Academics, policy makers, and professionals discussed the current state of female employment in America on Friday at “The New Majority? The Past, Present, and Future of Women in the Workplace” symposium.
Speakers stressed that though women have made gains in the workplace during the past several decades, they have yet to achieve parity with men.
“Women still hold 75 percent of clerical jobs,” said History Professor Nancy F. Cott, director of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study’s Schlesinger Library. “Women are almost two thirds of the workforce earning minimum wage.”
The symposium, sponsored by the Radcliffe Institute, was opened by University President Drew G. Faust, the Institute’s former dean and the first female University President in Harvard’s 375-year history.
“The history of women has served as such an important point of inspiration, change, and progress for the ways women’s lives have been transformed in our lifetimes,” Faust said.
Heidi Hartmann, founder and president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington D.C., said that the progress women have achieved in the workforce has come to a standstill since the late 1990s.
“It’s been a crappy recovery for everyone, but...men have regained 30 percent of the jobs they lost and women only 10 percent of the jobs they lost,” Hartmann said.
Though the symposium stressed the gravity of the current state of gender inequality in the workplace, the speakers lightened the mood with jokes and laughter.
“The first question we need to figure out is: why do women earn so little money?” Director of Family Values @ Work Ellen Bravo said, asking audience members to discuss this question amongst themselves.
“Because their employers pay them so little money!” Bravo said with a smile. The crowd erupted in laughter.
But once the audience’s giggles died down, Bravo took on a more serious tone.
“So we need to figure out why their employers pay them so little money, why women are undervalued in the workplace,” she said.
The symposium honored the late Clara Goldberg Schiffer ’32. Her daughter, Lois J. Schiffer ’66, urged attendees to continue the work of her mother’s generation in achieving gender equality.
“It is upon all of us to stand on [Clara Schiffer’s] shoulders and make the task complete,” Schiffer said.
—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.