A Response to “Why It Is Not Sexist for Women to Earn Less…”

In response to N. Flannery’s article “A Few Thoughts on Why It Is Not Sexist for Women to Earn Less Than Men,” I agree with his argument that women earn less than men because of “the choices that women make for themselves and basic economics.” Women do tend to choose lower paying jobs that make it easier for exit and re-entry into the workforce and allow them more time with their families. However, even though it’s to a lesser degree, a part of the wage gap is still based on sexual discrimination, and Flannery’s attack on Evelyn Murphy’s article was myopic in its disregard of sexual discrimination as a factor in the wage gap between men and women.

Wage discrimination was made illegal by law in 1964 through the Equal Pay Act, also enacted in 1964 was the Civil Rights Act, but just because racial discrimination was made illegal, or de jure, the de facto discrimination of racial groups hasn’t been eliminated from our society, and neither has the practice of sexual discrimination. In his article, From Glass Ceiling to Pay Gap, Shyamal Majumdar highlights several recent sexual discrimination law suits based on gender bias in the workplace.

To settle a sex-bias suit, Morgan Stanley, the world’s second biggest securities firm, agreed to pay $54 million, making it the second biggest sex discrimination case settlement in history. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought the case against the Wall Street investment bank, and Allison Schieffelin, a former bond saleswoman whose 1998 complaint to the EEOC led to the sex-bias suit against Morgan Stanley, is set to obtain $12 million from the settlement, and the investment bank agreed to pay the other women in its institutional equity division the remaining $42 million.

In 1998, Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney, now a unit of Citigroup, settled discrimination cases involving hundreds of female employees. One of America’s largest workplaces, Wal-Mart, which employs 1.6 million women, has also been accused of sex discrimination in a lawsuit that alledges systematic bias against female employees and states that women at all job levels are paid less than men. In addition to these and many others, is the case of the Boeing Corporation. Twelve women employees filed lawsuits in 2003, charging that women at Boeing’s Wichita plant were denied equal pay, promotions and other employment opportunities based solely on their gender.

Evelyn Murphy points out in her article in the Boston Globe, that cases of sexual discrimination, like the ones above, “show how deeply entrenched discrimination is in every region of the country and every sector of the economy.” Flannery said that he would not call it discrimination if, “women self-select themselves into lower-paying jobs.” However, this can be argued as a type of indirect discrimination. Men can choose to have children and still remain fully committed to the workforce because they’ve already established that women will be doing the child caring work, relieving them of the work-family conflict. Until men work the same amount at home as their wives, or work less at their jobs, women will be discriminately forced to self-select themselves into lower paying jobs.

Women in the workforce are less likely to work a full-time schedule and are more likely to leave the labor force for longer periods of time than men, suppressing women’s wages. These differing work patterns, like the examples Flannery mentioned in his article, lead to the large earnings gap between men and women, but do not entirely account for it. Sexual discrimination in the workplace still exists and it is dangerous to take such an adamant stance to discredit it.