On June 10, 1963 President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act (EPA), which ensures that men and women receive “equal pay for equal work.” At that time, women earned a mere 59 cents for every dollar that men earned. Despite the establishment of civil rights laws and gains of the women’s movement since that time, significant disparities and barriers remain for women in the workplace.
In 2007, women in the U.S. earned only 77 cents for every dollar men earned, and African-American and Latina women earned just 68 cents and 57 cents respectively, costing the average female worker between $700,000 and $2 million over the course of her work life.
Female workers also remain largely segregated in “women’s jobs,” which pay on average significantly less than “men’s jobs.” The percentage of women employed in non-traditional occupations has actually declined in recent years. Young women, ages 16 to 34, for example, are only 1% of automobile mechanics, 4% of airline pilots and navigators, 10% of electronic technicians and 16% of the corporate officers in America’s 500 largest companies.
Women who forge paths in male-dominated fields often encounter wage discrimination and gender bias on the job. After working for almost twenty years at a Goodyear Tire plant in Alabama, Lilly Ledbetter discovered that she had been consistently paid less than her male co-workers with the same job. In its 2007 decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, the U.S. Supreme Court severely damaged a woman’s ability to enforce the Equal Pay Act, leaving women like Lilly Ledbetter with little recourse.
Situations such as this underscore the importance of making children aware of the gender barriers that still exist for women in our society so that girls do not unconsciously limit their aspirations and boys understand their role in being advocates for a more gender inclusive world.
This edition of Curriculum Connections therefore explores gender role expectations and the obstacles that still exist for people who behave in gender non-conforming ways. The early childhood lesson helps young students to explore the gender stereotypical beliefs that place limits on the types of activities and interests they pursue. The lessons for older students explore assumptions about job roles and gender, increase awareness about gender segregation and pay inequality in the workplace and encourage students to move beyond narrow gender role expectations as they pursue interests and envision their own professional futures.