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Sexism in the American Workplace

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Sexism in the American Workplace

Coleman Kramer
Soci 217 Section 002
Professor Babchuck
April 21, 2014


The passing of the 19th Amendment is one of the most important pieces of legislation passed for the woman’s right movement as it guaranteed women the right to vote. In many people’s minds, this meant that men and women were considered equal because it gave women a voice that was previously unheard. While this was a monumental leap in creating gender equality, it did very little to eliminate sexism in America. Great stride shave been made in the last century to give woman the same opportunity’s as men, I will argue that we still live in a country that discriminates on the basis of ones gender. One of the most common offenders of sexism is the American workplace. The Mad Men era of ass grabbing and over the top sexual harassment may be over, but sexism in the workplace is still very much alive. There is an enormous lack of females in high-level management positions, a wage gap that shows women make less then men in comparable jobs, and women are more often then not subjected to more cases of sexual harassment. In a country that prides itself for its belief that everyone is equal, the facts about sexism tell a completely different story.
The Facts
One of the most unknown problems in regards to sexism in the workplace has to do with the gap between how much women earn compared to men. Women make up just fewer than 50 percent of the labor force in the United States, yet there is still a large gap in the wages between men and women. Women’s median earnings are lower than men’s in nearly all occupations, whether they work in occupations predominantly done by women, occupations predominantly done by men, or occupations with a more even mix of men and women. Not surprisingly, the top 20 occupations that are mostly done by men have one of the largest gaps in terms of earnings. When looking at the top 20 most common jobs for men, which include truck drivers, construction workers, chief executives, and retail salespersons, there is a huge difference in the amount of money men make compared to women. According to Hegewisch, Williams, & Harbin (2012) in most of these jobs women often make over 15 percent to 20 percent less then men for doing the same work. Of these top 20 jobs there is only one occupation, stock clerks and order fillers, in which a women’s median weekly earning exceed that of a man’s. While these statistics are interesting, it becomes even more eye opening when looking at the top occupations for women.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 40 percent of women who are full time workers work in 20 occupations, while only 15 percent of full-time male employees work in these same occupations (Hegewisch, Williams, & Harbin 2012). With that in mind, one might assume that in careers that are dominated by female workers they would be greater compensated for the work that they do. Shockingly this is not the case. Jobs included in this group include secretaries and administrative assistants, registered nurses, schoolteachers, and receptionists. One positive to note is that the gap of women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s is much smaller in these occupations, but the problem still exists in that there is a gap at in these fields mostly occupied by women. Again, there is only one-job type, accounting, bookkeeping, and audit clerks, in which the weekly earnings for women are more than for men. So even when women are the most employed in a certain field of work, they are paid less than men.
As shown by the data, the wage gap that exists between men and women is not just isolate to certain jobs that are commonly occupied by men, but in almost every field of work. If women are paid less in occupations predominantly done by women then there is no chance of it being any different in more evenly mixed jobs. It is assumed that when looking at jobs such as truck drivers and laborers that men are paid more for doing this sort of work because they are more capable of performing them. This viewpoint is incredibly naïve and sexist because it implies that women are simply incapable of being successful in these occupations. This becomes even more concerning when talking about common female occupations because now it implies that females may do these jobs more often, men are simply better at them and should be compensated more. What is even more concerning is how the government has allowed this problem to continue when they eliminated the Equal Pay Matters Initiative. This program was used to educate employers about equal pay issues, to improve the enforcing of Title VII pay-discrimination laws, and to provide women with information and resources Finlay (2006). While the wage gap is an incredible injustice towards female worker, the lack of high-level management positions held by women is almost equally concerning. When looking at the companies that rank on the 2013 list of Fortune 500 list, the position of CEO is absolutely dominated by men. Of these 500 companies, there are only 23 women who hold the title of CEO (Catalyst 2014). This means that women only make up a pedestrian 4.6 percent of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. According to the book Women, Communication, and Careers in competitive situations women tend to act more co-operatively while men act more competitively. This shows that the lack of female CEOs does not just show a lack of gender equality, but could also have strong effects on the way businesses are run. In 1972 Katherine Graham was the very first woman to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she became the CEO of the Washington Post. In her memoires Personal History, she talked about the struggles of being taken seriously by her male colleagues and how she had doubted her own ability because of it (Graham 1997). Despite this she famously led the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal and subsequent resignation of President Nixon. It has been over 40 years since Katherine Graham opened the door for women, yet it is interesting to see that there has been little to almost no change in the number of female CEOs.
The CEO is often the most talked about high-level management position, but the problem of gender inequality is prevalent in a number of other management positions. The position of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is interesting to look at because it has actually seen substantial growth when it comes to women occupying the job. As of 2013 there are 54 female CFOs of Fortune 500 companies, which include companies such as JP Morgan, Time Warner Cable, BlackRock, and Gannett (Frier & Hymowitz 2013). Given that there were only 40 in 2012, the rapid jump in numbers is one of the few positives associated with the issue of sexism in the workplace. Also the importance of the CFO has increased dramatically in the past decade, as companies are required to be more transparent with their finance then ever before. So not only have the numbers increased, but shows that women are taking on more important roles within the companies. While this does show a step in the right direction, men still make up about 90 percent of top companies CFOs proving that there still is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done.
The board of directors is another area where women have been excluded from, and studies have shown that this could be one of the most important aspects of getting women into higher management positions. A survey done by Catalyst (2014) shows that “Higher percentages of women on a board are associated with both greater percentages of women executive officers in subsequent years, as well as greater percentages of women in key profit-and-loss positions that are often required for advancement.” So an increase in female board members would mean a greater number of female top executives as well. Unfortunately, women hold only 16.9 percent of the corporate board seats of fortune 500 companies (Vagianos 2013). Even worse is that some of the biggest companies in the world have no female board members at all. Some of those companies include includes Apple, Exxon Mobile, and Google. It is incredibly surprising to see that even some of the most innovative companies lack the vision to have women serve in top-level positions. The issue of the lack of women at the top of Fortune 500 companies is certainly alarming when looking at the numbers, but what is really the concern here is that there is a lack of role models for women to look up to. Katherine Graham did not have the privilege of being able to look up to women who had been in her situation before, and over 40 years down the line the situation has not gotten much better. Men have always had someone to strive to be like in the business world, but women have hardly ever had a role model to aspire to be like. This cuts into the number of women who would enter the work force with the desire to become a top executive. In order to inspire the next generation of businesswomen, there needs to be role models who give them someone to look up to.
The wage gap and the lack of women in high-level management positions has proven to be a re-occurring pattern in the American workplace, but they still not talked about as much as the last form of sexism I am going to talk about. When people think about the word “sexism” the first thing that comes to mind in most cases is sexual harassment. There has been widespread publicity about the perils of sexual harassment that occurs in the workplace, and still women have continuously found themselves as the victims of harassment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 defines it as occurring "when one employee makes continued, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, to another employee against his or her wishes." Given that definition we can see that sexual harassment covers an incredibly broad range of actions so the possibilities on what could happen are endless. A survey done in 2011 by AOL Jobs shows that while men certainly can be harassed, women brought the overwhelming majority of charges. The survey shows that of the 11,717 charges of sexual harassment in 2010, women made 83.6 percent of them. What is even more disturbing is that 97 percent of companies have mandatory sexual harassment training Mahabeer (2011). So even with consistent dedication to address the issue, the issue continues to take place in companies around the county.
While it is important to look at the number of cases that have been reported, the bigger issue at hand is the number of cases that are not reported. A poll done by the Huffington Post showed that of the 13 percent who had been sexual harassed, 70 percent of them never reported it Berman (2013). There are a number of reasons for why someone would decide not to report harassment, especially against a superior. One of the main reasons is a fear that they will be treated differently for revealing what is happening to them. In addition not all complaints of sexual harassment can be proven, thus opening up the door for retaliation from the person being accused. The worst part of sexual harassment is that it takes away a person ability to do their job to the best of their ability. The workplace should never be considered a place where someone doesn’t feel safe, and for thousands of women around the country that I what has happened. It is incredibly important to create an environment where women do not feel they need to act any differently then they normally would. McKlevey (2007) examined the women of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal and the expectations placed on them by the men around them. Some of the actions that occurred included physically and sexually abusing, torturing, sodomizing, and even killing prisoners. The extremes to which some of these women were willing to go shows how women are forced to prove themselves by any means necessary just to feel accepted. While this is a very extreme situation, women everywhere feel they have to do whatever it takes to fit in.
It is incredibly difficult to try and understand the effects that sexism has had on the American workplace. One of the biggest challenges facing this issue is that such a large majority of people seemingly refuse to want to believe that in 2014 we are not as progressive as we think we are. While I only toughed on a few aspects of sexism, there are dozens of other reasons that show how much needs to be done in order to make the workplace equal for both men and women. I believe that the only way that these issues can be resolved is by making people aware about what is going on. The facts are so powerful that it is nearly impossible to try and argue against them. When people see the sexist nature of the way companies around the county operate, I have no doubt that changes will be made to the way business is operated. There are more women in this country then there are men, so there is no possible way that this issue will go on without something being done.

References Cited

Berman, J. (2013, August 27). Workplace Sexual Harassment Poll Finds Large Share Of Workers Suffer, Don't Report. The Huffington Post. Retrieved April 18, 2014, from sexual-harassment-poll_n_3823671.html

Facts Over Time. (n.d.). Women's Bureau (WB). Retrieved April 19, 2014, from

Finlay, B. (2006). George W. Bush and the war on women: turning back the clock on women's progress. London: Zed Books ;.

Frier, S., & Hymowitz, C. (2013, February 5). Women CFOs Reach Record Level in U.S. as Top Job Remains Elusive. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from

Graham, K. (1997). Personal history. New York: A.A. Knopf.

Hegewisch, A., Williams, C., & Harbin, V. (n.d.). IWPR Publication. The Gender Wage Gap by Occupation — IWPR. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from

Knowledge Center. (2014, January 15). Catalyst. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from

Mahabeer, P. (n.d.). Sexual Harassment Still Pervasive in the Workplace. AOL Jobs. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from

McKelvey, T. (2007). One of the guys: women as aggressors and torturers. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press

Partsch, M., & Robinson, G. J. (1980). Women, communication, and careers. München: K.G. Saur.

Perle, L. (1997). When work doesn't work anymore: women, work and identity. New York, N.Y.: Delacorte Press.

Schaefer, Richard T. (2012). Racial and ethnic groups (13th ed.) Boston: Pearson Education Inc.

Vagianos, A. (2013, December 11). There Are Still Few Women At The Top Of Fortune 500 Companies, Says Report. The Huffington Post. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from…...

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...Sexism is still in evidence in the workplace and in today's society despite the battle that women are making for themselves. Sexism is a particular concern for society when considering its effect in the workplace.  Sexism has always been a particular problem in the labor market especially with the formation of capitalism.  Woman hold a large percentage of the work force in companies but hardly any seems to pertain any of the power. There are many obstacles in the way of woman in careers; women are in the quest for equal pay for both sexes. The pay should be the same for the same jobs, but many companies pay men a higher salary then women for the same job causing sex discrimination. Sex discrimination is not only present within the older generation but is also evident throughout the entire age range. Women now hold 46% of the labor work force, with young women seeing housework more of a part-time rather than a full time job.  This is an enormous social change for the family giving women less dependence on marriages, which are increasingly falling apart day-by-day and a greater command over the increasing area of technology and resources. With more women getting jobs, it encourages other women who were reluctant to move into the labor market to do the same and become more career minded. The Sex Discrimination Act is in power to help woman in a number of ways and lets them into previously closed doors. However due to the fact that most legal institutions are male dominated...

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