American Women are Still Struggling for Equality in 2022

Famed 80s singer Cyndi Lauper’s song “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” would probably resonate more today if the lyrics were changed to “Girls Just Wanna Have Equality”. A recent United Nations report addressed the fact that despite being at the forefront of activism, women and girls still face barriers. And a separate UN report by UN Women and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), claims “at the current rate of progress, it may take close to 300 years to achieve full gender equality.” The question is why?

Italy’s new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni represents a positive change in society, does she not? So do previous British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Liz Truss, although the latter’s term was short-lived. Regardless, there are numerous women in just about every field who can claim to have made it to the top. So where is the disparity and why is there still a glass ceiling in some areas that has yet to be broken?

First, it is important to note that both of the UN reports referenced here refer to the status and situation of women living in many parts of the world including sub-Saharan Africa. According to the UN report, there is a “general consensus that when it comes to discrimination against women and girls, so many reforms have taken place to tackle this long-standing issue, yet so much is yet to be done. Today, girls and young women continue to face barriers and
challenges derived from structural discrimination based on sex, gender, and age, and rooted in discriminatory social norms and harmful stereotypes, which impede their activism.”

But the conclusions reached by the UN in these reports do not seem to reflect the reality faced by women in North America. For these women, their freedom and equality is written into law. In many other nations, it is not. Thus, the question remains. What inequalities do American women still face today?

According to the most recent McKinsey “Women in the Workplace” report, there have been noticeable gains in the number of women in leadership positions.

Executive search company, Slayton Search, notes that a recent CEO World article highlighted four action steps leaders can address to help retain and attract women in the workforce. First, as already mentioned, an overwhelming number of female leaders and workers are also responsible for childcare. As such, meeting the needs of  working mothers is essential. Remote work certainly helps, but it’s not the only strategy (and not always the most effective strategy, either). Evaluating workday schedules, finding a way to offer or subsidize childcare, and valuing flexibility are going to be key approaches in keeping these essential workers at their best.

Other considerations are evaluating pay structures (raises and bonuses should be equal), implementing empathy (learning to understand each other and how best to offer support and respect), and providing meaningful development opportunities (with the appropriate tools to help improve career satisfaction).

Is there discrimination against women in law and in practice? Women have come a long way since the suffrage movement, but there is room to argue that more can be done. According to a Pew research poll, “about four-in-ten working women (42%) in the United States say they have faced discrimination on the job because of their gender.”

Both race and gender continue to play a role in unfair and uneven representation in professional occupations. One common statistic is that women make 79 cents for every dollar men earn. Black women make 64 cents and Latinas a paltry 54 cents. Thus women of color are hit twice because of their race and gender. Does any of this make sense (pun intended)?

Research indicates that both racism and sexism impact women in the workplace and place them at an unfair disadvantage as they are discriminated against by employers, whether through limited leadership opportunities, sexual harassment or doubts over their abilities or skills regardless of actual performance. While white women face no shortage of discrimination in industries dominated by men, black women are even more underrepresented in a number of professional jobs such as business, medicine and academia.

Affirmative action policies, one of the mechanisms put in place to help prevent discrimination against women in the workplace, has reduced the problem, but has not managed to completely eradicate it.

When it comes to equality in sports, fifty years after the passage of Title IX, which prohibits high schools and colleges that receive federal funding from discriminating based on sex, most Americans who have heard about the law say it’s had a positive impact on gender equality in the United States (63%). Still, 37% of those who are familiar with Title IX say it has not gone far enough in increasing opportunities for women and girls to participate in sports, according to a February Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults.

But equality in sports is only a small part of the equation and there are marked differences between men and women in certain, but not all, sports. The workplace is an entirely different playing field and one in which men and women should have equal access and opportunity.

Adia Harvey Wingfield, a professor of sociology at Washington University writes in a Brookings essay focusing on discrimination against women of color that “gender parity in workplaces will not be successful if they ignore the ways that the issues women face in the workplace are also shaped by race, as well as other factors—citizenship, occupational status, sexual identity, and more. This also applies to companies that profess their commitment to achieving racial equity and state their opposition to systemic racism, as many are now doing in the wake of national protests against racial inequality.”

It is clear that while women can face double discrimination due to race and gender, but in general, all women face some level of discrimination in many industries across the United States. It is true that there are female lawyers, doctors, judges, and even a female vice president, but we cannot stop there. Just because people made it to the top does not mean they got there just as easily as other contenders for their position.

Men and women are equal in many ways and should be treated as such in all areas including but not limited to income and opportunity. Only once this has been achieved will the suffragists of 1920 have fulfilled their mission.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.