By now, most of us have heard of Sheryl Sandberg’s (COO of Facebook) controversial book entitled “Lean In”, which, among other things, coaches women to negotiate for higher pay in the workplace. The problem? While Sandberg’s advice may be sound for women who are nearly at or are employed in top positions, her advice to women about advancing their careers fails to take into account what a recent OpEd in the New York Times referred to as the 5 C’s: women workers employed in caring, cashiering, catering, cleaning and clerical work positions.
The reasoning behind this claim, according to Amelia Gentleman, who wrote the piece, is that women who work such jobs have very limited opportunities to better their pay or position from minimum wage. When looking at women in the workplace, it is unrealistic to only focus on “a few outsider women at the top”, rather than a more accurate cross-section of working women. Although there have been “incremental gains” for women in powerful, top positions, women still hold many of our country’s low-skilled, low-wage jobs. Unemployment rates for women in the low-wage job market are also much higher than for those that are qualified for higher paying positions.
So, what does all of this mean? It means that “we have a long way to go to close the gender AND inequality gaps,” states a recent Business Insider article.
Gentlemen is correct when she says the solution to such inequality is to “raise the standards for working-class jobs and create better pay structures across the board.”
This chart shows that across Europe, among full-time workers, women fill more low-wage jobs than men.
Although Sanderg’s advice to women was well-intentioned, we must remember that the pursuit of feminism is only successful if it benefits all women. Women in low-wage jobs have a much better opportunity to have good, well-paying jobs when they are part of a union. When workers, of either gender, stand up together for a unified voice, they have the power to bargain for fair wages, and the power to ensure equality on the job, when that equality is threatened by management.