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Are Anti-Discrimination Laws Working Against Millennial Women?

Are Anti-Discrimination Laws Working Against Millennial Women?

The Pew Research Center found some interesting contradictions in data it published last month on Millennial women in the workplace. On one hand, Millennial women now enjoy near pay parity with their male counterparts. On the other hand, they appear far more preoccupied with possible discrimination than one would expect given the near equity they enjoy. But here’s a question: WouldMillennial women have less to worry about regarding gender discrimination if some of the current decades old anti-discrimination measures were modernized?

Among Pew’s most noteworthy findings: Millennial women earn 93 percent of what Millennial men earn, compared to the average of 84 percent of women across all age groups. (A study released in 2010 found that single women under 30 in major cities actually earn more than their male counterparts.) But the Pew study also found that “Women are much more likely than men to say society favors men (53 percent vs. 36 percent). Women are also more likely to say that society needs to do more to ensure equality in the workplace (72 percent vs. 61 percent of men). The gender gap on this question is particularly wide among Millennials: 75 percent of Millennial women compared with 57 percent of Millennial men say the country needs to do more in order to bring about workplace equality.”

Pew goes on to note that Millenials are particularly concerned with the impact that having children will have on their careers, a concern Millennial women are likely to anticipate bearing the primary burden for, or at the very least to be expected to. This is one theory regarding why, despite their own relatively rosy experiences in the workplace so far, Millennial women do not seem to have a particularly optimistic outlook on the larger professional picture or their own futures. Which raises one of the potential problems with current anti-discrimination measures.

At present, any employer who asks questions during the interview process regarding a potential employee’s short or long term family plans has opened himself or herself up to a possible gender discrimination lawsuit. So this means that employers—at least those who know better—avoid asking questions about whether an employee has children or plans to. While on the face of it, this may seem like a smart way to protect women in particular from discrimination, I see it as simply making women vulnerable—particularly those of childbearing years—to rampant invisible discrimination.

Consider this: if a Millennial male and Millennial female, both age 31 and both newly married, apply for a job that requires extensive travel in the first year, at the moment an employer is unlikely to ask during the interview, “What is your family life like?” for fear of being sued. Instead, it is possible he or she will simply go with the employee he knows will not be getting pregnant in the next year—or ever, which would be the male employee. But what if the female employee has no plans to have children in the coming year, or ever? Or what if she is planning to adopt but her husband will be a stay-at-home dad? Shouldn’t she get a chance to discuss her own plans and expectations with an employer? What benefit is there to either the employer or the employee in not doing so?

“The reason that employers don’t or rather shouldn’t ask is because you can’t base employment decisions on pregnancy or future pregnancy plans,” said Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center, in an interview with The Daily Beast. “Title VII, which is basically a 50-year-old law that bans discrimination in employment based on sex, and race, and national origin, and religion prohibits that sort of discrimination. So an employer can’t refuse to hire a woman based on pregnancy or future pregnancy. An employer can’t refuse to promote a woman based on pregnancy. An employer can’t pay a woman less based on pregnancy or future pregnancy or based on the fact that a woman is a caregiver for a child.” She explained that this is why employers should avoid questions related to family planning.

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