The San Antonio Express-News published a letter of mine today, in response to this article from last Sunday's paper. The article focused on women re-entering the workforce after taking several years off the care for their kids. For my letter, they used a title "Show both sides," but a better title would be "Don't ignore the effects of gender bias." Here is the letter:
I am writing to comment on the article by Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje, "Opting Back In."
I applaud the Express-News for taking on such a complex subject, but I was disappointed the author did not discuss the crucial role gender bias has on the work-related choices that families face.
The phrases "opting in" and "opting out" imply free choice, yet the reality for many women who enter or leave the workforce has nothing to do with choice. For the majority of families, simple economics dictates that the parent who can make the most money works and, if possible, the other parent stays home and takes care of the children.
Since, on average, women earn only about eighty cents for every dollar a man earns, most of the parents who "opt out" are women. If the tables were turned, we would be talking about men "opting out" rather than women.
Also, the article overplays a small number of positive stories of women who have succeeded at returning to the workforce, while downplaying a "rigorous survey" that suggests the reality for those who pursue this course is far less encouraging: only three-quarters of highly-qualified women who desire to return to work actually succeed, and less than half at a full-time job.
The author should have devoted much more attention to this other side of the story. Why can't these women find work appropriate for their skills?
Isn't it far more newsworthy when qualified people cannot find appropriate work?
While it may feel better in the short run to ignore the ongoing realities of gender discrimination in the workplace, it does not serve your readers well to give short shrift to this crucial factor affecting the choices of women and their families.