Pay Attention: You Need to Understand These 5 Women’s Issues


(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

From the Ellen Pao discrimination case to Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, women are expressing some rightful outrage. In fact, they are stepping up and fighting for their rights–now more so than ever. And they should be. These are five issues that impact your female employees–issues that you (and me), as business owners, must also address.

That’s particularly true if we intend to grow and succeed in the years to come.

1. Equal pay

According to this recent report, “women earn approximately 77 percent of what men do, a figure that has improved by only 3 percentage points over the past two decades. (And the gap is even wider among high earners.)” The U.N. group who prepared that report warned that “the pay gap won’t close for more than 70 years if it continues to shrink at the current rate. Though substantial gains have been made over the past few decades, women in the U.S. still made about 82 percent of what men earned in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” The good news is that, among Millennials, the pay gap between men and women is mostly at parity, per a Pew Research study. Take a look at your business. Are your female employees being paid equally with males that are doing similar jobs? This is not just a legal matter, it’s a competitive matter. How can you attract smart female workers if you’re paying less?

2. Discrimination

Ellen Pao lost her suit against her employers, but the she won a great deal of attention for an issue facing many women: workplace discrimination. Pao claimed that her employer, Kleiner Perkins, failed to promote her based on her gender and then fired her to retaliate after she sued. Scores of studies have found strong evidence of gender discrimination practiced across multiple industries and disciplines fromfilm to mathematics to science to public relations. We’ve come a long way from the days of Mad Men but there are still many miles to travel. Do you treat your female employees the same as their male counterparts? Are they being given an equal chance for promotion and advancement in your company? Are you letting gender get in the way of your hiring decisions? Do you have specific written policies that affect this and have they been communicated to your entire workforce?

3. Harassment

The Feminist Majority Foundation, an organization dedicated to women’s equality, provides a comprehensive list of examples that constitute harassment, including comments about women’s bodies, unwelcome touching and hugging, sexist jokes and cartoons and displaying pornography in the workplace. Just recently in my home state of Pennsylvania a prominent judge was forced to “retire” and others who worked in the Office of the Attorney General were fired in the wake of a computer pornography scandal where judges and other high level officials, while at work, were sharing sexually explicit photos of women. “This behavior violated computer and email policies and on an even more troubling level showed a fundamental disregard and disrespect for people who work in the OAG and for Pennsylvanians,” said thestate’s Attorney General Kathleen Kane. She meant women. And she was right. This kind of stuff goes on all the time and is probably happening right now in your office…and mine. We need to stop it.

4. Pregnancy

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has specific rules regarding the treatment of pregnant women in the workplace. Specifically 1) an employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because of her pregnancy related condition as long as she is able to perform the major functions of her job, 2) pregnant employees must be permitted to work as long as they are able to perform their jobs and 3) if an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job due to pregnancy, the employer must treat her the same as any other temporarily disabled employee; for example, by providing light duty, modified tasks, alternative assignments, disability leave, or leave without pay. These rules are garnering more attention in light of The Supreme Court’sdecision two weeks ago to reinstate a pregnancy-discrimination claim against United Parcel Service Inc., ruling that pregnant workers can sue employers who deny them accommodations afforded to employees with disabilities. We all need to be highly aware of the issues that face pregnant women.

5. Paid parental leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles employees who have worked for at least 12 months (and put in a minimum 1,250 hours) at a company with more than 50 people to take a 12 week unpaid leave of absence from their jobs for certain medical conditions. But things are changing. Apple Corporation late last year announced new policies which now allow expectant mothers to take up to four weeks before a delivery and upwards of 14 weeks after and expectant fathers (and other non-birth parents) to take six-week parental leaves. And there are calls across the country to do more: “a report released this year by the International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency examined maternity and paternity leave in 185 countries and territories and found that 99 percent of them require compensated maternity leave–paid by the countries through a social insurance program, by employers, or a combination of these sources. Unfortunately, mothers in only two countries, the United States and Papau New Guinea, aren’t guaranteed paid maternity leave, according to the report.” President Obama drew attention to the news last June. Look for paid parental leave to become a big campaign issue this year.

With all of their advancements, women in this country are still facing significant challenges, particularly in the workplace. And these issues, previously ignored by men, are now taking national priority. They are important. And women are rightfully yelling about them. Well, not “yelling” yelling. But you get the point.


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