International Women’s Day and Women’s Improvement in the Workplace

Lucie Rivière

Today is International Women’s Day (“IWD”), an event globally observed every March 8 since 1909 by governments, non-governmental organizations, charity, corporations, academic institutions, women’s network, and the media. IWD celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women throughout history and calls people to keep fighting for gender parity around the world.

According to the International Labor Organization (“ILO”), IWD is an important reminder that women are still facing “enormous challenges … in finding and keeping decent jobs.” On March 7, 2016, the ILO published a report about gender equity in the workplace, examining data for 178 countries. The report concludes that inequality between women and men persists on a global scale. In fact, the employment gender gap has increased by only 0.6 percentage points since 1995, with an employment-to-population ratio of 46 percent for women and almost 72 percent for men in 2015. The report also highlights that women continue to work longer hours per day than men in both paid and unpaid work (such as cleaning, cooking, and caring for children or elderly). In both high and low income countries, on average, women carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household and childcare work than men. What’s more, the report shows that over the last two decades, the significant progress made by women in education has not translated into comparable improvements in their positions.

Women in the United States have made huge improvements since that first IWD in 1909. Indeed, women won the right to vote, they make up about half of the workforce and they now earn a higher percentage of college degrees than men. However, the U.S. rates 28 out of 145 countries in the most recent World Economic Forum ranking report of equality for women. The report, based on equality ranking in economic, educational, health-based, and political indicators, shows that although women made great progress, inequalities still remain. It notes the gender gap has closed only 4 percent in the past 10 years, and at that rate, it would take 118 years to reach parity. Major advances have, however, been made, especially regarding the pay gap. In one of his first acts in office in 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,” which prohibits sex-based wage discrimination.

On October 21, 2015, Governor Cuomo signed multiple pieces of legislation designed to protect women’s equality in New York State. The governor claims the new laws will help achieve pay equity, give protections for domestic violence victims and end pregnancy discrimination in all workplaces. According to the NY Women’s Equality Coalition, this new legislation is “an upgrade” for women of New York to help them face sexual harassment, pay discrimination and ensure fair treatment at work. This legislation adds to protections under federal laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of sex, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which specifically makes it clear that employers may not discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical conditions under Title VII. Women in New York are also protected from discrimination in the workplace by both the New York State Human Right Law (“NYSHRL”) and the New York City Human Right Law (“NYCHRL”).

If you believe your employer has discriminated against you, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.