Women. You can say it sarcastically, reverently, apathetically. No matter how you say it, however, the word produces an image. An image of a mother, a sister, a daughter. Women made up 50.8 percent of the American population in 2011 according to CDC numbers, so chances are you know one or two. How often do you thank them? March is Women’s History Month where we honor and thank the women who came before us for fighting for the rights we have now. We haven’t always had them. While we as a society have come a long way since 1920 and the nineteenth amendment that gave women the right to vote, we still have a ways to go.
Perhaps the most striking example of that is looking at women’s role in the workplace. Bureau of Labor statistics state that in 2012 women were about twice as likely as men to work part time (less than 35 hours per week). Specifically, women who worked part time made up 26 percent of all female workers in 2012 while 13 percent of men who worked, worked part time.
Beyond that, women who were full-time wage and salary workers had a median usual weekly earnings of $691, while the earnings of male full-time wage and salary workers was $854 in 2012. This means that on average, women made about 81 percent of the median earnings of their male counterparts. By way of comparison, in 1979, the first year for which comparable earnings data are available, women earned 62 percent of what men earned.
Further, the occupational distributions of female and male full-time workers differ significantly. Women are more likely than men to work in professional occupations rather than in occupations like construction or transportation. However, they are much less likely to be employed in higher paying job groups such as the computer and engineering fields than their male counterparts. For example, in 2012, 9 percent of women were in those occupations as compared with 45 percent of men. Women are, in fact, much more likely to work in healthcare and education jobs, which pay less. Specifically, 68 percent of professional women worked in one of those fields in 2012, compared with 30 percent of men.
As we all look back this month, and remember the great women of the past; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony and many, many, more we must also look to the future. We must let the passion and commitment they expressed guide us to continue to grow as a nation that values all its citizens fully.
To do that however, it must start in the individual woman herself. In order to affect real change to have equality when and where it matters, women must perceive themselves as equal when and where it matters. Equal work for equal pay may not mean that the average salary for a woman will be the same for a man. Yes, a male fast food technician should make the same salary as a female fast food technician. A female lawyer should make the same salary as a male lawyer. But if more women are fast food technicians and more men are lawyers, the net average salary will still be different.
So the woman must choose. Does she want to be a fast food technician or a lawyer? She must be content with her choice and be empowered with the knowledge that it was her choice, and hers alone, whatever factors she took into consideration when deciding it. Further, society should value that choice as well, understanding that the decision was not made lightly. Society should express that by offering all citizens a living wage that is dependent on the task being performed and the ability of the person to perform the task. If it does not, it is the responsibility of the citizen to ask for it, even demand it. That is the only way to make it a reality. Women are important to society. In the workforce and in the home. Women’s History Month honors that.