Are We There Yet? Persistent Gender Differences In Careers And Money
We achieved gender equality when women could vote and work, so we no longer need feminism. Right?
Looking into the history of women and money in Canada, and many other countries, it’s easy to feel like we’ve come a long way – and we have. Legislation requiring equal pay and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex has improved women’s lives dramatically. It can sometimes seem like we’ve done all the work needed, and that if things are better than they were before (or better than they are in other countries) that means we don’t have to continue to improve.
There’s only one problem: changing the law is never enough to fully change socialized behaviour, and thinking that it is leaves us at a greater disadvantage because we believe the issue is resolved.
- Even after the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 (UK), which outlawed discrimination against women seeking loans or credit, some retailers still asked for male guarantors and past financial discrimination made it impossible to build up a credit rating.
- Blacks and latinos are still denied mortgages at rates double whites, half a century after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (US) banned racial discrimination in lending.
- Despite the many developments in the Criminal Code (Canada) regarding sexual assault, judges across the country continue to reinforce harmful gender biases: like the one in Alberta who asked a complainant why she couldn’t keep her knees together, or the one in Quebec who suggested a complainant might have been a ‘bit flattered’ by the attention, or the one in Nova Scotia who said ‘clearly, a drunk can consent’ when acquitting a taxi driver of sexually assaulting a female passenger.
It’s hubris to think that humans can change deeply ingrained social norms that have held for much of our history in a mere generation. Socialization and implicit biases linger decades and even centuries later, and ignoring them does us all a great disservice.
Girls Are Still Socialized Differently Than Boys
Unsurprisingly, socialization begins practically from birth – and everything from how we play to how we speak to the toys we give can impact a child’s developing view of the world.
Even a baby’s cries can receive different responses based on caregiver biases. Low-pitched cries are more likely to be attributed to boys and are perceived as more masculine, despite pitch having no measurable sex differences in babies. Adult men also assume that boy babies are in more discomfort than girl babies with the same pitch.
We tend to play with girls and boys in different ways. In a BBC study, adults chose gendered toys and played with young children in a gendered way. Marnie, dressed in a blue plaid shirt and referred to as ‘Oliver,’ was given a robot and a car and played with in a more physical manner. Edward, dressed in a floral dress and referred to as ‘Sophie,’ was given pink dolls and stuffed animals and treated more gently. Our behaviour changes with a child’s apparent gender, and both men and women in the study showed these biases.
The types of toys children play with can significantly affect their cognitive and social development. Spacial recognition, a skill required for careers in engineering and science, is developed by play with construction-based toys and some types of video games. The gender differences in this skill disappeared when researchers accounted for differences in early childhood play – women who played with construction-based toys as children performed equally well as men. Often gender-based marketing and toy selection limits the availability or desirability of toys to either girls or boys. Toys with a technology focus were three times as likely to be targeted at boys. These early experiences can have lasting effects on education and career choices.
The way children are perceived and taught in can impacts their future in the workplace. Researchers found that teachers perceived male students as being their best students – more logical, competitive, interested in math, and possessing greater scientific skills.
Gender composition of the workforce can be another factor in children’s occupational aspirations. If we grew up regularly seeing female nurses and male doctors, for example, these interactions can influence our own career aspirations in the medical field.
Gender norms may be evolving, but we’ve raised and educated children with implicit biases for decades after the laws changed to prohibit discrimination based on sex.
We Still Judge Women Disproportionately On Physical Appearance
Being conventionally attractive can be an advantage in the workplace in some circumstances. Women who conform to beauty standards – makeup, hairstyles, manicures – earned more than women who don’t. Note that grooming accounted for all of the attractiveness ratings for women, but only half for men. However, attractiveness in women is considered a disadvantage in many professions – particularly in traditionally male jobs like mechanical engineer or director of finance.
Workplace norms are also implicitly masculine when it comes to body image, so women’s bodies can be seen as different, sexual, or disruptive. In one study, 25% of women were cautioned about their appearance while just 9% of men were. Managers deemed female employees a ‘distraction’ in 35% of responses.
Here are just a handful of the ways in which women’s bodies are criticized and sexualized in educational and workplace contexts.
- Gendered dress codes are socialized in schools, with female students disciplined for not wearing bras, or exposing their legs or shoulders. The message implies that a girl’s education can be interrupted (and is seen as less valuable) if her clothing could distract a boy.
- Nicola Thorp, a receptionist, was sent home without pay when she arrived in flat footwear instead of high heels. Those flats later went on display at Hackney Museum for an exhibition on female activism.
- Several of Canada’s top restaurant chains required women to wear revealing outfits and high heels during their shifts. “I was often told that I needed to show more skin. I was 17 years old. No 17-year-old should be getting in trouble for not showing enough skin,” one woman wrote.
These socialized biases reinforce the image of women as sexual objects, and distract from their more important qualities in the workplace like intelligence and competence.
We Still Speak To Women Differently About Money
The way we continue to speak to women and men about money reinforces the gender divide.
- We talk to women about saving, and to men about investing. Researchers found that women were defined as “excessive spenders” and advised to “limit, restrict, and take better control of shopping ‘splurges’.” In articles aimed at men, the language shifted to words like “dare” to encourage men to “invest” and to “spend” to achieve “power.” Women tend to keep more of their savings in cash, are less willing to take risks, and have reduced employment due to childcare – although women live longer than men, these factors compound to leave them less prepared for retirement.
- We consider it much more important for men to be financial providers, even though the percentage of women contributing half or more of household earnings is steadily rising (3% in 1980 to 25% in 2000 to 31% in 2017).
- We talk down to women in financial advising, often showing disrespect and condescension or deferring to a male partner regardless of who is asking the questions.
The language that we use very much signals the importance (or unimportance) of certain activities to certain genders.
We Still Pay Women Less
There are a number of factors involved in the difference between wages earned by men and women. Regardless of how the data is manipulated, women in Canada earn less than men.
After controlling for industry, occupation, education, age, job tenure, province of residence, marital status, and union status, Canadians were still left with an 8% wage gap which researchers suggest could be explained by bias.
Socialized bias is key in understanding the persistent wage gap. Here are some examples of disproportionate treatment of women likely explained by bias.
- As women enter male-dominated fields, pay drops by double-digit percentage points.
- Investors prefer entrepreneurial ventures pitched by men.
- Science faculty rated the male applicant for a laboratory manager position more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. They also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant.
One of the more insidious arguments about the gender gap is that it’s due to women’s choice of careers and child care arrangements. Research found that women who have their first child before 25 or after 35 close the salary divide, but the years in between (prime years for both child rearing and career-building) seem to be the problem. Taking on child care and other household responsibilities often translates to being passed up for career opportunities, while giving male partners more support to succeed in their own careers.
Part of the ongoing frustration with the gender wage gap is the fact that women spend so much time doing unpaid work – about 4.5 hours per day on average, according to the OECD. That’s more than twice the amount of time that men spend on unpaid work – 2 hours per day on average. The discrepancy of pay reflects larger issues about how we as a society define ‘work’ and productivity.
Housework is not work. Sex work is not work. Emotional work is not work. Why? Because they don’t take effort? No, because women are supposed to provide them uncompensated, out of the goodness of our hearts. – Jess Zimmerman
How Do We Move Forward?
It’s imperative that we recognize that our work on gender is not even close to complete. If women are still sexualized at school and work, still talked down to in the media, and still paid less.. how can we possibly be equal?
Our society harms women and men, and we need to keep pushing the boundaries of gender to improve life for everyone. To bring systemic changes, we need systemic interventions – things like affordable child care, flexible work environments, and decreased socialization along polarized gender norms. These systemic changes need to include a shift in attitudes. It’s vital to listen and give deference to the lived experiences of individuals most affected.
Listen to women. Believe women. Pay women. Elect women.
Gender is a difficult topic, but a little understanding can go a long way.
Here are some of my favourite lists, articles, documentaries, and podcasts on women and money:
Female Personal Finance Blogs – Women Who Money
Meet The Women Of The Financial Independence Movement – Tread Lightly, Retire Early
Here’s to Strong Women: The End of the Damsel in Financial Distress – She Picks Up Pennies
One Reason Women Make Less Money? They’re Afraid of Being Raped and Killed. – BitchesGetRiches
The Intersection of “Me too” and Money – Broke Millennial
Emotional Labor – The Fairer Cents
The Financial Harm of Beauty Standards – Dumpster Dog Blog
Miss Representation – Netflix
Obviously, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Please share your comments and articles below!