by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D.
This message originally appeared in IWPR’s Fall 2013-Winter 2014 newsletter. For an archive of IWPR’s newsletters, visit the Newsletter section of IWPR’s website.
The lessons learned from IWPR’s 25th anniversary event in May have continued to echo in our offices and I hope in yours as well. New cracks in the glass ceiling for women appeared this year and should be celebrated, but many gaps remain to be closed. IWPR’s 25th anniversary event provided some perspective on the ways women’s and men’s lives have changed, the areas where women have advanced, and the areas where we have not. It was also most gratifying to hear speaker after speaker at the event talk about the contributions IWPR’s work has made across the years in achieving policies such as the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act on the national level, and paid sick days for workers in cities and states across the country.
This year brought many women leaders into the spotlight. Most recently, Mary Barra was named the next CEO of General Motors, the first woman to head a major automobile manufacturer in the United States or anywhere in the world. But perhaps the most important first for me as an economist—and as a woman in a male-dominated field—is the confirmation of President Obama’s choice for Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Janet Yellen. She will be the first female head of a central bank of any major industrial nation.
While there was ample media discussion of a “gender battle” for several months leading up to Prof. Larry Summers’ withdrawal from consideration and Yellen’s nomination, it seemed to me to be a case of her qualifications trumping considerations of gender, as she emerged as the most qualified individual for the position. Her confirmation hearing was portrayed as “smooth sailing” in the media; the donnybrook some were anticipating simply didn’t happen. I like to think that the letter that I circulated with Prof. Joyce Jacobsen of Wesleyan University, and which was signed by 505 U.S. economists—men and women alike—urging President Obama to nominate Yellen, contributed to that outcome.
Despite these exciting firsts, there are still many ways in which women’s progress has lagged. After substantially narrowing in the 1970s and 1980s, the gender wage gap in the United States has remained stuck at 23 percent for more than a decade. Women’s progress in getting into non-traditional jobs has also slowed, coming to a virtual standstill. Taken together, this means that many women are concentrated in female-dominated jobs and are still being paid less than men. Too few women are cracking the glass ceiling in STEM fields, a growing area of the economy that is expected to provide good, high-paying jobs in the coming decades. Many “women’s jobs” center on caregiving work, an occupation that is also projected to grow as more careworkers are needed. That demand could fuel much needed increases in benefits and wages for work that is surely not paid what it is worth.
Hence, we have much to do at IWPR in our next 25 years and I hope you will continue to support our work. IWPR frequently breaks new ground in identifying overlooked areas and exposing them to light: the role of women immigrants in caregiving and the barriers they face; men’s roles in both family and market-based caregiving; women’s roles in environmental, economic, and political leadership; the need for increased educational opportunities for students who are parents, the vast majority of whom are single mothers; and challenges to women everywhere in achieving basic safety and healthcare.
These are the issues that will shape the future status of women, and IWPR’s research will be there to ensure that policy change is informed by credible research.