Editorial: A call for gender equality

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Heather Halversen on the job. Image Credit: Madison County Fire Department

Rosie the Riveter blazed the trail for women in the workplace during World War II by uniting and inspiring women with the simple phrase, “We can do it.”

According to time.com, for the first time in almost a decade, women now hold the majority of jobs in the American workforce, proving that they can, in fact, do it.

While there have been major strides in gender equality over the years, many women still combat gender discrimination and inequality in the workplace today.

According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, “Roughly four-in-ten working women say they’ve experienced gender discrimination at work.”

We at Scroll believe that a woman’s gender and family status should not prevent her from getting a job or being treated equally in her chosen career.

Gender discrimination can take many different forms. While these situations do not exist in every professional environment, the following stories come from women in the Rexburg community who have personally experienced discrimination in their jobs.

Women are taking the workplace by storm. Image Credit: Christina @wocintechchat.com via Unsplash
Women are taking the workplace by storm.
Image Credit: Christina @wocintechchat.com via Unsplash

1. Unequal pay and/or benefits

According to data from business.org involving full-time and year-round workers in the U.S., women are earning around $0.80 for every dollar earned by their male colleagues. This means that if women and men received equal paychecks starting in January, women would stop receiving paychecks on Oct. 29 due to the national pay gap of 18%. The men would continue receiving pay through the end of the year.

Emily Rowley, a senior studying elementary education, described a time in her career when she unknowingly received a smaller paycheck than her male coworkers.

“I was once working with two of my guy friends,” Rowley said. “We worked the same hours, same exact job and responsibilities. One week we worked extra hard, and I think one friend said he couldn’t wait to spend his $450 check. The other disagreed and said he would save it. I looked at mine and it was only around $300.”

After noticing the difference in pay, she asked her coworkers directly about their monthly rate and was shocked to hear that she received less.

“Turns out I was being paid $2.50 less an hour than the guys even though we worked the same,” Rowley said. “They told me to speak up because that wasn’t right and agreed I work really hard. It eventually got fixed, but it was kind of a shock to me that it even happened, and I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t working with friends.”

2. Difficulties being hired or getting a promotion due to gender

Some women receive rejection for promotions or positions, even though they are well qualified, just because of their gender.

According to builtin.com, “Both men and women are twice as likely to hire a male candidate.”

An anonymous woman shared her experience with Scroll of being passed up for a teaching job by a male applicant who had less experience and qualifications. The employers told her the position went to the man because he had a young family to take care of until he found another job.

“So because I was a woman and not the sole breadwinner for my family, I taught no classes for the department that semester or the next until he moved away and got a job somewhere else,” she said.

Another woman shared that her job only promotes men for authoritative positions, which include pay raises. She fears that speaking out about this discrimination could jeopardize her own job, and she could receive judgment from colleagues.

3. Sexual harassment

A poll conducted by ABC News found that 54% of women reported unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, and 95% of men who initiate those advances faced no form of punishment or consequence.

These statistics show only reported incidents, many more go unreported.

“When I was 17, I was sexually harassed and inappropriately touched by more than one coworker,” said Renee Jenkins, a Rexburg resident. “I repeatedly asked to not be scheduled for the closing shift … But my request was never fulfilled. I was told I should be flattered that men were paying attention to me, or the manager seemed like it was putting him out to hear that I wanted a schedule change. I ended up quitting.”

Sexual harassment not only includes unwanted physical contact but derogatory remarks, excessive pressure for dates, innuendos, commentary on the body, jokes and many more in any form — messages, email, notes, etc.

4. Maternal discrimination

Although there are laws protecting mothers and pregnant women in the workforce, many women have found it hard to find a job when employers find out they have children. Women are sometimes even let go after giving birth.

According to a study done by Shelley Correll, Stephen Benard and In Paik, a mother is 79% less likely to be hired and 50% less likely to be promoted than a woman without children. The study also found that mothers were, on average, offered a lower salary and held to higher standards than women without children.

Many women have found it difficult to find jobs after having children. Image Credit: Brian Wangenheim via unsplash.com
Many women have found it difficult to find jobs after having children.
Image Credit: Brian Wangenheim via unsplash.com

One woman in Rexburg shared her struggle of finding a job after having children.

“After about a year and a half of working (as a graphic designer), I was let go because I had a baby,” she shared. “I had previous verbal conversations with my employer about how long I would take maternity leave and such before coming back to work. Shortly after I had my baby, he backed out of what we had discussed, and used my situation as an excuse to let me go.”

While single and childless, this woman had no issues getting jobs in her field of work. Once she married and became a mother, she found it nearly impossible to find work, even though she meets and even exceeds job qualifications.

“The workforce isn’t always the nicest for working mothers,” she said.

Another woman from Rexburg experienced maternal discrimination after suffering a miscarriage. She came to work shortly after in physical and emotional pain. She explained the situation to her supervisor and asked to leave early. Her supervisor said yes and let her go home, but the next day her superior asked to speak with her privately. He told her leaving early would count as two missed days because of the weekend and if she missed another day, she would be fired.

“I explained that I was having a miscarriage, thinking maybe they didn’t know, but they knew,” she said. “They just didn’t care. They even had the nerve to tell me, ‘I’m not firing you. You’re firing yourself.’”

Although there are even more cases of discrimination like the women above, there are steps towards positive change, equality and improvements in the future.

An Example of Change

Heather Halversen, a part-time firefighter for the Madison County Fire Department, has been working as a Firefighter/EMT for 4 1/2 years. Although she is fortunate in the Madison County Fire Department to be treated as an equal, Halversen has heard of other female firefighters from other departments being discriminated against or teased because of their careers in a traditionally male-dominant job.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, only 4% of career firefighters were female in 2018.

“Honestly, in this department, being a girl is not a problem because they see effort and skills more than gender,” Halversen said. “But when you walk around town or are on the job, it’s not common to see other female firefighters.”

Heather Halversen Firefighter/EMT Image Credit: Madison County Fire Department
Heather Halversen Firefighter/EMT
Image Credit: Madison County Fire Department
Heather Halverson on the job. Image Credit: Madison County Fire Department
Heather Halversen on the job.
Image Credit: Madison County Fire Department

Halversen has noticed, however, that some aspects of her work life are changing.

“Girls’ anatomy makes it a little harder to be skinny and fit in things and some tasks are more tiring when you’ve got a little extra set of weight,” Halversen said. “Turnouts (firefighters’ personal protective gear) don’t fit. You have to get the biggest marshmallow turnouts you can get so that your hips will fit. There are a lot of things that come with the job, so companies are starting to jump on seeing that need and more and more girls are starting to realize as the workforce switches to a skill-base rather than a gender-base, those things are needed.”

For now, a career as a firefighter is still considered very male-dominated, but the tides may change as time goes on.

This kind of change is something we hope for going into the future. A person’s skills and qualifications should be the factors sought after in a potential job candidate, not their gender or whether they have children or a family. Sexual harassment should never be a part of someone’s work experience regardless of gender.

If you experience or see discrimination in your work environment, speak up. Project When is one of the many organizations that provide resources to report workplace harassment. They work toward positive change needed in today’s world.

Speaking up is the only way to initiate a positive change. We believe that women and men should unite in this cause for good. Together, “We can do it.”