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A Message from the Chair


Jenny R. Yang


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Post from Chair Jenny R. Yang - March 2016

Women's History Month

Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission celebrated Women's History Month with an inspiring presentation by Chief of Police Cathy Lanier of the Metropolitan Police Department here in Washington, DC. In her remarks, Chief Lanier mentioned that when she became Chief in 2007, she was the first female head of the MDP-and at the time, the only woman to head a police department in any of the 65 major metropolitan areas.

Although we have made significant progress since Title VII's prohibitions against sex discrimination took effect in1965, women still face significant challenges in the workplace. Last summer, our agency released a report entitled "American Experiences versus American Expectations." It analyzed data collected in the EEOC's equal-employment opportunity survey (EEO-1) of the country's largest employers going back to 1966, and identified several noteworthy trends. 

In 1966, women represented just 14 percent of Professionals - by 2013, that increased to 53 percent. However, women's representation as partners in law and accounting firms or stock brokerages is far lower than their numbers in lower level jobs. Women have made more modest gains in the Officials and Managers occupations-increasing from 9 percent in 1966 to 39 percent in 2013.

Data also suggests that women continue to experience occupational segregation. Women are concentrated in "pink collar" jobs and now make up about 76 percent of Office or Clerical Workers. In contrast, women comprise only about 7 percent in the typically more highly-paid Craft workers category. For blue collar workers, women tend to be hired for lower-paying jobs such as Laborers, where their participation is 31 percent.

We are still seeing cases where women were either steered to lower-paying jobs, or barred from jobs entirely. For example, this March, the EEOC resolved a case against Mavis Discount Tire, where we alleged that only one woman was hired in an 800-person workforce despite many qualified women applicants. The settlement provided $2.1 million for 46 women, alleged to be excluded from its field positions - managers, assistant managers, mechanics, and tire technicians - in the company's over 140 stores throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. A consent decree provided for extensive safeguards to prevent future discrimination, including a comprehensive recruitment and hiring protocol, and anti-discrimination policies and training.  

To address persistent barriers to opportunity more effectively, the EEOC has identified  eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring; enforcing equal pay laws; and preventing harassment through systemic enforcement and outreach as three of our agency's top national priorities in our Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).

Pay discrimination remains an enduring challenge. Despite the gains in employment made by women in the last 50 years, the annual median earnings of women working full time in 2013 was $39,157, compared with men at $50,033. The disparities are even greater for women of color. Considerable research demonstrates that even when people perform the same work and have the same qualifications, significant pay gaps persist. Since the creation of the President's Equal Pay Task Force in 2010, the EEOC has investigated approximately 6,000 charges of pay discrimination under the Equal Pay Act and nearly 12,000 under Title VII, recovering more than $85 million in monetary relief for victims of pay discrimination based on sex. 

To address pay discrimination more completely, the EEOC has proposed an addition to its EEO-1 Report data collection categories. The EEOC collects workforce data from employers, which is used for a variety of purposes including enforcement, self-assessment by employers, and research. Each of the reports collects data about gender and race/ethnicity by job category. Under the new proposal, all employers with 100 or more employees who currently file EEO-1 reports would report the number of employees by pay bands for each job category by race, sex, and ethnicity.

Once on the job, too often, women face harassment across the spectrum of workplaces and occupations. Sex harassment is particularly serious for women working in isolated jobs who are especially vulnerable, such as farmworkers or cleaners or janitors working overnight. Protecting these vulnerable populations is another SEP priority. The issues impacting women janitors were powerfully captured in a recent article and documentary entitled "Rape on the Night Shift."

In October, EEOC won a unanimous jury verdict against Moreno Farms, awarding over $17 million to five former female farmworkers in Florida. The EEOC alleged that two sons of the owner and a third male supervisor engaged in sexual harassment, including sexual assault against female workers who were ultimately fired for opposing the harassment. Sexual harassment and assault of isolated farmworkers was the subject of an earlier documentary, "Rape in the Fields."

Harassment based on sex often includes conduct that may not be "sexual" in nature but devalues or demeans women, such as sabotaging women's work, statements that women belong at home or are not suited for a particular job; sexist and insulting jokes, language or graffiti; or public humiliation of women.  Harassment does not always involve exclusively sexual conduct. 

The EEOC is taking action to address workplace harassment. It is alleged in approximately 30 percent of all charges filed with the EEOC, with race as the most frequent basis, followed by sex and then disability. That is why the agency has established a Select Task Force for the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, co-chaired by Commissioners Chai Feldblum and Victoria Lipnic. The Task Force has convened experts from the employer community, workers' advocates, human resources experts, academics, and others in a broader effort to examine the problem of harassment in the workplace in all its forms and identify new and creative ways by which it might be prevented and eliminated.  The Commission will be issuing a report on its findings later this year.

Pregnancy discrimination is another barrier to equal opportunity for women and remains one of the most blatant expressions of discrimination that we see. One year ago, EEOC issued a comprehensive update to the agency's pregnancy guidance. Since that time, we have been conducting extensive outreach and education to help educate employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities. Through our enforcement work, EEOC has successfully challenged pregnancy discrimination in areas including hiring, promotions, assignments, failure to accommodate pregnancy-related work restrictions, and retaliation.

To a young girl born in 2016, the future opportunities to be a police officer, a scientist, or a high level executive or whatever she might imagine are greater than at any time in our nation's history. As Women's History Month comes to a close, let us rededicate ourselves to eliminating the remaining barriers to equality and work to advance opportunity for all women in the workplace.