Today’s Judith, an imaginary sister of William Shakespeare, would probably face better conditions but would still struggle to have options and fair opportunities.
In her book "A Room of One's Own," Virginia Woolf presents a reality where Shakespeare, one of the world's greatest dramatists, has a sister as talented as him. In pursuit of a poetic career, Shakespeare’s imaginary sister faces parental oppression, harassment by society, and in the end, kills herself. Amidst the Elizabethan society, Judith Shakespeare, as Woolf named her, would have faced far more obstacles in her quest to develop her talents than her male sibling.
What would her life look like in the 21st century?
Nowadays, women represent 38.8 percent of the global labour force. Even so, neither the women’s representation nor the opportunities available can be taken for granted. This situation has been further damaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, which impacted the visibility of women in the workforce. The Global Gender Gap Report 2021 observes that it would now take 135.6 years to close the global gender gap rather than 99.5 years (the figure registered before the pandemic).
Despite the women's relatively easier access to various job markets, there are still serious gaps in terms of opportunities, wages, and discrimination issues. For instance, Women in Latin America were 44 per cent more likely to lose their jobs than men in the first months of the pandemic. Similarly, the gender pay gap- the difference between women’s and men’s median earnings has also widened. Payscale's latest report states that women in the United States make 0.82 cents for every dollar a man earns. This 18 percent difference is the raw gender gap. In Turkey, the ratio is 15.6 per cent. The average number in the EU countries is 14.1 per cent.
Nevertheless, the lower rates do not necessarily mean better payment. Often, it is an indicator of lower employment rates of women. On the other hand, a high pay gap occurs in low-paid sectors where many women work part-time. In Italy, the number of women occupying top jobs has increased. However, the 57 percent female unemployment rate put Italy in the last position within the EU.
All that glitters is not gold
The gender pay gap is not just a women/men issue; it is much more complex than that. Age, race, ethnicity, and religion create different groups of women who experience various gaps in terms of remuneration.
Last year, US company Jackson National Life Insurance (Jackson) had to settle a $20.5 million suit because the firm discriminated against African American and female employees in terms and conditions of employment. Jackson paid its black female employees less than their white colleagues. Also, managers skipped their female staff members for promotions in favour of less-qualified white males.
Such discrimination is unfortunately widespread in the United States. The National Women's Law Center (NWLC) states that black women make $964,400 less than a white man over a 40-year career. This means that there is a gap of $409,040 between African American females and their white female colleagues.
A report conducted by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics in 2019 confirms such findings. The report reveals that Asian women earn 77 percent of what Asian men earn, while white women's median earnings represent 81 percent of white men’s earnings. Similarly, African American women make 92 percent of their African American colleagues’ earnings. Moreover, from 2004 to 2019, white women saw an increase of 6 percent in earnings while black women experienced merely a 3 percent growth.
However, the race factor is not the only one. In July, the European Court of Justice ruled that to "present a neutral image or to prevent social disputes," European companies may ban women from wearing hijab in workplaces. So, if a woman wants to join a workplace, her appearance is controlled, and when she gets there, she is not paid fairly or has issues on the path of promotion.
There is no darkness but ignorance
The opportunity gap measures the obstacles that women face in their endeavour to get higher-paying positions held mainly by men. A study conducted by Catalyst, a non-profit organization that promotes women in business, states that women are promoted based on performance, while men are promoted based on potential.
In this context, an Australian survey conducted in the finance industry shows that 76 per cent of men are offered promotions without asking. In comparison, only 57 per cent of women had that opportunity. Joanne Lipman, the writer of "That's What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together," says, “when [a woman] asks for a promotion, people find her “bossy, or uncompromising, or difficult.” Additionally, a study by software company Qualtrics shows that 34 percent of remote working men received a promotion during the Pandemic while only 9 percent of women advanced in their careers around the same time.
In her book “Flatlining,” Author Adia Harvey Wingfield quoted neonatologist Ayana who complains about existing biases: "I see my co-workers that are males, and the race doesn't matter. If you're male, they will call you a doctor. If you're female, they will call you a nurse." Ayana adds: "it's regardless of your race. I see my white co-workers, even just because they're female they still call them nurse." Wingfield concludes that gender inequalities and racial disparities are equally widespread.
There is a general problem of overwork in contemporary corporate cultures. Employers see long work hours as a sign of commitment and leadership. However, the cost for women is higher. Then, there is the so-called ‘motherhood penalty,’ whereby a woman’s pay decreases once she becomes a mother. Research in Denmark shows that women’s occupational rank and chances for being a manager seriously fall just after the first child's birth. Women are subsequently pushed to more "family-friendly" jobs.
There are also other less known issues. For example, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that mothers working remotely in the UK experience more interruptions than fathers, mainly because of childcare. On the bright side, fathers’ involvement in childcare has almost doubled post-pandemic in comparison to their contribution in 2014-2015. Nevertheless, in two-parent households, mothers do only one-third of the fathers' uninterrupted paid work hours.
To be or not to be: that is the question
In sum, today’s Judith would face better conditions but would still struggle to have options and fair opportunities. The key issue here is not to have as many female workers as possible. A woman could choose to be a housewife. However, when entering a professional path, she should not be treated like a second-class citizen. She should not be trapped underneath various glass ceilings and unreasonable institutional obstacles.
In the end, the journey is as important as the result. Perhaps, if Shakespeare's sister had existed, she would not have wanted to be a writer like her brother. However, we will never know that as Judith "lies buried at some crossroads where the omnibuses now stop."