Women, Money & Work: It’s 2014 and We’re Still Talking About This

Partially because of the publishing fuss with Amazon and because I just read a Dave Ramsey book, I’ve had money on the brain. Maybe that’s why these two articles caught my attention: When the Boss Says ‘Don’t Tell Your Coworkers How Much You Get Paid’ from the Atlantic, and Why Some Men Still Think Women Shouldn’t Work from BusinessWeek.

Both articles are about reasons women are disadvantaged in the workforce, and it’s pretty disturbing, because…well, basically there isn’t much I, as an individual, can do about it. And it sucks.

The Atlantic piece argues that bosses illegally restricting employee’s work-related conversations–in this case, about how much money they make–throttles the workforce (duh), but especially women and minorities, who may never find out they are being underpaid/overworked without those kinds of conversations.

The BusinessWeek article says women with male bosses whose wives don’t work should be particularly worried about being underpaid, because men in “traditional” male-as-breadwinner/wife-at-home families are distinctly less likely to feel like a woman should work at all!

I’ve experienced both, though I don’t know–of course–whether either has directly impaired my career trajectory. I didn’t actually know that it was illegal for bosses to tell employees not to share information about their salaries (so that’s good to know for the future), but it has definitely happened a few times. Then again, here in the South, money is one of the big topics you just don’t discuss. Even when I’ve wanted to know, or had a hunch, I wouldn’t know how to start that conversation.

But I am absolutely sure it is true that employees not having a gauge for what a reasonable salary is is one of the things that keeps people from earning a fair wage.

I also had a job with a company whose owner really, really liked “traditional” (ie. patriarchial and restrictive) family values. They talked a good talk about being a “family” and wanting to support everyone, but it was hard not to notice that pregnant employees departed (seemingly by choice) and there seemed to be progressively fewer women in the office. His wife didn’t work, of course, and neither did the wives of most of the managers. It is fascinating and sickening how easily the idea that women shouldn’t or can’t work can spread and contaminate a workplace just because the boss is one of the 20% of privileged families that can have a spouse (ok, woman) stay home all the time.

I have a feeling that, in both cases, something like this was a part of my treatment at those jobs. Nothing tangible though. That’s how it is with these subtle things.

Sometimes we want to blame something more concrete for problems like this, like “women don’t ask for raises enough” or “women opt out of their careers” or “women pick careers that lead to less money.” And those may be factors, too. But I think it would be wrong to completely overlook these passive, small, highly persuasive factors that can impede someone’s success just because of perceptions deeply ingrained in the structure of our society.

What do you think? Do factors outside of our control impede the progress of women/minorities in the workforce?


Filed under Feminism

5 responses to “Women, Money & Work: It’s 2014 and We’re Still Talking About This

  1. Unfortunately there are a lot of factors outside of our control and I think that the people in power are doing everything they can to keep it that way. Which includes everything from inserting demoralizing clauses in our employee contracts in type so small we can barely read them, to not enforcing industry-wide policies regarding yearly raises or standardized pay scales. I’ve worked in government jobs and for private corporate entities and getting paid a fair wage anywhere is like pulling teeth. I can’t say for certain whether it has to do with my gender or my ethnicity but regardless, I don’t know how it would even be possible to topple an entire economic system that is based solely on greed. For me, the only way I’ll ever be able to work in a job where I’m not breaking my back just to make some anonymous CEO richer is to find a way to be self-employed.

  2. I totally didn’t know this about gag rules, and I just had some of these kinds of discussions at my job. Now I’m torn about mentioning this to HR, or just keeping quiet.

  3. Pingback: Females flying solo: A guide to empowerment | Paint by Pursuit

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