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The Georgia state capitol building in Atlanta. State lawmakers can take long-needed steps to reduce gender workforce discrimination by passing laws designed to address the underlying causes of unequal treatment. (Photo/ Landon Trust)

The U.S. lags behind other developed nations in women’s issues. The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Report lists the U.S. 51st in gender equality. The situation is no different in Georgia. In August, WalletHub ranked Georgia as the 37th state in women’s equality in the U.S., including 38th in workplace environment.

The state should pass laws addressing the various causes of gender workforce discrimination by making wages and salaries more transparent, improving childcare and increasing paid family leave.

Georgia women suffer from an unequal workforce in multiple ways. For example, a 2019 Zippia analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics and American Community Survey data found that Georgia’s gender wage gap is 18.4%. This gap is almost 3% lower than it was in 2010, however. It’s even worse for minority women. The National Women’s Law Center estimates that black and Latina women earn only 64 cents and 49 cents for every dollar paid to white men, respectively. Women also seek work less than men. According to the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor, Georgia women have a labor force participation rate of 70.8%, compared to 80.4% for men.

Georgia has done little to reduce these inequalities. Georgia’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Act prohibits paying companies from paying women less based on gender but allows exceptions for seniority systems, merit systems, systems that pay based on the quantity or quality of production or any other factor not based on sex. Though this law is important, its exceptions reinforce systemic gender inequality. Because women earn lower wages and work less, seniority and merit systems reduce their ability to catch up to men.

Other states have introduced pieces of legislation that could reduce gender discrimination. For example, many prohibit pay secrecy policies, allowing employees to discuss if they are being paid fairly.

Childcare also leads to gender discrimination. A study by the Robert Graham Center and the U.S. Census Bureau showed that spouses’ pay gap widens rapidly in the year a child is born and the following year, suggesting that having children hurts mothers’ earnings more than fathers’. Georgia can address this by mandating more paid family leave and improving childcare services.

An inequitable workplace hurts women’s financial stability, societal influence and ability to provide for their families. Georgia must fix the underlying causes to create a fairer Georgia society.

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