A Note to the U.S. Supreme Court on What Sexism Looks Like

Just to show you how important it is to have women in leadership positions, including the U.S. Supreme Court, the court appears to be divided among gender lines in the Dukes v. Wal-Mart sex discrimination case. From the Los Angeles Times:

“Led by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Antonin Scalia, the majority of men on the court questioned how Wal-Mart could be held liable for illegal sex bias when its 3,400 store managers across the nation decide who gets promoted and who receives pay raises.

“‘It’s not clear to me: What’s the unlawful policy that Wal-Mart has adopted?’ Kennedy asked. The company’s written policy calls for equal treatment without regard to race or sex.

“But Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — who together mark the first time the court has had three women on the bench — asserted that a corporate policy of letting store managers decide on promotions could result in discrimination against women.

“The statistics generated in the case so far strongly suggested that was what had occurred, they said.”

The case won’t be decided until June. But until then, I hope our male justices will look to their daughters, their wives, their colleagues and the women in their lives and hear what their experiences have been. As of 2008, as many as 40% of women were the primary breadwinners in their households, a fact often touted by opponents of fair pay as a sign that women have achieved economic equality and therefore lawsuits like Dukes v. Wal-Mart and proposed laws like the Paycheck Fairness Act are unnecessary (1).

But the truth is these families are probably living on a lot less than if the wage gap were non-existent. Study after study has shown that mothers, in particular, make significantly less than the “75 cents to the dollar” statistic often bandied about in the media. Mothers are also dinged on numerous fronts from being offered a salary comparable to male peers doing the same work, or being bypassed for a promotion due to maternal status.

In a 2007 study, Stanford University Professor Shelley Correll and her colleagues sent out more than 1,200 fictitious resumes to employers in a large Northeastern city, and found that female applicants with children were “significantly less likely to get hired” and suffer a “substantial wage penalty.” Not only were fathers not penalized in the same fashion, but they even benefited from their parental status because they were seen as more dependable and responsible than a man without children. However, the same was not true of the mothers, who evaluators deemed less competent and less committed to their jobs – even if their experience and qualifications were identical to that of their male peers. (2)  


Women can lie about their parental status or attempt to negotiate for higher salaries on their own, but sadly, studies have shown that both often backfire. Discrimination today is subtle. It’s not about potential employers putting up a sign on the door stating that women and minorities need not apply. It’s the underlying perceptions that often guide the hiring decisions of even the most competent employers.

Here are just a few of the ways, in which female job applicants may inadvertently be discriminated against: discrimination today is the underlying assumption that women have spouses who can support them, therefore they don’t need to earn the same pay or benefits as a man. It’s the underlying assumption that she will be less committed to her job, or is somehow unable to balance her job and childcare duties like a man. Discrimination is the underlying assumption that a woman who is too aggressive in negotiating a salary is somehow too difficult to work with – a bias, by the way, that is real and has been studied.

In all fairness, you can’t blame the employers or depend on only them to make change. We all have underlying impressions that guide our decisions from who our friends are to where we attend church. It is human nature to hire and befriend people who look like us.

Because 86 percent of Wal-Mart’s managers are male — that stat alone astounds me, by the way — you can see how a woman, and especially a woman with children, would find it difficult to break the glass ceiling to those higher-paying and more desirable jobs. Without action from the legislature and/or the U.S. Supreme Court, it will take another 45 years to erase the wage gap, something that should be disturbing to us all.  

A victory in the Supreme Court – allowing the brave women of Wal-Mart to proceed as a class action lawsuit – will have an enormous impact on women and families, and send the message to corporate America that discrimination against women in pay and promotions will not stand. A defeat won’t mean the case is over, but it will be harder to fight discrimination on a case-by-case basis. Simply put, a lot is riding on this case.

Until then, we can only hope that the men on the U.S. Supreme Court do a lot of soul-searching. Also, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the brave women of Wal-Mart for all the sacrifices they’ve already made in their pursuit of justice for all, including the men and children in their care.

1.)http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/24/opinion/24lipman.html?pagewanted=all
2.) http://www.jstor.org/…

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Monday Morning Open Thread


What’s up?

I am recovering from one of my crazy kid parties that had about 60 people in attendance. Eli turns 4 this Thursday, but we will be out of the country. (More on that later.) So we celebrated her birthday at our house yesterday. It was a Princess and the Frog themed party where the kids dressed up as princesses and super heroes, I dressed up as Snow White, Eli dressed up as Tiana, we had a Tiana cake, a frog piñata, and get this, I actually hired a Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen from this place.

The website was so busy that at first I wondered if it was real. Then I received a confirmation phone call and lo and behold the royal pair walked arm in arm to our house. At first Eli was completely shocked. Then I broke the ice and reminded Eli how we had missed Princess Tiana when we went to her home in New Orleans Square (Disneyland). “I cried when I didn’t see you,” Eli told the princess.

Tiana was a pro. She took Eli in her arms and then along with her prince showed the kids a really good time. They did animal balloons and then a magic show. Ari and his best buddy Jude, who were too cool to dress up, were even enthralled by the magic show. We took tons of pictures that I will post later this week. (Again, still recovering.) What were some of your kids’ most memorable birthday parties?

In other, but more sinister news: the Republican Party in Maine wants to loosen child labor laws to score even cheaper labor, according to the Huffington Post. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, a British mom was issued a citation for leaving her 14-year-old son babysitting his 3-year-old brother for a half hour while she went to the grocery store, according to the UK Express. No one was hurt, but Britain has no law spelling out when it is appropriate to leave children home alone.

What do you all make of these stories?

Our Katy over at Non-Toxic Kids covered a study showing that we can reduce our BPA body burden by limiting the amount of canned goods we consume. Bisphenol A, or BPA, is an endocrine disruptor found in many hard plastics, including the inside-lining of canned goods.  

I loved this Equal Rights Advocates update on the Wal-Mart sex discrimination case. I have more to say on that later in the week. But for now, I am grateful for a woman like Betty Dukes.

Health care reform at work: the other day I took Eli to her four-year check up and I owed no co-pay. I was paying up to $30 a visit — on top of my monthly premiums — so it was a pleasant surprise to be able to put the ATM card away. Have you noticed the law affect your lives in any way?

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

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Senate Republicans Oppose Fair Pay for Women

In an effort to appease business interests, the Senate Republicans unanimously opposed passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have narrowed the pay gap between men and women. The bill fell short by two votes, 58-41.

Right now there is an oft-repeated 77-cent-to-a-dollar pay gap between men and women. The gap between mothers and non-mothers is even greater, which is why we are very disappointed at MomsRising.org. Here is an e-mail recently sent by our co-founder Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner:

The Paycheck Fairness Act was (and is) sorely needed to update the Equal Pay Act, which passed in 1963, and doesn’t reflect modern realities of a labor force that’s 50% women. Right now women make 77 cents to every dollar made by men and the pay gap has been narrowing by less than half a percent a year. [1] That means at this rate the pay gap won’t close until 2057. Forty-seven years from now! With more and more families depending on moms’ paychecks, American families simply cannot afford to wait that long.

Sign on to our short letter to all the Senators who voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act asking them to explain to their daughters, and ours, why in 2010 women don’t deserve the right to equal pay for equal work.

I did a quick google search on the Paycheck Fairness Act, and was disappointed that hardly any news organizations covered it. But there was plenty of gloating by the business community. Here is what one HR newsletter had to say:

Employers can breathe a little easier. The Paycheck Fairness Act — which one labor attorney said had “the potential to cripple companies, particularly smaller businesses” — has been scuttled.

My reaction? Eff you. This is about protecting BIG BUSINESSES who donated handsomely to the coffers of the Republican Party to kill this bill. It is unconscionable that in the 21st century, paying women for the same jobs that men do still sparks raucous debate and is somehow responsible for the crippling of our economy. As the mother of a daughter, I am saddened that gender bias in the workplace still exists. Otherwise, why would the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its ilk spend so much time and money to fight it?

What will it take for us to achieve equal pay for equal work in this country?

In related news, private health insurance companies gave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce $86.2 million to fight healthcare reform legislation, namely a government-run public option to compete with them, according to Bloomberg News.

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She’s A Mom But Where Does She Stand?

Did you see that?! A mom on center stage at the Republican convention accepting the Vice Presidential nomination and holding a baby.

There are too few mothers in the boardrooms and high levels of political office, and we need more of them. In fact, women comprise only 16% of Congress (the U.S. ranks a world low of 71st in women’s representation in national legislatures–below Pakistan, Italy, Bolivia, Rwanda, Argentina, France, China, Canada, and 63 other countries). And, women hold only 6.7% of top-paying positions in Fortune 500 countries. A measly 6.7%!

Obviously, more women need to be seated in the highest offices.  That’s something that most of us can agree on.


But while it was good to see a woman on center stage accepting the Vice Presidential nomination (for only the second time in the history of our nation), I didn’t hear much in Gov. Palin’s acceptance speech–or since–about what she, and her running mate Sen. McCain, will do about the issues which impact the 83 million mothers in our nation each and every day.

This mom wants to know: Where does Gov. Palin stand? Where does she stand on issues which are important to mothers like healthcare, fair pay, paid family and medical leave, afterschool programs, childcare/early learning, paid sick days, and flexible work options.

Whether you are a mother, or have a mother, the moms of our nation expect every candidate to tackle the shared issues of our nation’s families.  We also know full well from decades of stalled family-friendly legislation that just because someone is a mom (or has a mom) doesn’t mean they automatically support the policies which are central to the economic security of mothers and families.

As the candidate debates draw near, and with an election that’s neck-and-neck in the polls, now’s the time to ask candidates to share their positions on critical issues.  Let’s demand that the national political discussion is one of substance while this nomination is a hot topic in coffee shops, at water coolers, and around dinner tables across the nation.

Let’s change the conversation. The conversation shouldn’t be about how many kids Gov. Palin has, which is essentially unchecked gender bias, it should be about the issues–and where she stands on them. After all, we’ve had fathers in the White House for a couple hundred years and the mere fact of any of those male candidates having children has yet to be an election issue. Just to show how ridiculous this is: Why is it that everyone knows that Gov. Palin has five children, but few know how many children Sen. Biden has?

Right about now you might be wondering: Why don’t we know where Gov. Palin stands, anyway?  Isn’t disclosing where you stand on issues so that voters can choose their candidate a big part of running for public office?  Well, it’s not a conspiracy that we don’t know where Gov. Palin stands, but it’s definitely a serious bout of opportunistic pessimism on the part of political campaign operatives.

Turns out that this lack of focus on issues right now isn’t an accident.  In fact, McCain campaign manager, Rick Davis, recently said, and I quote:  “This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”

What!?

In fact, the McCain campaign made an active decision not to have Gov. Palin do interviews with the national media right now. It seems they essentially want to avoid the issues–and to leave us just with that image of a woman on the stage, “a composite view” as Davis said, of sorts, as if the American public only needs a Technicolor picture to make decisions about the future direction of our country.  It’s downright insulting to voters.

To that point, here’s a Fox News transcriptof the Sept. 7, 2008, edition of “FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace” of a conversation between McCain campaign manager and Chris Wallace on the topic of keeping Gov. Palin out of interviews that went up today:

WALLACE: But let me move on to something else. Governor Palin has given some very good speeches this week, and I think everybody, Republican or Democrat, would say that she was very effective at the Republican convention.

She has not answered a single question from the national media. When is she going to agree to an interview?

DAVIS: She’ll agree to an interview when we think it’s time and when she feels comfortable doing it.

Voters know that this election really is about the issues–that it’s not about some Technicolor “composite view” of candidates. These issues are as real to many of us as paying for rent, taking our children to the doctor, and putting food on the dinner table

Let’s not let any candidate (or political campaign operative) forget that more than 50% of the electorate are women; and over 80% of women in our nation have children by the time they are forty-four. Suffice to say that moms pack a powerful political punch.  It’s time to come together and use that power to make sure our issues get the attention they deserve–for our children, for ourselves, and for the future economic security of our nation.

Join with me and MomsRising.org in sending an open letter to Gov. Palin asking where she stands now, and then moms in Alaska will deliver the letter with your signatures. Help put the pressure on for candidates to share their positions on the issues which impact our nation’s families each and every day.

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