4 ways unions are helping close workplace gender gaps

Two women wearing navy jackets looking down at a machine. Two women wearing navy jackets looking down at a machine. Two women wearing navy jackets looking down at a machine. Two women wearing navy jackets looking down at a machine.

Key takeaways

Gender inequality remains an unresolved issue in the workplace. However, unions are helping to close gender gaps faster.

Although women have won some hard-fought gains in the workplace, gender inequality remains an unresolved issue with women facing unequal pay, disparity in promotions, incidents of sexual harassment, and racism.

However, unions are helping to close gender gaps faster by addressing gender inequality in the labor market. Unions bring women’s issues to the forefront and champion these issues within the labor movement.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, let’s dive into the labor market and explore four ways unions are empowering women, supporting their careers and helping to close gender gaps.

1. Unions Help Women Earn More

The average woman earns just 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man. However, for women represented by a union, the gender pay gap is smaller.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, being represented by a union reduces women’s wage gap by nearly 40% compared to the pay gap experienced by non-union workers. And unionized women make on average 23% more than women without a union. Over the course of a woman’s career, this can translate into hundreds of thousands of additional dollars.

How are unions reducing the pay gap?  “Greater pay equity exists for union workers because of the transparency and equality provided by a union contract,” shares the U.S. Department of Labor, “Collective bargaining agreements apply to all workers at a job, regardless of their race or gender.” In addition, workers with unions feel more secure speaking out about pay, knowing they have the power of a union to back them up.

2. Unions Help Women Land Skilled Roles and Leadership Positions

Despite women compromising 47% of the workforce, only 37% of leadership positions are held by women in the United States. However, unions are filling talent pipelines with qualified women who are upskilled through training programs, apprenticeships, internships and skill-development academies. In addition, unions can negotiate leadership position quotas to place women in management positions.

3. Unions Lobby for Passage of Legislation That Promotes Gender Equity

Unions use their lobbying power to press for passage of legislation that advances gender equality in the workplace. For example, the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act, which went into law in June 2023, was championed by major labor unions. This law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for medical conditions related to pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum recovery. This could include accommodations for fertility treatments, morning sickness, complications, lactation, pregnancy loss, postpartum depression, breastfeeding issues, and more.

4. Unions Provide Stronger Protections Against Discrimination and Sexual Harassment

Between 54% and 81% of women report some level of sexual harassment at work, yet between 58% and 72% of victims don’t report instances of workplace sexual harassment.

 “Unions are one of the best ways for working women and men to vanquish harassment and discrimination from their workplaces,” according to the American Federation of Labor & Congress of Industrial Organizations. Here are ways unions help stop discrimination and sexual harassment:

  • Unions give workers collective power, meaning individuals facing sexual harassment are never alone.
  • Workers represented by unions have more avenues for reporting and increased protection from retaliation when addressing harassment concerns.
  • Union collective bargaining agreements typically contain language calling for dignity and respect at work; these contractual provisions are enforced quicker and at less cost than outside legal proceedings.
  • Unions hold employers legally accountable to prevent sexual harassment.
  • Unions advocate for broad anti-harassment policies and training for managers.
  • Unions advocate for policy solutions to stop harassment.

Union Progress Helps ALL Women

When unions move the needle and advocate for women in the workplace, it doesn’t only benefit women represented by unions. Non-union women also benefit as unionized workplaces set industry-wide standards. This highlights the important role unions will play in accomplishing the goal of workplace gender equity for all women.

Want more? Read our blog, 5 ways teachers’ unions can help improve healthcare for members.

Optavise Supports Unions

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