National Commentary

Congressman Beyer’s News Commentary: Gender Equality in the Workplace

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I have been surrounded by strong women all of my life. My grandmother was a suffragette, economics professor, labor leader, and advocate for most of her 98 years. My mother is famous in the intellectual disability community for her work with the ARC. One of my four incredible sisters has been CFO in our family business for a generation. My oldest daughter shares management responsibilities for our largest store and my wife has long been a powerful voice for women in business.

I am committed to doing all I can to help create the new American economy. We can begin by addressing women’s economic equality. Every step we take toward ensuring greater economic strength for women will mean great strides for middle class families.
Women are now the sole or majority breadwinner in over 40 percent of American households with a child under the age of 18. And a growing percentage of women are single mothers: More than half the women under 30 who give birth do so outside of marriage and consequently serve a significant economic role for that child.

Yet women still have no guarantee of equal pay for equal work, struggle disproportionately with the burden of finding affordable child care or coping with inadequate workplace policies on family leave, still need greater reproductive health protections, and are less likely than men to be part of some of the more lucrative career paths, such as math, science, and engineering.

Here are a few specific policies I want to work on in Congress to attain these goals:

Raising the minimum wage, including tipped minimum wage. Today’s minimum wage employees earn almost 25 percent less than they did fifty years ago, when adjusted for inflation. The majority of the beneficiaries of this improved policy would be women: Nearly 60 percent of minimum wage workers are women.

Equal pay for equal work. Women working full-time earn roughly 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make. The pay gap is even larger for Latinas and African-American women.

Paid family and medical leave. Over 20 years ago, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act, giving many U.S. employees 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave for qualifying medical or family reasons, such as the birth or adoption of a child, a family illness, or family military leave. It is high time we guaranteed paid leave for such circumstances. Today, only the United States and Papua New Guinea offer no paid maternity leave. I am cosponsoring legislation that would grant six weeks of paid family or medical leave to federal employees.

STEM education and training. Jobs in science, technology, engineering and math, or the STEM fields, pay more and often have faster career ladders than other career paths. Women in these fields earn a third more than their non-STEM counterparts. We must look for ways to stop the historic underrepresentation of women in these fields by recruiting women and girls to these educational paths, connecting them role models and mentors, and supporting policies that help retain them in these jobs.

Perhaps the most important initiative is changing the way we think about women in the workforce. We have abundant evidence that women make an enormous difference to our GDP, our profitability and our quality of economic life. My grandmother would want to know that every American woman has an equal opportunity to make that difference.

 


Rep. Beyer can be reached through his website at www.beyer.house.gov, on Twitter @RepDonBeyer or his office at (202) 225-4376.

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