Women have made great strides in the workplace, but inequality persists. On average in 2010, women only made 77 cents to every dollar a man earned. There’s still a gender gap that needs to be rectified.
Mary Brinton, the Reischauer Institute Professor of Sociology at Harvard University, has taught Men, Women, and Work at Harvard Summer School.
She answered questions about how the United States compares to other countries on gender inequality and where women can go from here.
The book Lean In has renewed conversation about gender in the workplace. Is this helping or hindering women?
Rather than telling women to be more confident and ambitious, I think that it is more important to talk about how workplaces need to adapt to the “whole person,” both women and men. This way everyone can strike a better balance between working and spending time with family, friends, and their community.
Women have caught up with men in terms of education. In fact, in the United States and a number of other countries, women now actually surpass men in educational achievement.
So there is not a problem with female achievement. The problem enters in when young adults try to balance work and family, and women end up carrying nearly all of the caregiving responsibilities.
Where does the United States stand in terms of gender equality?
The gender wage gap in the United States is lower than in many other countries. But what is troubling is that the gap has barely narrowed since the mid-1990s.
Also, the contribution of men to housework and childcare has grown significantly over the past 25 years, but is still far below women’s contribution.
So many working women continue to have two jobs—one in the workplace and one at home. Childcare is very expensive in the United States. And we are way behind most European countries and many Asian countries in terms of offering affordable, high-quality care.
What do you think is the root of gender inequality?
Gender stereotypes are hard to break, and like it or not, we are all prone to engaging in stereotyping at one time or another. This is demonstrated in the work of Mahzarin Banaji here at Harvard.
As a society, we need to continue to encourage people to go beyond stereotypes and recognize the contributions that each individual, male or female, can make to the workplace and to relationships.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle for women in the workplace today?
The necessity in many prestigious jobs is to put in very long work hours and then leave the more mundane aspects of daily life—like cooking, grocery shopping, and picking up the kids—to other people.
This generally means that women put many more hours into these household activities than men. This greatly disadvantages women in the workplace. It is unrealistic to expect gender equality if workplaces demand that women be available all the time.
As one female economist wrote some years ago, “Who’s minding the kids”?
Interested in gender studies? Stay tuned for completed listings of our studies of women, gender, and sexuality courses in 2015.