21st Century Women

Every year, articles crop up asking the same question: “Can Women Have It All?”. The author lays out what “all” encompasses: a thriving career, healthy happy family and a passionate marriage to someone of equal or greater financial status. There’s hemming and hawing over “choosing the correct career path” or perfecting a work and home-life balance that rivals our notions of disheveled mothers missing their kids’ soccer games in favour of staying late for work. The burden is continuously placed on women to nurture and provide, all while seamlessly cultivating independence and sense of self. There is no guide to doing so, but each new opinion on a dead-end topic purports to inform us on what we’ve been missing all along. 

A New York Times article detailed the lives of women in the healthcare profession, and how working in such professions enables workers to have more control over their schedules, resulting in a more “family-friendly” life. Despite the assertion that women are inches closer to having a fulfilling and enriched life, we learn that one of the doctors profiled had to move to her hometown so extended family could help with her children on a moment’s notice. In addition, a nanny watches her baby. Even this example of “balance” is cleverly disguised flexibility. Not only are women all supposed to desire a family and career, but we’re supposed to tenaciously pursue them despite all of the odds stacked against us. While in this case, healthcare is being touted as a profession for women to do a little less juggling when it comes to other aspects of life, there’s still a glaring disparity when it comes to equal pay. A Harvard Medical School study showed that women in U.S. healthcare were paid, on average, close to $20,000 less than their male counterparts. Global studies show that while women make up a vital part of healthcare in the UK, they are much less likely to reach senior positions and higher pay. 

So, what’s the truth? One of the highest-paying industries isn’t fairly compensating women who are attempting this balancing act, but it’s expected across the board, regardless of accessibility. Women are supposed to go after all of these things without even stopping to ask: Are we being protected?

The notion of protection isn’t limited to physical safety. Society is structured in such a way that requires women to make sacrifices that their male counterparts are less likely to make, but these women aren’t being protected in the workplace. The U.S. and U.K. were ranked among the worst countries regarding pay inequality, noting that the gap is significantly greater as women have children. The wage gap widens as we filter through race, education level, industry, and location; showing that women of colour are behind before they even get started. All-encompassing protection includes financial security for all women.  

The intersectional barriers in place for women across the board result in job insecurity, harassment, and being devalued in the workplace; leading to poorer mental health and higher depression rates that worsen other aspects of life. Studies show that in order for women to thrive in the workplace, we need a playbook for supporting and enhancing women’s skills. We cannot rely on people in power to rebuild a structure that works to their advantage; it takes grassroots organisations and global compassion for women in order to dismantle a flawed system.

The Young Women’s Trust is working to bridge the gaps of inequality for women in the U.K. by creating a space for women who are struggling. Young Women’s Trust pushes to uplift women and arm them with career resources to unlock their own passion and potential through training programs, panels, employment funds, and help building their CVs. While their mission is aligned with the ideals of economic justice for women, Young Women’s Trust recognises the importance of valuing women’s contributions to society that extend beyond the confines of employment. The Trust leads multiple year round campaigns to attract the attention of politicians and the general public and bring awareness to issues like pay equality, the struggles of young mothers, and apprenticeships.            

By Alyson Lewis