Gender Bias Hurts Not Just Women, But Children and Families.
From 1950 to 2013, women’s labor force participation nearly doubled from 33.9 percent to 57.2 percent. In addition, more women pursued higher education to seek better opportunities in the labor force. Among women ages 25 to 64 in the labor force, the number with a college degree more than tripled from 1970 to 2013. At the same time, the numbers of men attending colleges and graduate programs are dropping, indicating more women will be filling information-age jobs.
However, women still face obstacles in pursuing their careers. Women workers struggle with issues in the workplace partly due to gender biases, some intentional and some unconscious. For example, a powerful and reputable woman holds an executive position at a large corporation. During a corporate meeting, this executive floats a great idea but no attendees pay attention. Interestingly, another colleague who happens to be male proposes the same idea. All of a sudden, all the attendees concur with his idea commenting that it is brilliant and act as though this is their first time hearing the idea. This woman might think, “Thank you for agreeing with me. I am glad you liked my idea!”
In another example, a female supervising attorney introduced herself to the opposing male attorney while they were waiting for her junior staff attorney. The male opposing attorney asked, “Where is your boss?” implying that he ruled out the possibility she was the supervising attorney. Once the deposition started, the opposing male attorney learned the hard way that he had underestimated her.
Gender Bias Is Persistent in the Economic Data.
Despite efforts to improve the presence of women in the labor force, women still face unequal treatment. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women on average are paid only 78 cents for every dollar a man earns.
Why is this the case? Amongst the myriad of factors that might contribute to this situation, focusing on the fact that working women often times struggle with finding affordable child care might be critical. According to the U.S. Census Bureau report, the percent of family income spent on child care has stayed constant between 1987 and 2011, at around 7 percent, for families who paid for child care despite the fact that the cost of child care has increased over time. Women who take one to five years to care for their pre-school children lose an edge men gain during that same period.
Men too are deprived of the unique joys and family connections associated with caring for very young children – a satisfaction that could be more equally shared between the spouses. For example, one spouse might take two years off, and the other spouse follow that with two years off, thereby equally bearing both the costs and the benefits of parenthood. This equitable approach assumes that income is not the sole or primary deciding factor, yet we know that many young families must make income the primary consideration because of mortgages and other incurred debt. If both continue working, the children are often shuttled to inferior childcare facilities, and the parents feel guilty. Or, if the woman elects to be with her children during their tender years, she falls even further behind her male competitors. A husband’s bias is often present as well, as he assumes his career is more important than hers, and he pressures his wife to “be a mother” to their children.
Gender Bias Is Partly Reinforced by Lack of Quality Day Care.
As a result, some working women forego working opportunities because of the lack of affordable day care facilities. Some decide to take positions with less-demanding hours but with low-paying jobs. These jobs provide fewer opportunities for advancement to working women who are trying to balance household responsibilities.
An important piece to the ability of the two income family to realize the maximum earning capacity of both spouses is quality, affordable child care. It is critical to understand what kind of changes can rectify the problem women workers face.
Canada has seen the impact of childcare costs on mother’s employment decisions. In Quebec, the government provides universally subsidized child daycare. The introduction of universally subsidized child daycare led to significant labor supply increases. As of November 2014, parents pay $7.30 a day for child care thanks to this universally subsidized child daycare. Universal access to low-fee child care in Quebec encouraged “nearly 70,000 more mothers to hold jobs than if no such program had existed – an increase of 3.8 percent in women employment.” As women rise to higher levels of education and obtain ever increasing work skills, child care becomes a way to draw upon a scarce labor pool.
In the U.S., the average annual price of a child care center exceeds $10,000. In 31 states and the District of Columbia, the cost of full-time care trumps the average annual cost of tuition and fees for a public four-year university. We have federal income tax credit available in certain situations. The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit allows parents to claim up to $3,000/year in daycare expenses for each child. However, they only get between 20 and 35 percent of that back as a credit. Between 1943 and 1946, as part of the war effort to put women in factories and offices as men went to war, the U.S. had its first and only universal child care program, the Lanham Act. The Lanham Act cost parents “just between $9 and $10 a day (in today’s dollars) for 12 hours of care in a center.” Some critics warned that child care would ruin the relationships between mothers and their children, damage children’s development, and be the cause of other social woes.
Based on a study of this limited 1940s universal daycare experiment, Chris Herbst of Arizona State University found that for each $100 increase in spending on the program, the high school dropout rate fell by 1.8 percentage points, the rate of people completing college degrees rose 1.9 points, the share of employed adults increased 0.7 points, the share working full time went up 0.3 points, annual earnings rose 1.8 percent, and the share of adults receiving public assistance fell.” The program had a fairly big effect on maternal employment in the short run and medium run. This study suggests child care has considerable benefit to families and to the U.S. economy.
A strong and vigorous dialogue of business, employees, and government is needed to create proposals that will best lead to secure and stable families where parents and children can be together without undue economic penalty.
All parents want to know their children are being protected and nurtured during the work day. Employers competing for limited top talent should consider creative ways to accommodate workers with children. On-site childcare has been implemented by some companies. Neighborhood employers might form a consortium and combined resources to build or lease, and partially fund centrally located childcare that would allow working parents the opportunity to check-in on their children during the day.
Government should reduce obstacles to building and operating childcare facilities, subject only to establishing minimum safeguards of competency and safety. Technology companies should leverage profits on designing easy, continuous monitoring of child care facilities by remote parent viewing. This remote parental monitoring alone might accomplish what government inspectors cannot or will not do.
Laws should be considered that reduce the liability of childcare operators to encourage more readiness to enter that industry. Finally, government should do all it can to subsidize child care. Doing so would give substance to the “family values” rhetoric we hear from both parties at each election. More importantly, the professional advancement of 50% of the population will be eased, contributing to the benefit of all.
[The authors: Sachiyo Miller is a Whittier Law School Graduate who is awaiting Bar Exam Results due November 2015. She primarily authored this article, with editorial oversight by her employer, Frank Pray, Employment Attorney.]
 Women in the Labor Force: A Databook (2014), 1, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/cps/women-in-the-labor-force-a-databook-2014.pdf.
 Sara Ashley O’Brien, 78 Cents on the Dollar: The Facts About the Gender Wage Gap, CNN Money, (Apr. 14, 2015, 7:50AM) http://money.cnn.com/2015/04/13/news/economy/equal-pay-day-2015/.
 Child Care Costs on the Upswing, Census Bureau Reports, United States Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/newsrom/press-releases/2013/cb13-62.html.
 J. Emilio Flores, Why U.S. Women Are Leaving Jobs Behind, The New York Times, (Dec. 12, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/14/upshot/us-employment-women-not-working.html?_r=0.
 Amanda Kelly, Should Universally Subsidized Daycare end in Quebec? The Liberals Think So, Global News, (Nov. 5, 2014, 5:30PM), http://globalnews.ca/news/1654705/should-universally-subsidized-daycare-end-in-quebec-the-liberals-think-so/.
 Katie Hamm and Carmel Martin, A New Vision for Child Care in the United States, A Proposed New Tax Credit to Expand High-Quality Child Care, Center for American Progress, (Sept. 2, 2015), https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/report/2015/09/02/119944/a-new-vision-for-child-care-in-the-united-states-3/.
 Bryce Covert, The Affordable Childcare System That Used To Exist in the U.S., ThinkProgress, (Jan. 21, 2015, 11:33AM), http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2015/01/21/3613705/obama-child-care-tax-credit/.
 Bryce Covert, Here’s What Happened the One Time When the U.S. Had Universal Childcare, ThinkProgress, (Sept. 30, 2014, 1:41PM), http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/09/30/3573844/lanham-act-child-care/.