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Beyonce pens gender inequality letter: Maternity leave weak reason for low pay

For a man and a woman doing the same job, why should one be paid more than the other?
For a man and a woman doing the same job, why should one be paid more than the other?
(Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

R&B icon Beyonce Carter-Knowles penned an article entitled "Gender Equality Is a Myth" for The Shriver Report. While there are the usual arguments (men can carry heavier items, work longer hours, are more likely to be rich because of their personalities), a comment that stood out was from user Calvin who stated, "[Women] also accumulate less pay when they go on maternity leave."

The maternity leave debate continues to be one of the most convenient reasons about why women make less in the workforce. The problem with this debate is:

  • When a woman applies to a job, she never has to confirm how many children she has, whether she's done having children or whether she wants children at all.
  • Men can take paternity leave.
  • While maternity days are a suggested maximum number of days that a woman can take off to physically recuperate, breast-feed and get a newborn baby adjusted to a new home, that doesn't mean that a woman will use her maximum number of days.

While TIME's writer Ruth Davis Konigsberg makes a strong argument about the difference in career choices effecting pay and provides a breakdown of the number of hours men and women work, it's still a little disturbing that the piece ends with the (satisfied?) conclusion that women make $0.93 -- not $0.77 -- to the man's $1.

Merriam Webster defines "equal" as "the same in number, amount, degree, rank, or quality" not "the same in number, amount, degree, rank, or quality or $0.93 because that's awfully close to equal."

However, when a woman takes on a job she's given a salary estimate. She is (hopefully) not asked discriminatory questions about whether she plans to have more children; if she's had the maximum number of children she wants and is now using birth control to sway away from unwanted pregnancy; if she's infertile; or if she just finds kids annoying and has no interest in motherhood. Have you ever seen that on a job application? Or resume? Didn't think so.

If employers are using assumptions instead of job skills to confirm how much she should earn, how can that be anything but discriminating against an employee based on an overactive imagination?

Another problem with the debate is there used to be a time when only women could take maternity leave. After getting past the 1920 right to vote in the 19th amendment, then came discrimination the opposite way. Men who are active parents in their children's lives may actually want to be around when the kid is born.

No, men don't have to breast-feed. No, men's genital or abdomen region isn't cut or ripped open and must heal after a child is born. But it shouldn't be difficult to believe that they don't want to run back to work after a child is born. And in the state of Illinois, according to NOLO, both men and women can take off for maternity and paternity leave. Does that affect men's pay?

Illinois residents are eligible to take off with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA):

  • if the company they work for has 50 employees who work at least 20 weeks in the current or previous year
  • the employees have worked for the company for at least a year
  • the employees have at least 1,250 hours during the previous year
  • the employees work at a location with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius

Employees may take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for a serious health condition to "bond" with new children. Even smaller employers (with 15 employees) must allow 15 unpaid days.

But nowhere in the FMLA law does it state that a woman or man cannot come back to work earlier than usual. And although every new mother hasn't been accounted for, it may be safe to guess that the average employee has seen a new mother come back to work earlier than expected. Some have caregivers. Some choose to opt out of breast-feeding. Some choose to go back to work and just use breast pumps whenever necessary. Some are even given the opportunity to work from home.

Even if a woman applies for a job with a noticeable baby bump, that should still not be the cause for lesser pay. In the most obvious terms, new working moms are also helping to create and raise those $1-to-$0.93 babies that will grow up to be working males someday, too. They shouldn't be financially punished for making that choice.

Recommended Reading:

Are smarter women less likely to want children?

Beyonce Carter-Knowles "Gender equality is a myth!"

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