The U.S.’ impenetrable glass ceiling
Happy belated International Women’s Day, rulers! My name is Catherine Kim, and I’m an assistant editor at POLITICO Magazine. I’ll be subbing in for Katie this week to tell you all about gender inequality in the workplace. Shoot any tips, comments, questions or Oscars predictions to [email protected] or @ck_525.
Despite the major strides women in the U.S. have made in the past century, gaps persist. That’s clearer than ever in this year’s Glass Ceiling Index, an annual assessment of workplace gender equality in high-income countries published by The Economist.
Overall, among the 29 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations surveyed, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Norway top the list as the best countries for working women; Japan and South Korea rank at the bottom while the U.S. comes in at 19th in the ranking. It’s a low score that has been fairly consistent since the annual index was first launched in 2013 — a sign that despite the White House’s chest-thumping on gender equality, the federal government has a lot of work to do if it wants to catch up with its peers.
There are some areas to celebrate: This year, for the first time ever, more than 30 percent of women sat on company boards. And 41 percent of managerial positions in the U.S. are held by women, a rate far higher than most of our peers.
And yet the Glass Ceiling Index shows that there’s much left to be desired. The wage gap is one of the worst among OECD countries. Child care costs a fortune. Higher-wage industries are still dominated by men. The situation is even direr for some women of color. The unemployment rate, for example, has remained high for Latinas and Black women ever since the pandemic hit, and they are overrepresented in jobs with low wages and fewer benefits.
Here are the four categories where the U.S. falls behind the OECD average in the index:
Gender Wage Gap
In 2022, U.S. women earned nearly 17 percent less than men. The only countries in the index with higher gaps are Japan, Israel and South Korea. That gap has remained fairly stable for the past two decades, aside from during the pandemic, when the wage gap only worsened.
The usual suspects are behind this gap: Women are overrepresented in lower-paying industries; men still make up the majority of senior positions in the workforce.
Some states have tried to address the issue by requiring pay transparency laws, a move that has proven to effectively reduce the gender pay gap by 20 percent to 40 percent in other countries like Canada. If they want to go one step further though, experts say, they should consider implementing laws that require companies to explicitly reveal the gender pay gap to the public — measures that have been introduced in Japan and Australia.
The U.S. is the only OECD country that does not have paid parental leave.
Biden himself has urged Congress on multiple occasions to pass legislation that would guarantee paid leave for all Americans. “It’s about being a country where women and all people can both work and raise a family,” he said last month. “How can we compete in a global economy if millions of American parents, especially moms, can’t join the workforce?”
Republicans and even some Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), however, oppose the idea because they say it would be too costly. That opposition led to last year’s showdown over Biden’s social safety net agenda, which ultimately ended with Democrats caving and slashing paid family leave from the bill. Biden still remains vocal about the issue — he championed it during his State of the Union speech — but there’s been little progress in Congress ever since.
Net-child care costs
Americans spend 23 percent of their wages on child care, far more than the OECD average of 15 percent. In contrast, Italians, who have access to child care services funded by taxpayer money, spend 0 percent of their wages on child care.
As we’ve already made clear in previous Women Rule newsletters, affordable child care is an issue that urgently needs to be addressed, and yet often gets swept under the rug. That’s what happens when you don’t have enough mothers in office.
Although the most common argument against better child care policies is the steep price tag, studies show that the economy is losing money without them. Employers are losing nearly $13 billion annually due to productivity issues caused by child care challenges their workers face.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), once a preschool teacher herself and now the issue’s biggest supporter in Congress, laid out what’s at stake in an interview with The New Republic: “If we want our economy to get back on track, and we want families to be stable again, we have got to make this major investment.”
Women in politics
Women still only hold about 29 percent of seats in the House of Representatives. The 118th has more women than ever before, but there’s still more work to be done, especially when we’ve seen countries like New Zealand achieve an even gender split in its parliament.
The lack of women in the nation’s most powerful positions points to a common problem that is driving gender inequality. Many of these problems — from a lack of strong child care policies to a stubborn wage gap — arise because there simply aren’t more women in legislative positions.
“In the data, there is evidence that tangible changes can come from more women in parliament, more women at the top of boards and corporations,” The Economist researcher Elizabeth Peet told Women Rule, “and how putting women in charge and having more women decision-makers can really affect the other indicators [in the index]… like the wage gap and parental leave.”
POLITICO Special Report
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“Florida Republicans seek ban on abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy,” by Arek Sarkissian for POLITICO: “The proposed 6-week ban already has the support from Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said during his Tuesday state of the state speech in Tallahassee that ‘we are proud to be pro-family and we are proud to be pro-life.’”
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“‘A surreal experience’: Former Biden ‘disinfo’ chief details harassment,” by Heidi Przybyla for POLITICO
“FCC nominee Gigi Sohn withdraws after more than a year of fighting for post,” John Hendel for POLITICO.
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“Texas denied abortions to these women when their lives were in danger. Now they’re suing the state,” by Shefali Luthra for The 19th: “The five women are suing the state in an effort to seek clarity about what medical exceptions, if any, its three active abortion bans permit.”
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“The female mayor in Tokyo fighting Japan’s sexist attitudes,” by Shaimaa Khalil for BBC.
“Where there’s gender equality, people tend to live longer,” by Rachel Treisman for NPR: “Both women and men are likely to live longer when a country makes strides towards gender equality, according to a new global study that authors believe to be the first of its kind.”
“It adds to a growing body of research showing that advances in women’s rights benefit everyone.”
“Cooking, cleaning and controversy: The ‘tradwife’ movement embraces a 1950s housewife ideal,” by Elise Solé for Today.
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Elisabeth Reynolds is now a partner at Unless. She previously was special assistant to the president for manufacturing and economic development at the White House. … Mandy Schaumburg is now a VP at Caprock Strategies. She previously was chief counsel and education deputy director with the House Education Committee. … Maya Cohn is now director of policy & programs at the Rachel Carson Council. She most recently was a legislative assistant for former Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). (h/t Playbook) …
Kristin Roberts will be chief content officer for Gannett/USA Today Network. She previously was chief content officer at McClatchy, and is a POLITICO alum. … Christina Lotspike will be director of government relations at Procter & Gamble. She most recently was senior manager of federal affairs at Instacart, and is a U.S. Chamber of Commerce alum. … Kate Stotesbery is joining the German Marshall Fund as government relations manager. She previously was deputy chief of staff and comms director for Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). (h/t Playbook)
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