By Nirja Dave
Montgomery College sponsored August 27 a panel discussion on the challenges women face in the workforce. Experts in the field, elected officials, MC students and faculty, and the local community discussed topics ranging from pay equality, the glass ceiling, and pregnancy discrimination.
The panel was moderated by Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) of Potomac, who represents the 6th Congressional District and included Linda Smith, deputy assistant Health and Human Services secretary for early childhood development; Mary Tiernan, manager of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Office’s Philadelphia District Office’s Outreach and Public Affairs Program; Liz Watson of the National Womenʼs Law Center; State Delegate Aruna Miller (D-Montgomery County), representing Marylandʼs 15th Legislative District; and MC President DeRionne Pollard.
Delaney kicked things off by explaining the reasons for his presence, chief among them were his four daughters, a revelation that brought laughter to a very serious discussion. Fundamentally, Delaney explained, women deserve equality and equality in the workforce is important to the “long term economic health of America.”
The Congressman went on to discuss some statistics that paint a concerning picture of the state of workforce equality: 50% of students entering college are women and 50% of the entry-level workforce is composed of women. However, women only hold 5% of chief executive officer positions.
Delaney contended that the dramatic rate at which corporations are losing half of the workforce is “alarming” and leading to a “talent drain.” He further contended that there was a strong correlation between companies’ successes and equal representation of genders in their employees.
Miller, a civil engineer by trade, discussed pay equity at length, discussing the wage gap and its influence in the workforce. The wage gap, which was $0.59 to $1.00 in the 1970ʼs, has remained steady at $0.77 to $1.00 today. She stated that the main reasons for the wage gap were discrimination against women and differing career paths amongst men and women.
She discussed how few women there were in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers, which are traditionally higher paying fields than the humanities where women dominate. She had an interesting observation regarding young girls: she spoke of how, if a girl complains she is not good at reading, she is told it is unacceptable, but if a girl complains she is not good at math or science, she is told it is fine and that there are other interests available. This practice is “not okay,” she told the panel.
The panel emphasized the need for better, nationalized childcare as well as protection against pregnancy discrimination. In fact, the panel members agreed that the lack of nationalized childcare and long-term parental leave was one of the biggest hindrances for workforce equality.