This lesson increases student awareness about the issues of gender segregation in the workplace and pay inequality, problems that persist but are often masked by progress in the women’s rights movement over the past decades. Through political cartoons and analysis of current statistics, students learn about workplace realities for today’s average woman. Students then plan social action projects that address pay inequality.
- Students will explore perspectives on women’s opportunities in the workplace.
- Students will analyze and organize data about women in the workplace.
- Students will learn about gender segregation in the workplace and the wage gap.
- Students will identify and implement actions for addressing pay inequality.
National Standards (.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)
Other Materials: chart paper, markers, graph paper, rulers, overhead projector or laptop/LCD projector and screen (optional)
- Reproduce handouts as directed above.
- (Optional) Create overhead transparencies of cartoons or save them to a laptop; set up projector and screen for viewing.
Part I: Exploring Cartoons about Women in the Workplace (10 – 15 minutes)
- Project or distribute copies of the following cartoons (one at a time) and engage students in a brief discussion about each using the questions below.
- Who is the woman behind the desk? What is her position?
- What does her husband do?
- Why is this situation considered humorous?
- How have women’s roles in the workplace (and men’s roles at home) changed over time?
- What is the cartoonist saying about women’s opportunities in the workplace today
- What is the purpose or function of a ladder? What do you think is meant by the expression “corporate ladder”?
- Why are there two different sized ladders for men and women?
- How would you describe the expression on the woman’s face and her body language? What do you think she is thinking and feeling as she looks at the different ladders?
- What is the cartoonist trying to say about opportunities for women in the workplace?
- Ask students how the message or viewpoint of each cartoon is different. Ask them which cartoon they think most reflects the reality for women today.
Part II: Analyzing Data about Women in the Workplace (45 minutes)
NOTE: Encourage students to base their answers on the situations of women they actually know or on what they have learned from the media. Let students know that they don’t have to align themselves with one position; that they may see some validity in both viewpoints.
- Tell students that they will be exploring data that will help them to form a more objective understanding of career opportunities for women in today’s world. Divide the class into five groups. Ask each group to select a recorder and a reporter. Assign each group one of the following topics:
- “Women’s Work”
- “Men’s Work”
- Women Doing “Men’s Work”
- The Wage Gap
Distribute a copy of the appropriate Gender Differences: Education, Jobs and Wages handout to each group. Make graph paper, markers, rulers and other supplies needed for creating graphs available.
Instruct groups to complete the following two tasks:
Reconvene the class and have each group post its graph in the sequence listed above in step #3. Ask the group reporters, one at a time, to summarize the key data and themes in the graph created by their group. After all five summaries have been presented, engage students in a discussion using some of the following questions:
- Review and briefly discuss the assigned handout, making sure that all group members have a common understanding of the data.
NOTE: Several of the handouts include “median” salaries. Be sure that students understand the difference between “median” and “average.”
- Create a graph that conveys the key information or ideas on the handout. Any type of graph is acceptable, and it is not necessary to include all data from the handout. (For example, the group looking at the wage gap chart listing 20 occupations may select only five representative occupations to depict on their graph.)
- Did this data back up what you already thought about women’s roles in the workplace, or were you surprised by what you learned? What surprised you?
- Why do you think there is still a high degree of gender segregation in so many occupations?
- Why do you think women still earn less on average than men? Do you think this is fair?
- What value do you think our society places on “women’s work” as compared to “men’s work”? What do you think about this?
- What do you think can be done to create more equality in the workplace for women?
NOTE: Make sure that students understand the following key points as a result of the data analysis and discussion. If necessary, summarize these points before moving on.
- Women on average have as much or more education than men, and younger generations of women are currently surpassing men in college graduates rates.
- While there has been much progress for women in the workplace over the last 30 – 40 years, there is still a high degree of gender segregation in the work world and, in general, “women’s work” is less valued and pays less than “men’s work.”
- Women who work in traditionally male fields earn more on average than women in traditionally female fields.
- The average woman, however, still earns less than her male counterpart in the same job, and this gap is even wider for African American and Latina women.
- Pay inequality is not just a women’s issue. Whole families are impacted when some of the wage earners in a household are underpaid. In addition, research indicates that the salaries for both men and women are less when they supervise, work with, or are supervised by females.
Part III: Taking Action: Planning an Equal Pay Day (30 minutes + time to implement projects)
- Ask students if there is anything that average community members—like themselves—can do if they believe that wage inequality is wrong. List their ideas on the board or a sheet of chart paper.
- Tell students that an organization called the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) created Equal Pay Day in 1996 to create awareness about the gap between men’s and women’s wages. Share the following:
Equal Pay Day is held each April to symbolize how far into the year a woman must work, on average, to earn as much as a man earned the previous year. To match men’s earnings for 2007, for example, women will have to work from January 2007 to April 2008—an extra four months. The day is held on a Tuesday, which is the day on which women’s wages catch up to men's wages from the previous week. In other words, while the average male works five days per week for twelve months, the average female has to work seven days per week for sixteen months to earn equal pay.
- Suggest that students can organize an Equal Pay Day (in April or any time of the year) in their school or community and implement one or more of the ideas they generated in step #6 above. Have students get back into small groups and ask each small group to identify one action that they want to take. If necessary, supplement their ideas with the suggestions on the handout, Equal Pay Day: Top 10 Ideas for Action.
- Provide time in class to help students organize and implement their actions. Consult the following organizations for further information and resources: