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Society has come a long way in gender equality in the workplace, but issues still exist in many situations and on many levels. Unfortunately many employers still hold a bias toward one gender in many instances. Although there is a lot that goes into diversity into the workplace--culture, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, religious beliefs or physical abilities--gender is one of the biggest issues in the workplace.
It used to be that women were often assigned to temporary or low-responsibility jobs because many of them would quit working upon getting married or becoming pregnant and having a baby. It is true, however, since the whole era of feminist rights and the fact that many women choose to have a career and family, many employers have come to be more accepting of female employees.
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The Issues That Affect Men and Women
Pay Rates and Promotions
Employees should be hired and paid at a rate to match their background, experience and hours worked, but not all employers treat employees equally. Many women are hired and paid less than men, regardless of qualifications. According to Womens Media, "If you’re a young woman who graduated last summer from high school, you will earn $700,000 less than the young man standing in line with you to get his diploma over your working life."
On top of that, they tend to be promoted more slowly than their male coworkers. The idea that men are generally the ones that support the family may be part of the factor, but the reality is that there are a lot of two-parent household incomes and some moms that work while the dad stays home. The loss in pay means less money for living expenses, kids schooling, retirement savings, etc.
Work roles is another gender issues that has come a long way since more women are getting an education and becoming doctors, lawyers or architects. Oftentimes, however, females who work in a predominantly male field are still given lesser tasks (this also goes for male workers in predominantly female fields). Employees should be judged not by their gender but rather their experience or personal attributes that apply to the task at hand.
A male working outside of the home with a wife who is a stay-at-home mom can have a harder time getting time off from work for a family illness. The same goes for a female who works and husband that stays home. An employer figures the other parent can take care of things, but sometimes both parents may want to go for support, especially if it's a serious illness or surgery.
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Women should be guaranteed at least 12 weeks' (US Dept. of Labor) maternity leave upon having a baby, but what about paternity leave? Shouldn't a new dad be given as much time off to help care for his newborn baby? Not all employers value giving long paternity leave. Women denied a full maternity leave should stick up for their rights since it's against the law not to allow adequate leave.
Some women work up to when their baby is born. Though it can be harder to work during pregnancy, many women want to be treated equally rather than sent home early or have some of their tasks given to other "better-abled" individuals. One mom related the following experience:
"I worked as a waitress up until the night before I delivered my daughter. I had to fight my employers because they kept trying to cut my hours, even though that's illegal and my doctor approved me to continue working 40-hour weeks. I had to work three times as hard as everyone else because they kept looking for reasons to make me go on leave." --Dayle Fraschilla
Traditionally, labor-intensive jobs have been assigned to men, but now a lot of women are choosing fields that involve lifting heavy loads. A capable female should be valued as much as her male counterpart, but many employers assume a male would do a better job. One young woman known by this writer used to work at a retail store; when shipments would show up they would bring a few employees back to help, usually men. Although some women did help and others preferred not to help, all of them should be given the same opportunities.
This issue can go both ways (male or female victims) and comes into play when an employer chooses to hire one employee over another because of his or her gender or physical attributes. Flirting or relationships among coworkers is discouraged because it can too easily lead to inappropriate situations. This behavior is always unacceptable in the workplace and is against the law, but it still exists on many levels.
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Working moms with newborns at home may request to have breaks to pump bottles of milk. Every mom knows that pumping when she can't breastfeed during the day is necessary for keeping her milk supply up. Many employers will recommend that she use her 15 minute breaks to pump, but it becomes a problem if she needs those breaks to actually use the bathroom or make a personal phone call. Should she be given more break time, paid or unpaid? Many moms would say so!
Although physical disabilities aren't always related to gender, a male in a predominantly female field (and vice versa) may have a harder time being valued with added physical disabilities. Many people that have some type of disability want to be treated equally, even if it means working harder than other co-workers to accomplish the same tasks. It's a tricky balance for some employers to know when to give an employee some slack because of a disability and when to have high expectations, which is where the equality issues may come in.
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Gender Diversity in the Workplace, AnalyticTech.com, at http://www.analytictech.com/mb021/gender.htm
Womens Media: Gender Wage Gap at http://www.womensmedia.com/money/95-gender-wage-gap-are-you-paid-as-much-as-a-man-if-he-had-your-job.html
US Dept. of Labor: Wage and Hour Division, Fact Sheet on FMLA, at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs28.htm