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Black women still penalized for race and gender

JAZELLE HUNT | 3/31/2014, 12:01 p.m.

There’s also “the tightrope” bias, which Williams describes as the balance between being feminine, attractive and well-liked, versus being masculine and respected, but disliked. Both hinder advancement in different ways. However, Black women involved in Williams’ research had less of a tightrope to walk. This dovetailed with another finding.

“[The Black women in the study] thought the option of being pretty, but not respected, was not an offer for Black women. So their only choice was to be respected,” Williams explained. “If you think about it, that fits … with data that suggests Black women are allowed to behave more dominant, so in a sense they have a little more room. Of course, there’s a sharp limit where, at a certain point, some will say, ‘Oh, you’re an angry Black woman.’ And then God help you.”

One area of discrimination that binds women across class and race is what’s known as the maternity wall. A 1978 amendment to the Civil Rights Act made it illegal for employers to exclude pregnancy and childbirth from sick leave and health benefits. There’s also the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which gives employees 12 weeks per year of paid leave for the birth or foster placement of a child, among other circumstances. But such protections haven’t stopped wage discrimination against mothers.

“The United States is still the only industrialized country that does not guarantee subsidized, job-protected leave for new mothers. As a result, many women are forced to quit or cut back on work when they give birth, creating a lifetime earnings penalty,” Coontz wrote. “Even mothers who do not cut back are regarded with suspicion by employers, who are less likely to hire such women, and, if they do, offer them lower wages than other employees.”

Interestingly, new data indicates that men who request or take time to cater to their families face their own professional penalties. One paper suggests that caregiver status may become a new area of anti-discriminatory legislation.

“In government, academia, finances, medicine, law and many other realms, issues of access and unequal treatment still prevail,” another researcher concluded. “The Civil Rights Act has helped women make many impressive gains, but further changes in policy and attitudes are needed to address these remaining inequalities.”

The issue of inequality affects all women, not just Blacks.

A mid-1960s Gallup poll found that only 55 percent of Americans would vote for a qualified woman president; today, that figure has risen to 95 percent. In 1960, mothers were the breadwinners in just 3.5 percent of homes with children. By 2011, that number had more than quadrupled to 15 percent.

Although women with degrees out earn men without them (which was not the case 50 years ago), women still earn less than their equally qualified male counterparts, despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Civil Rights Act of 1964. In fact, the first bill President Barack Obama signed into law was an amendment to the Civil Rights Act, which revised the statute of limitations for pay discrimination lawsuits.

Until passage of this law, claimants had 180 days from the initial wage decision to discover the discrimination and file a suit. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act resets that 180 days with each discriminatory paycheck.

“It‘s appropriate that we turn last to how women have fared since passage of the Civil Rights Act, because the addition of the word ‘sex’ was a last minute addition to the bill,” Stephanie Coontz of Research and Public Education wrote in one introduction. “Women have also made impressive progress in entering high-status fields formerly dominated by men … But women have not shattered the glass ceiling.”