Glass ceiling is thicker in U.S.

Gender gap: Women in America are still underrepresented in Congress, the business world and high-paying jobs.

May 09, 2004|By Holly Sklar | Holly Sklar,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Many women have celebrated Mother's Day in the president's house, but none of them was president. We've had two John Adamses and two George Bushes as president, but no Abigail or Barbara, Victoria, Margaret, Shirley or Elizabeth.

Women have been presidents and prime ministers of various countries - Great Britain, Ireland, India, Israel, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Norway, Finland, Guyana and Sri Lanka among them. But not the United States.

Women are 51 percent of the U.S. population, but just 14 percent of Congress. Of 435 House members, 59 are women, and in the Senate, 14 out of 100 members are women.

If Congress were representative of the nation, the House would have 222 women and the Senate 51.

Half the states have no women in Congress. Five states have never sent a woman to the House or the Senate, reports the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University: Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Sixty-five countries do better than the United States when it comes to women serving in national legislatures. In 2003, women held 45 percent of the seats in Sweden's Parliament, 38 percent of the seats in Denmark, 35 percent in Costa Rica, 31 percent in Germany, 30 percent in South Africa, 27 percent in Spain and 24 percent in Canada.

Women's political under-representation helps explain why the U.S. government talks about family values more than it values families. The United States is the only industrialized country without universal health coverage, leaving many people to suffer preventable illness, disability and death, and medical-related bankruptcy.

Most mothers work outside the home, including most mothers with infants. But public preschool is rare and child care subsidies woefully inadequate.

Some 128 countries, not including the United States, provide paid, job-protected childbirth-related leave, reports the Clearinghouse on International Developments in Child, Youth and Family Policies at Columbia University. The average paid leave is 16 weeks. In the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act mandates up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave at companies with 50 or more employees. Nearly half of all workers are not covered by the act, and many of those who are covered can't afford to take unpaid leave.

Women are nearly half the work force, most college graduates and about a third of MBA graduates. But just 17 of the chief executives at Fortune 1000 companies are women. That's less than 2 percent. Below the glass ceiling, women are 97 percent of secretaries and administrative assistants.

The glass ceiling is not just bad for women and their families, it's bad for business. In "The Bottom Line," a recent study of Fortune 500 companies, the Catalyst research organization found that the group of companies with the highest representation of women on their senior management teams had a 35 percent higher return on equity and a 34 percent higher total return to shareholders than companies with the lowest female representation.

The typical woman working full time earns 77 cents for every dollar earned by the typical man. For every $10,000 men earn, women make $7,700 - a loss of $2,300. When men make $30,000, women make $6,900 less.

Think about what those lost wages could do for you and your family. Among full-time workers, the typical female high school graduate will earn about $450,000 less than the average male high school graduate from age 25 through 64. The pay gap widens to $900,000 for workers with bachelor's degrees.

"Men with professional degrees may expect to earn almost $2 million more than their female counterparts over their work life," the Census Bureau reported.

The gender wage gap has closed just 13 cents since 1955, when women earned 64 cents for every dollar men earned. There's still 23 cents to go. At this rate, 87 more Mother's Days could go by before women and men reach parity.

Remember mom the rest of the year when making decisions at work and at the polls. And in the words of the new nonpartisan women's Vote, Run, Lead initiative of the White House Project, "Go vote, Go run, Go lead, Go girl."

Abigail Adams and Victoria Woodhull - the first woman to run for president, back in 1872 - would be proud.

Holly Sklar is co-author of Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work for All of Us.

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