Hillary Clinton says that the gender gap won’t close unless we significantly change the culture that pervades the American workplace.
“There are a lot of women who think they had to make a choice,” Clinton said on Wednesday morning at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. “For a lot of them it’s a choice that was in effect forced on them: I can either pursue my career in the time that it’d be most likely I could have a child or not. There’s a growing awareness in our own society that we can’t just give lip service to the idea that mothers are important. We have to provide the support systems that enable women to make the choices that are right for them.”
The numbers around women in the workforce are disheartening at best. There’s the fact that for every dollar men earn, women earn 78 cents. There’s the fact that in the tech industry, working mothers make $11,247 less than women without children and men. And of course, there are all those hideously imbalanced diversity reports being released by companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple.
But while many of these companies and other organizations are trying to correct this imbalance by supporting coding courses and STEM education, former secretary of state Clinton believes we must do more than just fill the pipeline with talent. When she talks about providing “support systems,” she means benefits like affordable childcare, free preschool programs, and paid family and maternity leave. “Those are not just nice luxuries for women,” Clinton said. “They would fundamentally free up women to be in the workforce if they had the skills and desire to do so.”
As she explained, the absence of such programs, which are readily available in many other countries around the world, sends a strong signal to women that “society and our economy don’t value mothers.”
Clinton’s stance on these benefits has drawn a fair bit of criticism lately by those who see this feminist approach as a presidential campaign strategy. And Clinton concedes that these programs are not wholesale solutions, just temporary fixes to a very complex and enduring problem. What we need just as urgently, she said, is more data on why, exactly, this gap exists, which is one reason why she has teamed up with her daughter Chelsea Clinton, as well as Melinda Gates, to launch No Ceilings, a massive data mining project aimed at understanding why women continue to be underpaid and underrepresented in the workplace.
“I’m not sure we have the best data we need in our own country. What’s really behind the stagnation in wages and in workforce participation? We have some very educated guesses, but I’m not sure we really know,” Clinton said. “We need to do much more to understand. But we could, in the meantime, use some fixes that could give more people more opportunity.”