When it comes to the pay gap, women don’t have a choice

download (2)This week the Census Bureau confirmed what many working women already experience: the gender wage gap isn’t closing – it’s stuck. Stagnant. While the gap between men’s and women’s earnings did narrow slightly in 2013, with women earning 78 cents for every dollar compared to 76.5 cents a year earlier, it has remained virtually unchanged since 2007.

Why is it that in an economy where women are more likely to go to college and make up nearly half of the labor force, the gender pay disparity remains persistently high? One common misconception is that women make less because of their job choices, like where to work, how many hours to work, and what level of education to obtain.

Nope. Researchers have estimated that as much as 40 percent of the gender wage gap cannot be explained even when taking into account gendered differences between the occupations, educations, and work histories of men and women.

Besides, many of these “choices” are in fact shaped by  discrimination that is far outside the ability of one job-seeker to control. Gender stereotypes, unreasonable and unpredictable hours in low wage jobs and inadequate government and employer response support for pregnant workers negatively affect women’s ability to succeed in the workplace. Women still bear a greater share of family caregiving responsibilities and make choices because they are disproportionately balancing the needs of work and family.

In other words, this isn’t about *what* woman choose, it’s about *why*. It’s about the ways in which women are systematically disadvantaged, from top female CEOs earning less than their male counterparts, to single mothers being much more likely to live in poverty than single fathers. Many fields are still segregated by sex and women are choosing occupations which penalize them the least for taking time out of work.

So how to fix it? Giving women the chance to have their voices heard in American workplaces is key to their economic security and the economic security of American families. That’s why The Center for American Progress, the President of the National Women’s Law Center, and President Obama have all expressed the need for a national women’s economic agenda that reduces discrimination in, and increase flexibility at, work — so women can “choose” differently.

This is not an easy climb – but fortunately, there are many paths to the top of this particular mountain. For example, in Washington, D.C., Senate Republicans unanimously voted to block the Paycheck Fairness Act which would ban salary secrecy and strengthen equal pay laws for women. But here in Washington State, the Washington Work and Family Coalition isn’t waiting for Congress to act. It’s pushing forward to strengthen women’s economic security through paycheck transparency, paid sick days, and paid family leave.

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Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

And it’s a good thing too. The gender pay gap in Washington State is among the worst in the nation and it’s even worse in Seattle, largely due to the fact that its manufacturing and technology sectors, which have recovered quickly from the recession, are both male-dominated and well-paying.

In 2013, women who live in Seattle earned just 78 cents for every dollar earned by men — down from 86 cents in 2012. That 8 cents drop represents the largest 1-year widening of the gender pay gap among major U.S. cities, and puts us tied with Tulsa, Okla., as the fifth-worst in 2013.

That gap doesn’t just represent a paycheck differential. It represents how women are put in situations every day that for a variety of reasons mean they earn less. The only way to close that gap is to change the constraints that women face.

Ensuring that the work women perform is valued fairly, that women are not penalized unfairly for their caregiving responsibilities, and that there is greater transparency in workplace pay practices may not change the broader problem of how we value women in our society. But it will alleviate some of the constraints women face, so they can take control of their economic security and be free to make new – and better – choices for themselves and their families.

By Sarah Van Houten, MPA, Graduate Intern

Morgan Stanley Vice Chairman: Invest in Paid Family Leave

Morgan Stanley Vice Chairman Tom Nides Photo via Flickr

A strong voice from Wall Street is weighing in on the importance of paid family leave for parents of newborn children and people caring for seriously ill or elderly relatives. Tom Nides served as Deputy Secretary of State and recently moved to Morgan Stanley. The investment banker supports legislation that would create employee-paycheck deduction pools that would compensate workers during family leaves. Such bills have been introduced in Congress and in Albany, Nides said.

“For New Yorkers, it’s a huge benefit and a huge plus. We gotta move this debate forward. And by the way, it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Last Wednesday, Rhode Island became the third state to offer workers paid family leave, along with New Jersey and California. New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand and Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both Democrats, have introduced federal legislation, but so far no Republicans have endorsed it.

Some business groups have said that even though family leave wouldn’t be paid by taxpayers or employers but by paycheck deductions, it should be voluntary, not government-mandated. Nides said it is an idea whose time has come.

“I am totally aware, as a businessperson and as someone who’s been involved in public policy for a long time, that this is difficult for a lot of companies, this is expensive,” Nides said. “But we’ve got to begin having this conversation in the United States.”

Nides said worker productivity will rise and employers will recognize the goodwill that comes out of paying for family leave time off.

“There’s no question that studies have shown that individuals given the opportunity to have a few weeks to take care of a newborn or a sick family member say it’s critically important to the productivity of that individual,” he added.

America lags behind many other developed nations in providing paid family leave.

By Mark Scheerer, Public News Service – NY
Listen to the full interview and news story here.

Pregnant Women Need a Break

Carol Joyner is the Director of the Labor Project for Working Families (LPWF), in partnership with Family Values @ Work, a partner organization of Washington Work and Family Coalition.

Any woman who’s gone through pregnancy hears the same advice: hydrate more and listen to the needs of your changing body.

Almost everything a pregnant woman does requires adjustment. Eliminating caffeine and alcohol, hydrating more frequently, avoiding strenuous activities — all are immediate considerations, activities women have control over. But what happens when pregnant workers have little to no control?

For women throughout the U.S., doing what’s right when you’re pregnant can bring unnecessary hardship. All too often, pregnant women are forced to choose between what’s best for them medically and what they need financially. Too many employers deny requests for simple workplace accommodations — a chair, an extra bathroom break, a bottle of water to drink — and fire pregnant women, forcing them to go on unpaid leave or quit their jobs at a time when they most need financial security.

The National Women’s Law Center and A Better Balance recently published a report shedding light on the difficulties that so many pregnant women face on the job. The stories they’ve collected detail a variety of abuses. Denial of fluids, being forced to stand, being refused bathroom breaks — all are common complaints about employers who, in denying these rights, often break the law.

During her pregnancy, Hilda Guzzman, a full-time Dollar Tree employee in Long Island, asked her boss for a stool to sit on while working at the register for 8-10 hours a day. The response? “You can’t get special treatment,” her boss declared, “since a man can’t get pregnant.” The pressure from standing all day caused bleeding and premature labor pains, landing Hilda in the emergency room every few days. Quitting was not an option: Guzzman needed the job to be able to cover her medical expenses and pay the rent.

Dr. Lucy William, an emergency room doctor, treated a pregnant cashier who arrived at a New York hospital with severe dehydration. Turns out her employer refused to let the cashier drink water at the register.

In most states, pregnant women lack basic job protections for pregnancy-related accommodations. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) offers protection against discrimination — being treated differently from non-pregnant co-workers. But the law does not include safeguards should a woman need work adjustments as a result of her pregnancy, such as rest breaks, assistance with manual labor and recovery time following childbirth. As KJ Dell’Antonia writes in The New York Times, “Sometimes equal treatment is not enough to allow a woman to stay on the job.”

Fortunately, a growing movement of activists, organizations and elected officials are championing workplace fairness for pregnant women. Just recently, New York City took a major step in ensuring that pregnant women are not forced to choose between their health and their job. In a unanimous vote, the City Council passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which stipulates that employers in New York cannot force pregnant workers out of their jobs or deny them reasonable job modifications. The city joined a handful of states, including California, Illinois, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland and Texas, that have offered similar safeguards to pregnant women.

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Members of 9to5 Wisconsin, an organization dedicated to winning justice for working women, join with Wisconsin legislators to push for pregnancy fairness.

In Washington, legislators are also taking note. The federal Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act (PWFA), re-introduced earlier this year in both the House, by Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and the Senate, by Robert Casey (D-PA), would close existing loopholes, ensuring that workers have reasonable accommodation for pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions. In recognition of the 35th Anniversary of the PDA on October 31, groups from across the country are planning a week of advocacy to highlight the important milestone the PDA represents and to push for greater protections for pregnant women on the job.

As the economy changes, so too should our workplace protections. Three-quarters of women now entering the workforce will become pregnant while working. Many, particularly low-wage women working in retail and service jobs, know all too well the dangers associated with lacking basic work accommodations.

Legislative protection like the PWFA leaves us all healthier — women and families, employers and taxpayers alike. It improves the health of women and children, decreasing the likelihood of childbirth-related complications. It guarantees economic security for millions of pregnant women and their families. It strengthens our economy by protecting jobs. And it benefits small businesses’ bottom line through reduced turnover, increased employer loyalty and higher productivity.

Pregnant women in our country deserve better; their work has value and their children make up our future society. Think about your mom, your sister or daughter. If you agree that they deserve basic guarantees and opportunities, then join with millions of Americans who support the PWFA. It’s beyond time that pregnant women get a break.

Via the Huffington Post

Yahoo expands maternity leave after banning telecommuting

From NBCbayarea.com:

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer PHOTO: Pascal Lauener / Reuters

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer
PHOTO: Pascal Lauener / Reuters

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who sparked an uproar and hurt her image as a working mom when she banned telecommuting two months ago, is now offering employees generous new family leave benefits.

Under the new policy, mothers can take 16 weeks of paid leave with benefits, and fathers can take up to eight weeks, each time they have a new child via childbirth. Both parents receive eight weeks off for new children via adoption, foster child placement or surrogacy.

This change is a significant increase for Yahoo employees, particularly mothers, who will basically get twice as much paid time off. Under the old policy, moms received eight week paid after pregnancy, or 10 weeks if they had a C-section.

Yahoo will also give new parents $500 to spend on such things as house cleaning, groceries and babysitters, plus Yahoo-branded baby gifts.

Mayer’s decision, which brings the Sunnyvale-based Yahoo closer to Silicon Valley titans Google and Facebook, could help repair the damage as she works to turn around the struggling media giant.

But it doesn’t only make sense from a public relations standpoint, observers said. The new policy could fit into a broader corporate strategy to attract and retain more talent and ultimately improve Yahoo’s financial performance.

“It’s a smart move,” said Rachel Sklar, a New York-based blogger and founder of The Li.st, an organization dedicated to elevate the status of women in New Media and technology. “It suggests a long-term strategy. This is a great precedent.”

Companies who provide “everything” to their employees, such as free lunch and daycare sites at Google, do better financially in the long run because there is nothing to “distract” their workers from working, Sklar said.

“The temptation will be to see this through a gender lens – -that of course she did it because she’s a new-mom CEO,” Sklar said. “And this certainly would suggest she has a heightened awareness as a working mom, but this will encourage new parents to be engaged with the company and have a financial piece of mind. When companies nickel-and-dime their employees, it just adds to their burden.”

From the moment she became Yahoo’s new chief executive last year, Mayer, 37, has been seen as a symbol of corporate gender politics. She took the job when she was five months pregnant and worked through a two-week maternity leave that ended in October.

Her decision to return to work so quickly attracted both praise and criticism – praise for showing that a new mother could continue to steer a Fortune 500 company, and criticism for failing to set a realistic expectations for America’s working moms.

Mayer drew praise for adding perks such as new iPhones and free food, cutting company bureaucracy and redesigning work spaces. Many of those amenities were standard at her prior employer, Google.

In February, Mayer sparked another debate when she decided to end Yahoo’s lenient telecommuting policy. Employees with existing work-from-home arrangements were told they had to start coming into the office or look for another job.

The move reflected Mayer’s an all-hands-on-deck approach to turning around Yahoo and make it more competitive. But she was again accused of making it harder on working parents.

But her decision to double family leave for new parents from 8 weeks to 16 weeks puts Yahoo in the same ballpark as her Silicon Valley rivals: Google gives between 18 and 22 weeks off to new mothers, and Facebook told the New York Times that it gives new mothers and fathers four months of paid leave.

A Google spokeswoman said that all the Mountain View-company perks – which include preferred parking for expectant mothers and $500 in “baby bucks” to spend on things such as takeout dinners, like Yahoo is now offering – are so that life can be as smooth as possible for new parents. That’s of course, the spokeswoman noted, so that they can come back to work fully rested.

In California, workers are eligible for six weeks of partial pay through the state’s disability benefits program.

Mayer’s move also comes amid a broader debate in America about the country’s commitment to family leave. The United States, which hasn’t updated its Family and Medical Leave Act in 20 years, ranks among the worst of all developed countries. Sweden, Denmark Russian mothers get at least a year off paid and Canadian mothers get 50 weeks off paid.

The U.S. law requires large companies to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employers who need to care for a newborn child or an ill relative. And that relatively stingy benefit covers only workers who have been at a company for at least a year. That leaves millions without access to the benefit. Many more cut their absences short because they can’t afford unpaid leave.

Family medical leave law deserves wide support

This article originally appeared in The Olympian

This article originally appeared in The Olympian

Editorial from The Olympian:

In response to the looting and chaos that erupted in Baghdad following the American invasion of Iraq, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “Democracy is messy.” To some, it was a callous remark, but not entirely an inaccurate description of how a representative democracy actually governs.

State lawmakers frequently propose legislation to raid the general fund for pet projects that serve the special interests of a constituency of voters. These measures often arise and get passed into law without regard for how they fit with the sum total of all other legislation.

Aside from the governor’s annual budget and State of the State address, there is no big picture vision for what the people of Washington want our state to become. Instead, it’s cobbled together by individual, and often competing, pieces of legislation.

Such is the case with the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FMLI) law. The Legislature passed a law in 2007 granting workers of businesses with fewer than 50 employees up to five weeks of time off without worry of losing their jobs. It includes a small stipend. Women having babies, for example, could receive up to $250 per week – based on a formula using their rate of pay – and spend time with their newborn child.

Lawmakers have postponed implementation of the law because they considered it an undue burden on families and small businesses during the recession. A bill making its way through the Legislature would repeal the law.

At the same time, several other bills in the House and Senate acknowledge the benefits of early childhood education, and would require the Department of Early Learning to expand its education and assistance programs. Other bills call for legislative task forces on early learning, and to fund expansion of early learning programs.

Education experts agree that when parents are able to spend quality time with their children from birth to age 5, the children do better in school, are more likely to graduate and are less likely to become a burden on taxpayers through the criminal justice system.

Allowing women who work in small businesses to spend five weeks with a newborn – another bill would expand the leave to 12 weeks – is consistent with state support for our early learning goals.

The FMLI law also supports the state’s drive for economic recovery. Less than 10 percent of businesses in Washington offer paid family leave plans. Middle- and low-income workers must rely on 12 weeks of unpaid leave to recover from serious injuries or for care of a newborn.

Taking unpaid leave can lead to financial disaster for average income households with mortgages and other bills to pay. The small amount of assistance provided by FMLI can make the difference whether a parent can afford to stay home with a newborn, or is forced to leave them in child care.

The family leave law is largely self-funding, with no charge to the state’s general fund. It is financed by a payroll tax of 0.2 percent of wages, shared equally by employees and employers. For the average worker, that means about a dollar a week.

Rep. Chris Reykdal is co-sponsoring the House bill to expand and implement the 2007 FMLI law. The bill deserves support, because it strengthens families and the state’s middle-income households.

Paid family leave good for kids, parents and employers

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Dr. Robert Smith, Pediatric Anesthesiologist

From the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin 

Our state Legislature is considering how to fund the Family Leave Act of 2007. Opponents of the law, citing costs, are attempting to repeal it.

Their concerns are understandable, but misplaced. Family leave puts family first — where it belongs. And it does so by compensating our businesses’ greatest asset: Washington workers.

Two of the most special times in my life were when my two daughters were born, savoring the miracle of those new lives in our home. As a pediatrician, I know how important the first weeks and months of a baby’s life are for the long run. Children have a good start and better health when parents can be fully engaged with their new child, moms can breastfeed, and the stress of work and family finances doesn’t interfere.

But children aren’t children forever. They grow up to become adults, with jobs and children of their own. Cancer or a car accident can happen to anyone at any time, and the impact on health and family finances is often devastating. Later on in life, grown children often become caregivers for their own parents.

That’s why I believe Washington legislators should quickly adopt the proposed plan to expand and implement family and medical leave insurance.

Family and medical leave insurance would provide a modest income to working people who have to take time off to care for a new baby or seriously ill family member, or for their own serious health condition. The insurance would be self-financed, so it doesn’t compete with other state budget priorities like education. And it won’t be a handout — only working people who play by the rules will be eligible for benefits.

Under the plan, workers and their employers would each contribute premiums of 0.2 percent of pay once the system is fully up and running — that’s about $1.50 per week for the average worker in Walla Walla County. Then when they have a new baby or a health crisis, the worker could draw two-thirds of their usual weekly pay from the fund for up to 12 weeks, limited to a maximum of $1,000 per week.

Family and medical leave insurance is an investment that will pay big returns — for children and their parents, workers and businesses, and our elders.

After more than a decade as a pediatric anesthesiologist and critical care physician, I’ve seen lots of very sick kids. When a child becomes critically ill, the parents’ whole world is turned on end. Moms and dads need to be there for their kids and available to make medical decisions.

The last place those preoccupied parents should be is at work.

Cushioning our workforce from the huge financial setbacks that often accompany a serious medical problem will boost our state’s economy and increase quality of life for working adults, both today and when we retire.

Employers will benefit from family leave insurance, too. Workers can focus on family and health during critical times, and return to work when they are ready to be productive employees again. Their employer won’t be paying their wages, so can hire a temporary replacement if necessary, and still have a valuable trained employee able to return to work.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Children’s social, emotional, and physical health; their developmental trajectory; and the neurocircuits that are being created and reinforced in their developing brains are all directly influenced by their relationships during early childhood.”

Giving all of our children the benefit of a good start to life will help them grow up to be well-adjusted and smart — exactly the type of person I want taking care of me when I am older.

Dr. Robert Smith has practiced as a pediatric anesthesiologist, critical care physician, and pediatric pain specialist. He is currently practicing anesthesia in Walla Walla.