Between highly publicized issues like the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative and same-sex partner benefits, it should come as no surprise that issues of women’s rights have been elbowed out of the social equality debate in Michigan. Although tackling discrimination against race and sexual orientation is very important, the struggles women face have been forgotten. A recent report on Michigan’s disturbing gender wage gap reminds us that the fight for women’s equality is far from over.
A study conducted by Michigan State University and Inforum, a professional women’s alliance, found that high-ranking women at Michigan’s top corporations earn 49 cents for every dollar that men make – $317,380 versus $650,509 for the same job. Additionally, women now only make up 6 percent of the top positions at these companies, a figure that represents a 20 percent decline from recent years.
These figures may seem surprising given recent positive trends in female enrollment in the state’s universities and graduate programs. While it would be unrealistic to expect a sudden, dramatic shift in the number of women in top executive positions, that this figure is actually declining suggests a serious problem.
Aside from the obvious ethical issues, discriminatory practices ultimately harm both the companies that set them and the state at large. Highly qualified women are not going to continue to work for less if other states can demonstrate greater parity in pay between genders. Michigan businesses, if only for the sake of competitiveness, should recognize the importance of attracting as many qualified laborers as possible, regardless of their gender.
Though the problem may be most stark among Michigan’s corporate executives, it is certainly not the only instance in which women are getting the shorter end of the stick. From a national outlook, women seem to be receiving disproportionately less in both the legal and medical fields. Once an anomaly, female doctors now make up more than 50 percent of medical school applicants and represent 49 percent of graduates. Still, they make roughly one-fifth less than most of their male counterparts. Even more similar to the situation in Michigan, less than 16 percent of partners in America’s law firms are women. This situation is not expected to improve. By 2015, women will account for more than 52 percent of America’s lawyers yet continue to make only 20 percent as much as their male colleagues.
While women enjoy equal treatment under the law, they still face subtle, though well-documented trends of discrimination in the workplace. Evidently, equal legal status does not translate to equal social status. These disparities cannot be ignored. While other progressive debates rage, it is important to remember that gender equality only goes as high as the still-unbroken glass ceiling.