Women and the Workplace

Tonight, the Roosevelt Institute celebrated Women’s History Month by hosting a discussion on the changing role of women in the workforce. This triggered a nuanced debate on how to address the gender-wage gap, masculinity in workplace culture, and the lack of female representation in STEM fields.

Our discussion moderator presented data on how the earnings gap between men and women can be dissected into measurable skill and productivity differences as well as unexplained differences attributed to discrimination, salary negotiation practices, and other external factors. While across the board, women make 77 cents to every dollar men make on the job, when controlling for education, skill content, responsibility, and working conditions, this gap narrows to 91 cents. However, the problem of labor force discrimination remains far from being resolved. Rather than rank discrimination on the part of employers, discussion participants agreed that work-place culture, societal expectations, and systemic discrimination posed more salient roadblocks to creating an equal-playing field for men and women.

Many women make rational, autonomous choices about how they want to conduct their lives, such as getting married and having children. Lifting the punitive consequences of these decisions requires federal intervention in the form of childcare subsidization and more accommodative company policies geared towards men, such as paid paternity leave. Some noted that in several case studies, these policies failed to have a substantial effect on female labor force participation and upward mobility. One person noted how many federal policies are geared towards helping white, upper-middle income women and we as a society ignore the variety of problems of women across different cultures.

If legislation and government programs remained ineffective, many agreed the solutions had to come from lifting gender norms off conventional child-rearing methods, deconstructing the “frat” culture in male-dominated work environments, and placing the responsibilities of childcare equally on both parents. The discussion closed with many speculating on the patriarchal roots of the absence of women in STEM fields. As one person noted, statistically girls are better at math than boys up until a certain age when cultural norms are placed on them. This dynamic exists in many high earning and cutting-edge industries such as venture capital, where men are taught to “know numbers and act like animals.” The majority came to an agreement that men had an important role in changing the way they conduct themselves in the workplace and family in order to comprehensively address gender equality issues.

The Roosevelt Institute was excited to host its first joint-discussion with the Women’s History Month Committee at Columbia. We thank our fellow body member and WHMC committee member, Lesley Cordero, for coordinating the logistics of this event. Any questions regarding content of our discussion can be directed towards our moderator, Sharin Khander, at sk3343@barnard.edu.