makes you politically incorrect and socially awkward. Labeling yourself a feminist, ironically, attributes a male characteristic to you, i.e. confidence. Because feminists are labeled with this confidence and that they have such a clear idea of what injustices against women are they are outcasts. This topic, gender discrimination in the workplace, is related to a topic in my previous papers, women and healthcare. The job market is probably the most influential factor in an individual’s ability to obtain health insurance. This job-place discrimination against women indirectly affects the quality of healthcare available to most American women. It’s important to me to have equality in the workplace because I am a women and I don’t deserve to make less money than a male-counterpart just because of my sex. Even if it is the case that women are in and out of the labor force (more than men) because of familial obligations there is no cause for this discrimination in the workplace. Women are in and out of the labor market caring for men, men’s children, and men’s relatives yet women get paid less than men for the same job. There is even more cause for the wage gap to be closed because women’s roles are changing; many women are both mothers and workers. In the past, maybe it was OK (not just but socially acceptable) for women to make less money than men because men were the providers and the woman’s income was play money. This is no longer the case. Women are now equal providers for their family, possibly the bigger earner, and frequently the sole provider for their household (single moms etc.).

A female that just graduated from college with a major in marketing calls an agency to schedule an interview. She gets to the interview on time, well dressed, and ready to be hired. The interview proceeds and the interviewer is impressed with her resume; but is very interested in her typing speed. The interviewer takes the recent grad to another room, a computer lab, where she is sat down and prepared to take a typing test-to determine her words per minute. While typing, she sees an acquaintance of heres from school and he is applying to work for the agency as well.  Her male acquaintance is interviewed by the same person yet he is immediately suggested for a position in the company without taking a typing test. The interviewer suggested the taping test for the female grad because having good typing skills would help her get her “foot in the door”, i.e. she could start out as an assistant or secretary. Even though both prospective employees, the woman and the man, had equitable educations the woman was not encouraged/allowed by the interviewer to enter the ranks of the business as anyone but a secretary (Career Planning).

Some examples of gender discrimination in the workplace are: women not being hired for a position (which they are qualified for) because the company’s long-time clients feel more comfortable dealing with men, during company cutbacks men with the same job with less seniority keep their job over a woman who has been working for the company for a long time, and women not being able to attain a promotion even though they qualify for it (the woman has exemplary reviews and has earned many awards in her position (like employee of the year, etc.) the promotion is given to a a less qualified male). 

After the National War Labor Board issued general order sixteen the fight for equal pay continues. President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963. This Act signed by JFK applied to 27.5 million workers (both men and women) and required “employees doing work requiring equal skill, effort and responsibility- and work performed under similar working conditions-be paid equal wages” ( CNN). In subsequent years, following both the general order sixteen and the Equal Pay Act, numerous bills and acts have been passed to guarantee women and men equal pay for the same job; yet the pay gap still exists today. 

A more recent statistic on the pay difference, from 2000, found that women still make .80 cents to the dollar that’s paid to their male counterparts (GAO). A few women have been compensated for their lost wages. The Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, OFCCP, began reviewing corporate management systems in 1993. The OFCCP began the review process after President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act. This Act protects workers jobs guaranteeing them at least twelve months of unpaid leave due to the birth of a child or extreme family circumstances (someone is very ill, etc.). These reviews of corporate management systems has been instrumental in paying back wages to women. One of the OFCCP’s reviews included an evaluation of Fairfax Hospital in Virginia. The hospital, as a result of it’s preliminary review by the OFCCP,  agreed to pay over $425,000 in back wages to 52 female workers ; these workers were “employed in the top six grades of the hospital’s personnel structure” (CNN). Also, after the hospital’s review they gave 44 out of the 52 women pay raises, which gave these individuals more than $178,000 (extra) in total. These raises account for more than $4,000 a year extra income for each woman. Out of all the corporate reviews by OFCCP, the largest settlement was with CoreStates Financial Institution in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a result of their review CoreStates paid more than 1.5 million dollars to women and minorities to compensate them for (past) pay discrimination. In addition to paying the 1.5 million dollars to workers CoreStates paid more than “334,000”, in salary adjustments to 76 women and 66 members of minorities” (CNN).  The monetary compensation does not address the root of why women are paid less than men. If companies are willing to settle with the OFCCP and pay lost wages to female workers then they obviously recognize the injustice they are committing in the pay scales. Even with the passage of numerous acts that require employers to give equal pay the gap still continues between women and men’s salaries. 

From the 1960’s when JFK signed the Equal Pay Act the number of women workers was at an all time high. From the beginning of the 60’s to the mid 70’s more than half the increase in the amount of workers in the labor force was made up of women. Most of these women were married and delayed having children so they  could stay in the labor force longer. Even though women’s primary obligations are to their families they still do remain in the workforce after having children. Families can’t make it without the second income provided by the female. Women are in and out of the labor force but only to recover from childbirth; the number of working moms in 2006 was over 2.6 million. More than 72 percent of mothers in the Unites States, with children under the age of 18, are either employed part or full-time.

Women are in hostile environments at home and at work. Women are paid less then men for the same job, are sexually harassed at work, and are cornered into low paying demeaning work. Even though women are expected to be equal providers for their family they are also expected to be the primary caretaker of their family. It is impossible for women to excel in both arenas if they are not granted equality. This equality would include either redistribution of domestic and family work (while women continue to work in the office) or equal respect for “women’s work” (women staying at home while men work in the office).


Works Cited

"Filing a Discrimination Claim-Pennsylvania." Workplace Fairness. 24 Oct. 2006. Workplace Fairness. 17 Dec. 2008 <>.

Keller, Larry. "Workplace gender gap Women and Men: Payday." Career Archives. 12 Dec. 2000.CNN.17 Dec. 2008 <>.

McKay, Dawn R. "Women Face Glass Ceiling in Hiring." 17 Dec. 2008 <>.

Porter, Eduardo. "Stretched to Limit, Women Stall March to Work." The New York Times 2 Mar. 2006.

Rep. No. GAO-04-35 at 1-65 (2003).

"Sex/Gender Discrimination." Sex/Gender Discrimination. 11 Oct. 2006. Workplace Fairness. 17 Dec. 2008 <>.


Serendip Visitor's picture

thank you!

This paper gave me lots of ideas, it was very useful!

Cely4life's picture

Very Helpful :D

Very Helpful :D