Two New York professionals created a service for other women in the United States to review employers from a female perspective. Romy Newman and Georgene Huang wanted a way for the company's often unknown culture around gender to become accessible, public information. Fairy Godboss is a resource for job applicants to research other women's experiences with an employer. Among other things, it helps women determine whether or not gender discrimination is an issue at a company. The New York Post reports that their site is "like Yelp for maternity leave policies, sexual harassment, promotion opportunities, and salary information."
Lenora Lapidus, the Director of the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU, affirmed that women still face huge issues in the workforce. There is still no federal law requiring paid family leave. "We have 30 million working families in this country that include young children and yet we have no policy at the federal level requiring that they be given paid time off to take care of them," she said in a phone interview. Coupled with sexual harassment and unequal pay, these issues create a significant blockade that inhibits women from achieving true professional equality.
There were more than 26,000 charges of sex discrimination reported in 2014.
Technically, discrimination against women in the workplace is against the law, but that hasn't eliminated it. In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is in place to enforce laws against discrimination. According to statistics gathered by Catalyst, a non-profit organization for the expansion of women and business, sex-based discrimination accounts for nearly one third of all complaints that the EEOC receives. There were more than 26,000 charges of sex discrimination reported in 2014.
Joseph Oliveres, the Public Affairs Specialist for the EEOC, underscored how important it is for "both a company and their workers to be cognizant of their rights. Unfortunately, many times people are not aware. The EEOC feels the best way to combat work place discrimination is actually prevention." They're a proactive organization, informing employers and workers in the United States of their rights through outreach and offering a range of educational programs and training. The ACLU takes a similar approach, focusing on prevention when possible.
Nonetheless, when discrimination persists, "enforcement is often necessary," Lapidus explained. "That's where the EEOC comes into play, and private lawyers, and public interests organizations like the ACLU." When the ACLU brings litigation, they publicize their work, which increases awareness around these issues to make, "both the employer and public aware that there are consequences," Lapidus said. "They can't get away with violating the law. Ultimately we have to change hearts and minds, and change the way people understand the way workforces are arranged, so that eventually there will be a common understanding that people can be productive workers but they also may have family obligations."
People can be productive workers but they also may have family obligations.
The insidiousness of sex-based prejudice adds to the difficulty of protecting women in the workplace. "One of the problems that we see," Lapidus said, "is even with some companies that provide for leave, if people actually take it, when they come back they're often penalized." An employee might return to work but now not be given the same job opportunities. This discrimination might be more subtle but, "retaliation [by an employer against an employee] for taking action to enforce their rights is illegal," Lapidus explained. Some forms of retaliation, or biased attitudes, are hard to penalize or measure, because they don't necessarily become part of a company's official policy, which makes a service like Fairy Godboss potentially very useful.
We're living with the remnants of our former society. Families in the United States are no longer broken down into the strict, sexist division of labor and childcare, but women in the US are still dealing with the expectation that they'll be at home while men work. Lapidus said the issue comes down to a culture of, "not feeling like women can be both mothers and good employees."
"It's critical that we shift the way employers view their workforce, to understand that workers are often both parents and employees and that you can do both. We're no longer in a society where one parent is home taking care of the kids and one parent is the breadwinner. That's not the society we live in anymore and businesses need to change their practices."