Almost four decades after the percentage of American women holding a job crested 40 percent, what many are calling an archaic debate is breaking out among some influential men about the role of women in the workplace.
Arguments over the place women hold in the societal and economic structure of the US may seem quaint and misplaced in an era when the favorite to be the next president is female and scores of top corporate executives are women, but rancor over the growing independence of women has seized the consciousness of many in the political and business communities.
Nothing demonstrated the influence of women and their powerful modern role than the most recent election campaign. Hamstrung by a slew of candidates and personalities that drew headlines with derogatory comments or controversial policies that targeted women, conservatives lost the female vote in a landslide to President Obama and other Democrats in numerous state and federal races. The storyline of a right-wing “war on women” has become a prominent focus in national and regional politics as many lawmakers seek to relitigate issues like birth control and reproductive rights,
While some may consider the politics of abortion and religion to be a “hot button” that is cloaked in controversy, even more basic developments in the decades-long struggle for gender equality and the protection of women’s rights has been revived by influential men in politics and on Wall Street.
Those dual narratives of a woman’s place in politics and the economy came to a head in particular comments by the Republican governor of Mississippi this week that cemented the conservative position of “traditional” family values over economic and societal equality for women.
Gov. Phil Bryant told a Washington Post panel that the nation’s educational system has started to fail because “the mom is in the workplace.” Bryant proceeded to distance himself from that particular comment, but such opposition to women being able to work outside the home is a common theme among Republicans.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said Tuesday that America’s educational troubles began when women began working outside the home in large numbers.
Bryant was participating in a Washington Post Live event focused on the importance of ensuring that children read well by the end of third grade. In response to a question about how America became “so mediocre” in regard to educational outcomes, he said:
I think both parents started working. And the mom is in the work place.
Bryant immediately recognized how controversial his remark would be and said he knew he would start to get e-mails. He then expanded on his answer, saying that “both parents are so pressured” in families today. He also noted that America seemed to be losing ground internationally in regards to educational outcomes because other nations began to invest more in their own school systems and make progress.
Bryant’s are only one of a string of recent remarks that have sought to disparage or discourage the idea of women and mothers holding down important or full-time jobs, a situation they argue is unsuccessful for the woman and harms a “traditional” family structure.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, as women gain a greater foothold in the national and global economy and begin rivaling men for prominent political and corporate positions, a backlash is developing under the guise of “values” and protecting families.
Despite a number of recent examples of high-profile women balancing young families and top corporate jobs (like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer), the theory that women with children somehow cannot be as successful as men in the same position has been developed by at least one important Wall Street titan.
Hedge fund magnate Paul Tudor Jones has come under fire for his comments in April that being a mother was a “focus killer” and that moms had no ability to compete with men in Wall Street trading jobs.
“You will never see as many great women investors or traders as men, period, end of story,” the well-respected billionaire remarked. He was forced to issue an apology once video of his opinion was leaked to the media.
It is difficult for mothers to become traders because connecting with a child is a “focus killer,” hedge-fund chief Paul Tudor Jones told an audience at a Q and A session at the University of Virginia last month. Responding to a question from the audience about why the panel of hedge-fund heavy hitters didn’t include any women, Jones said, “You will never see as many great women investors or traders as men, period, end of story.”
(He also released a statement Friday, after a video of his remarks hit the web. Apologizing that “my remarks offended,” he added: “I believe that great success is possible in any field … as long as a woman or man has the skill, passion, and repetitions to work through the inevitable life events that arise along the way.”)
Appropriateness of such a statement aside, the opposite of the “women-can’t-be-traders” sentiment is actually true. Rather than eroding their “focus,” women and mothers in the trading sector have been found to perform as good or notably better than their male counterparts.
One major study discovered that returns for women were much higher than that of men, largely due to “hyperactive trading” that eroded any gains among male traders.
And he points to the seminal piece of research on the topic by the distinguished behavioural economists Terrence Odean and Brad Barber. ’ Boys Will Be Boys: Gender, Overconfidence and Commons Stock Investment .’
In their 2001 study, they analysed account data for more 35,000 households at a large discount brokerage between February 1991 to January 1997. They discovered that on average, men traded 45pc more frequently than women and that this hyperactive trading reduced their net returns by 2.65pc a year, compared to 1.72pc for women. Their explanation for the high levels of counterproductive trading in financial markets was overconfidence. Men trade more than women – and thereby reduce their returns.
While it may be understandable for tradition-bound Wall Street veterans to feel threatened as women increasingly assimilate in what is stereotypically thought of a s a male-dominated profession, the very notion that any woman can or should be the economic powerhouse of a family is coming under attack from some commentators.
Reacting to a Pew study that showed women as the sole or primary breadwinners in the largest percentage of American households on record, two (male) political commentators on fox News described this shift in financial roles as “tearing us apart” and proof that “something is terribly wrong” in modern society.
Conservative blogger Erick Erickson insisted that “biology” dictates that females must be submissive and play a “complementary role” to the “dominant” male.
Juan Williams said it was “something going terribly wrong in American society, and it’s hurting our children, and it’s going to have impact for generations to come.”
Fellow guest Erick Erickson said it was a downright repudiation of nature itself.
“When you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and a female in society, and other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it’s not antithesis, or it’s not competing, it’s a complementary role. We as people in a smart society have lost the ability to have complementary relationships in nuclear families, and it’s tearing us apart.”
“The politicians won’t say it,” Williams said. “They won’t admit this!”
That groundbreaking Pew poll is the most startling evidence yet of the rapidly evolving economic role that women now have in the modern US economy. It is the strongest indication yet that the trend of a female electorate shifting away from “values” issues and placing greater emphasis on more basic and fundamental questions about economic policies and programs when considering their vote.
Pew finds that women make up the sole or primary source of income in at least 40 percent of US households, a significant increase from decades past and even a sizable jump from just ten years ago. Only 11 percent of households had women as “breadwinners” in 1960.
The demographics of households economically dominated by women are also changing. While the traditional picture of a single mother providing for her children is still most prevalent, a greater percentage of married women are their family’s main income source than ever before.
A record 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The share was just 11% in 1960.
The growth of both groups of mothers is tied to women’s increasing presence in the workplace. Women make up almost of half (47%) of the U.S. labor force today, and the employment rate of married mothers with children has increased from 37% in 1968 to 65% in 2011.
Regardless of their new place of prominence in the American economy and as the leading provider for millions of families, women have yet to gain widespread recognition as a legitimate member of the national job market. Women still face widespread discrimination and unique challenges that their male colleagues or even men in less advanced jobs do not.
Basic treatment of female colleagues or employees at the hands of largely male supervisors and executives has yet to catch up with decades of broader progress for working women. Most women say there is prominent “bias” in the workplace, including lopsided pay benefiting men and inappropriate behavior from coworkers or supervisors.
Women in large numbers believe they face disadvantages in the workplace, including lower pay than men and other forms of discrimination—opinions that haven’t budged during a period when public opinion has shifted markedly on many other social issues, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey shows.
Decades after women began flooding into the workforce, 84% of women say men are paid more for similar work, a view borne out by government data but which draws agreement from only two-thirds of men. More than four in 10 women say they have faced gender discrimination personally, most often in the workplace. Both findings are little changed from a 1997 survey.
Many women offered a different perspective, with 46% saying they’ve experienced discrimination because they’re women, a number that has increased slightly from a 2000 survey.
“When I was working, I could go to a meeting and offer an opinion, and it was like I didn’t even say a word,” said Christine Dale, 42, who lives in Illinois and participated in the poll. “A guy can offer the same opinion and it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s brilliant.’ “
Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that women who work full-time earn 79% of the weekly pay that men bring home. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which tracks the gender wage gap, finds that women’s median earnings lag men’s in almost every occupation. While the gap narrowed during the 1980s and 1990s, there has been little movement since 2000, said Ariane Hegewisch, the institute’s study director.
Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn said on Sunday that women “don’t want” equal pay laws.
During a roundtable discussion on NBC’s Meet The Press, former White House advisor David Axelrod asked if the Tennessee lawmaker would support a law promoting workplace gender equality. Blackburn responded:
“I think that more important than that is making certain that women are recognized by those companies. You know, I’ve always said that I didn’t want to be given a job because I was a female, I wanted it because I was the most well-qualified person for the job. And making certain that companies are going to move forward in that vein, that is what women want. They don’t want the decisions made in Washington. They want to be able to have the power and the control and the ability to make those decisions for themselves.”
Blackburn voted against the 2009 Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a landmark bill for women’s rights in the workplace. The law makes it easier for women to file wage discrimination suits against employers. She also voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2009.