By: Catherine Green
For me, growing up in a middle class family surrounded by successful women (and men who appreciate and respect those successful women), I did not have much exposure to gender inequality until I left home to attend college. I am a firm believer in college as a place to help you develop and understand your own thoughts. For some of you, this comes naturally. But for those of us whom this is not the case, college can really help you cultivate your opinions as you discover your voice. Other people find this in a church, a job, or their community. As I was thrown into a new environment far from where I grew up, I found myself questioning why I felt my voice and my opinions were being overlooked. I am a petite woman of about 5’1’’, and I have always tried to make up for my small frame with a bold voice. Nonetheless, this confidence that I pride myself in has a tendency to hide away when I need it most. Ever felt like you wasted an opportunity to defend yourself or someone else for the sake of pleasing those around you? I do. Often. Sometimes I hear someone making hurtful comments and I sit there without anything to say. Of course, I have plenty to say, but I often struggle to voice my thoughts in fear of disagreeing with my elder family members.
So when I sat silently among my relatives as they agreed that the gender gap is make believe, I was left with a sense of one of the worst feelings in my book – like I hadn’t done enough. These were my family members, after all, the people whom I love and respect more than anything in the world. If I couldn’t stand up to them, how could I claim to be an advocate for women? For myself? For anyone? There are much tougher audiences than my extended family.
In their discussion, they all – men AND women – agreed that the gender gap is, in a nutshell, complete nonsense. According to their argument, the data is completely made up. The statistic of women making 80% of what men make is due to a slew of reasons that they rambled off, none of which included the fact that the real reason is inequality. They pointed out that women traditionally work lower salary jobs. Women traditionally stay at home and are unpaid for their work there. The gender gap isn’t comparing women and men of equal employment, they argued, but what women make overall compared to what men make overall, and the discrepancy only comes from women generally working jobs with less pay. Therefore, it is not a matter of unequal salaries, but incomparable positions that are divided by gender roles. I was stunned to know that so many people in my family not only felt this way, but disagreed with such a vast amount of data that floods the internet.
In an age when Twitter and Facebook deliver our news updates in a matter of seconds, it’s hard to witness so many people being unaware of an ongoing problem with half of the world’s population. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, still today, women are making about 80 cents to every dollar that men earn. This is a number I have tried to understand for years now, especially as I have grown up watching powerful women in my immediate family, among my friends, and in the media experience professional and economic success. How could that be true? It’s 2019, after all, and women have more power in politics, business, and the labor force than ever before. And you’re probably thinking, “This is the United States! How can we be letting this happen in such a developed country?” The truth is that this discrepancy goes ignored by so many because of our long tradition of a patriarchal society. And no one likes change, right?
Wrong. The world is changing. According to the World Bank, women now represent over 40% of the global labor force. What we’re still lacking is a way to empower women – allowing them access to education and the skills they require to succeed in our fast-paced world. Even in the United States, women are disparaged and dismissed upon entering the professional realm, and this problem extends further to issues such as basic education and health care rights in the rest of the world.
Though the legality of women’s rights has been slowly improving for decades here in the U.S., the perception of women also demands change. Women need to be welcomed into the labor force with ferocity and readiness. Companies need to be willing to hire women and open their doors to a female perspective. The idea of women and men working together in a corporate office should not be just a goal.
But the gender gap is not something that will go away all on its own, and the first step to fixing this vast issue is acknowledgement of its existence. According to the study Charting the Course for Change conducted by the Center for Women, helping women to develop their careers and finances provides the most impact on closing the gender gap. By supplying them with the economic opportunities and skills they need, women will be able to enter the labor force with confidence and determination to succeed. Investing in women is always a secure decision.
At the Center for Women, our goal is to work closely with women to bring them the opportunities and empowerment they call for. We focus on developing their professional skills and suppling them with the tools that will bring them success in their careers and their personal lives. We are located in Charleston, SC, a metropolitan city in an otherwise strongly traditional state. The Institution for Women’s Policy Research found that if trends continue to creep up in the manner in which they currently are, women in South Carolina will not see equal pay until the year 2088. 2088! By providing women with seminars, classes, and workshops to learn real business techniques and professional expertise, we hope to close the wage gap much sooner.