On Women’s Equality Day, Six Policies That Could Help Make Women Economically Equal

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"On Women’s Equality Day, Six Policies That Could Help Make Women Economically Equal"

workingwomenMonday marked Women’s Equality Day, 93 years to the day since the ratification of the 19th amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote. Women have made huge strides since then: they now make up about half of the workforce, hold half of middle management jobs, and are graduating college at rapid rates.

But much work remains to be done if women are to be truly made economically equal with their male colleagues. Women are still paid less than men no matter how much education they earn, what job they take, or how high they rise. Society still expects them to be the default caretakers, so many are forced to choose between work and their families. If the United States is committed to bringing them real equality, here are six policies that would take us a long way toward that goal:

1. End salary secrecy. Women will have a tough time addressing pay discrimination if they aren’t allowed to find out what their coworkers make. About half of all workers are either barred or discouraged from sharing that information. The Paycheck Fairness Act would end this practice and take a step toward helping women close the gap.

2. Raise the minimum wage. Women account for two-thirds of the country’s minimum wage workers, including two-thirds of those making the paltry tipped wage of $2.13 an hour. Making the federal floor of $7.25 an hour brings in just $14,500 a year for a woman who works full-time. Lifting the standards of the jobs so many women already hold would put more money in their pockets and help close the gender wage gap.

3. Guarantee paid family leave. Unlike virtually every other country, the U.S. does not guarantee mothers paid time off for a new child (let alone for fathers). Since just 11 percent of private sector workers and 17 public sector workers get paid maternity leave through their jobs, many take unpaid leave, forcing them to borrow money, dip into savings, or even rely on public benefits just to get by. But our lack of paid leave doesn’t just hurt working mothers. The countries that enacted paid leave, as well as some other work/family-friendly policies, have seen the number of women in their workforces grow since the 1990s. But in the U.S., those numbers have flat lined.

4. Give workers time off for illnesses. The U.S. is also lonely when it comes to countries that don’t guarantee paid sick days. And once again women make up the majority of the low-wage, service sector jobs that don’t come with days off for illnesses. That means that when a woman or her child falls sick, she may have to skip a day of work, losing out on a day’s pay and risking her job.

5. Make high-quality childcare accessible. Just one in five families today feature a male breadwinner and a stay-at-home mother, yet childcare for an infant and a four-year-old costs more than median rent in every state. Given that women are usually called upon to be their family’s primary caregiver, the high costs and low accessibility of childcare make many women feel torn between work and their children. And this problem shows up in their wages too: Mothers earn 5 percent less per hour per child than childless women. Childcare can help keep women in their jobs and earn more with a steady work history. Working women who have steady childcare are twice as likely to stay in their jobs than those without. President Obama’s universal preschool proposal, which would include investments for children even younger than preschool age, would help change this picture.

6. Enact gender targets for corporate boards. Women still struggle to break the glass ceiling on corporate boards: They hold just 16.6 percent of the seats at Fortune 500 companies. So far the U.S. still makes increasing gender diversity a voluntary effort, with one very small rule that the majority of companies ignore. Yet there is ample evidence that gender quotas in Europe have been effective in raising women’s share of these positions. Increasing their numbers wouldn’t just level the playing field, however. It would also be a smart business move, as multiple studies have found that companies with women on their boards outperform those without.

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