We have already discussed the major obstacle that some companies experience in bringing women into the workplace and investing time and money in their training, while fearing that they will lose these skills when the women leave to raise their children. We also know that, as the primary caregiver, this role of mothering is essential to the future well-being of society, and that an equitable balance needs to be found. The problem of finding middle ground is mitigated by the fact that the contribution of women in business, particularly at management levels, consistently means more profitable companies and that all training and development in women is reflected in the raising of the next generation.
This doesn’t, however, explain why women continue to earn less than men for performing the same duties. Ironically, women in the workplace are most often facing many additional challenges and obstacles than their male counterparts, and, if they have children, huge demands on their time, energy and resources. But this does not mean women are less successful than men. Beyond their proven contribution to the bottom line, statistics show that women are starting businesses at more than twice the rate of male-majority-owned businesses (60% of new business started recently in Canada are owned by women). The growing success rate of women entrepreneurs shows that they are resourceful, and able to succeed, despite the odds. And yet they still are very often seen as being worth less than men and are remunerated accordingly (despite the fact that in the United States and in most countries in the world, women are more highly educated than men).
Consider this: In the United States, 41% of women are their families’ sole source of income and women contribute 83% of the gross national product. The old argument against paying men more money was that they were the breadwinners and the primary providers for their family. However, with social changes, it is now true that 8 in 10 single parent families are headed by women. Men and woman pay the same high prices for food, petrol, and housing, but women often bear expenses that men, with higher incomes, do not. The number of dads who fail to pay child support is reaching ever increasing proportions leaving many women to pick up the tab by taking on additional, low-wage jobs to try and make ends meet. To compound these difficulties in the United States, nearly every state has now cut funding and programs that once helped women enforce their child support awards and trained them to re-enter the workforce, and Congress has even severely cut funding to women’s business development centers, beginning in 2009.
Women often pay higher insurance premiums and more out-of-pocket health care costs than men, who do not have to pay for birth control or maternity benefits, and because more women pay for health insurance for their children than do men.
Women’s credit scores are generally equal to or better than men’s, but with lower incomes and smaller assets, to purchase a home, women need to go with a “subprime” mortgage 30-40% more often than men, which means a lower down payment, but higher monthly payments.
These are interesting facts (based on research in the United States) that are bound to have a correlation in South Africa as well:
- Women are more likely to be unemployed during a recession than are men.
- Women are more likely to be retrenched when companies downsize.
- More women than men have low-wage, part-time jobs.
- Fewer women than men meet the eligibility qualifications for unemployment benefits (because they earn lower wages and often are only given part-time hours).
- During a recession men’s median salaries are stagnant but women’s salaries have already dropped 3%.
- For every dollar a man earns working full-time (in the US), female workers earn only 77 cents for the same jobs.
- Women are also less likely to be eligible for employee benefits and employment-based retirement plans.
- According to a Harvard study, the median net worth of unmarried women was $12,900, compared to $26,850 for men. The study cited the wage gap as the primary cause for this inequity.
- Lower wages and higher expenses mean women also have fewer savings and assets than men.
The facts speak for themselves – fair treatment of women in the workplace might be improving but it still has a long way to go before the playing fields are level. This means that women continue to be financially disadvantaged, leaving them often needing to struggle to support their families. In light of the violence against women that is being highlighted during these 16 days, lack of economic independence is one reason that women stay in abusive relationships. Once victims leave their perpetrators, they can be stunned with the reality of the extent to which the abuse has taken away their autonomy. Due to economic abuse and isolation, the victims usually have very little money of their own and few people on whom they can rely when seeking help. This has been shown to be one of the greatest obstacles facing victims of domestic violence, and the strongest factor that can discourage them from leaving their abusers. As we work towards a more equitable situation in the world of work, women will become better equipped to make better decisions for themselves and their families than those dictated purely by their economic inferiority.