Women are unhappy. What can we do about it?

Gender pay gap
Fans stand behind a large sign for equal pay for the women's soccer team during an international friendly soccer match between the United States and Colombia at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., in April 2016.
Jessica Hill | AP 2016

A recent Gallup poll found that only 44 percent of women say they are satisfied with the way women are treated by society. That’s a record low number. The largest drop in satisfaction occurred in 2018 during the #MeToo movement, and has remained fairly steady since, according to Gallup. 

Women and girls in Minnesota face a persistent wage gap, are disproportionately represented in lower-paying service jobs and struggle to access child care and support for caregiving, according to a 2020 report by the Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota. 

Host Angela Davis discussed the challenges women are facing  in Minnesota and what changes can be made to improve their well-being with Christina Ewig, faculty director of the Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota and a public affairs professor, and Lulete Mola, the chief strategy and innovation officer of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.

Women are in a crisis  

Women, especially women in low-income families, are in a crisis due to the lack of an established infrastructure that would allow women to manage work and family responsibilities concurrently. Child care, aging parent care, sick leave and paid leave are all hard to come by, making the daunting task of working to support a family while also supporting a family nearly impossible. 

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“If you’re higher income, it probably doesn’t feel like you’re in crisis because you’re able to pay for those supports, and it doesn’t hurt the pocket book as much,” Ewig said. “So it’s a barricaded experience.” 

‘Women hold up our communities’ 

Mola explained that women are a fundamental foundation to the well-being of our communities. Essentially, if women are unwell, nobody is well. 

“Women hold up our communities at home, at the workplace. When the pandemic hit, it was women as teachers, as health care workers that really showed up and continued to show up to get us through, and so what we heard a lot from women who are also health care workers is that there is also a mental health crisis,” Mola said. “Balancing the health of a home … showing up at work and really not having room to process to take care of your mental health could have detrimental impacts on the well-being of not only the woman but her whole family.” 

What can be done to improve women’s well-being in the workplace? 

Both women agreed that improving the care “infrastructure” is necessary for improving the well-being of women in the workplace. It is nearly impossible for someone to be able to care for a child or an aging parent if they cannot afford a care facility and barely have any paid leave, said Mola. Women are often forced to choose between having a career and caring for their loved ones. 

Ewig said that high-quality infant care in Minnesota is comparable to tuition at the University of Minnesota, which is just over $15,000 for in-state residents. 

“I can share my experience, not in Minnesota,” Ewig said, “but when I had my first child, my entire wage went to child care, and so if you’re in a family in which two adults are working and one makes less than the other, it may make a lot of sense for that person to work part time or stay home with the kids, and that tends to be, because of our culture, it tends to be women who do that more often.” 

“So there’s a real economic reason for doing that,” Ewig added. “And there are long-term consequences of doing that because we see that when women take time out of the workforce, that it can have dramatic impacts on their lifelong earnings.”

According to Ewig, a national study showed that when a woman takes one year off from work, her lifelong earnings drop 39 percent. Women are already at a disadvantage when it comes to pay. They earn 79 cents for every dollar of a white man. This statistic varies slightly depending on race and ethnicity, but the disparity is worse for women of color. 

Women also need to feel secure at their place of work. According to Mola, there are intersections of women working and women not being safe. It is common for women to be harassed in the workplace, and it is also common for women to be bullied for reporting their harassment. In some instances, depending on her immigration status, a woman might not be able to report her harassment. 

Ewig said that more sexual harassment occurs as women enter careers that are male-dominated and higher paying. The harassment makes it difficult for women to stay, so many end up stepping down from well-paying jobs so they can escape the negative environment. 

A more inclusive conversation on equality, justice

Mola said that when discussing women, the conversation must include women of color and their families. Last year, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota did a series of listening sessions with women around the state. One of the sessions focused on Black mothers and caregivers."

“You know, one of our participants in the listening session said, ‘George Floyd called for his mother,’ ” Mola said. “So a lot of Black women shared with us their hopes and dreams and fears around raising Black sons, and so when we’re thinking about raising equality for them and justice for them, we must include their husbands, their brothers and their children.” 

“We must start with the people most pushed to the margins,” Mola added, “which are often the women of color — Black women, Native women, Latina women and so forth — but also include the whole family if we’re truly going to create a society that works for each of us.”

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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