Women in Labor: Unsung Value

Pam Sornson, JD

April 4, 2023

How society values labor is very often determined by historical practices and premises. Consequently, today’s reality regarding the value of work doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual benefit conferred by a person’s effort. Instead, economic and social realities reveal what the historical community believed was of value regarding that worker as a person. And in too many cases, inappropriate, biased, and discriminatory labeling of the person has resulted in an ineffective and inequitable valuing of the effort they contribute to their culture. The cost to the community of this type of ‘norm’ has been – and remains – exceedingly high.

 

Progress Marked

Women’s History Month in America – March – has just passed, and we’ve chronicled the successes of notable women in the LA area who have had and are having a significant impact on our regional workforce development efforts. As laudable as their accomplishments are, however, further research indicates that there is still much to be done for women here and around the world to attain a level of equity that would be comparable to that enjoyed by men. Not only would women and girls themselves gain immense benefits from being fully recognized as valuable contributors to society, but data indicate that the entire community benefits across all sectors when the labor and efforts of women are appreciated and valued equally to those of men.

 

Progress to be Made

Despite the fact that women make up fully half of the world’s population, they remain woefully underrepresented in terms of economics, social standing, and educational achievements. According to a paper released by the World Bank, approximately 2.5 billion of the world’s women cannot access the economic opportunities that could improve their lives. Instead, they face formidable legal and social barriers that prevent them from even pursuing such options.

The statistics are alarming. In the 190 nations surveyed by the Bank:

One hundred seventy-eight countries maintain legal systems that prevent women from fully participating in their economies.

Eighty-six countries place restrictions on the jobs available to women, while

another 95 countries will not guarantee equal pay for equal work.

Further, around the world and in addition to their lack of access to economic development, women are afforded only three-quarters of the legal rights enjoyed by men, generating an aggregate score of 76%, with 100% representing complete legal parity between men and women. The challenges presented by these disparities are many.

According to Mari Pangestu, World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships, the estimated lifetime earnings gap between men and women now stands at US $172 trillion, almost twice the world’s annual gross domestic product (GDP).

By any standard, such a yawning void of earning capacity between a man and a woman reflects significant inequity and unfairness. To explain it away, some people may suggest that men work more than women or that the products of the man’s labor provide higher social value than those of women. Neither of those assertions is accurate, however.

Research shows that women simply aren’t paid for all the work they do. Women perform 2.5 times the volume of unpaid household and caregiver work than men. That fact is evident in both developed and developing nations, too. In developing countries, men contribute an average of 1:31 hours per day of unpaid labor (women = 5:42) compared to the 1:54 hours performed by men in developed regions (women = 5:09). The relative economic stability of the country in which they live does not have an impact on the volume of unpaid work performed by men as compared to that contributed by women.

The data also reveal that, when they are compensated for their work, women are paid less money than men, even when they do the same job. Globally, on average, a woman earns just $.77 for every dollar a man earns for performing the same function, and women with children make, on average, less than that.

Having children is, in itself, a handicap for the vast majority of the world’s women. In many communities, Women with children face additional barriers to finding a fair and well-compensated job:

A child-encumbered female employee is deemed less reliable than her male counterpart because employers expect that she will need special accommodations to attend to her family. The boss doesn’t have the same expectation for male employees.

Many companies set rigid workdays and hours schedules, which don’t facilitate the flexibility that mothers or other caregivers often need.

Society, in general, still expects women, not men, to attend to family-related details while also anticipating the woman to perform at the same level of capacities and attentiveness as her male colleagues.

These circumstances aggregate to put women under tremendous pressure to perform all roles and expectations all the time, even though none of those activities provides the economic or social support she needs to succeed. Not surprisingly, many women elect to work for compensation only part-time and spend more of their days in their unpaid role of mother and home keeper. They then, because of the nature of their circumstances, sacrifice their old-age benefits, which are frequently calculated by the number of paid hours contributed to an employer over their work life or career.

 

When measured as an influence on economic success and social mobility, these statistics underscore how much of the value that women provide goes unrecognized and uncompensated. Finding a way to address and repair these inequities requires an analysis of the facts that generate these situations and then taking action to reduce and eliminate them.

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