That Saudi Starbucks Incident Shouldn’t be So Shocking to American Women

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WOMENSENEWS)— When a Saudi Starbucks refused to allow women into their store after a segregation wall fell not so long ago, a social media outcry erupted arguing that the temporary ban was tantamount to 1940s discrimination.

Within a week, the store was refurbished with the separate entry such that women could be served. Starbucks responded that it was simply adhering to local customs. But gender discrimination is anything but local, and sadly, is customary globally.

One could argue that women being refused service because of their sex would never happen in the U.S. today, but truthfully, women are being refused entry—maybe not into coffee shops, but certainly into the boardrooms of America.

Few Women at the Top

Even at Starbucks, an arguably progressive company, only two of the 12 directors on its board are women. While not actively advertised, this fact is readily available to anyone who visits the company’s website. Yet, where is the firestorm of protest on Twitter? Gender discrimination is so pervasive in the U.S. it is rarely even noticed.

At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos – that annual gathering of global elites from the intersecting spheres of business, politics and media — men outnumbered women 5-to-1.

Despite data that companies with more women in leadership perform better, an Ernst and Young report found that only 16 percent of board seats of SandP 1500 companies are held by women, and only 4 percent have a female CEO.

And gender disparities don’t exist only in business and politics.

As I moderated a “Women in Medicine: Promoting Health and Justice” panel in February, it was clear that these disparities permeate every avenue of endeavor.

At Yale University School of Medicine, for example, only two of the 27 department chairs are women.

Yale is not alone. In a study of the Association of American Medical Colleges, women were found to account for 50 percent of the medical school class, but only 38 percent of faculty, 21 percent of full professors and 16 percent of deans.

While it has long been argued that this reflects the pipeline of women, there are objective data that intrinsic bias exists. A recent study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that women are “substantially less likely than men to be full professors, after accounting for age, experience, specialty, and measures of research productivity.”

Stalled Policy

But the problem of gender discrimination is more than simply seats at the top.

Women are economically disadvantaged at every economic strata, making less than 80 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts.

Let’s put that statistic another way.

Imagine what would happen if Starbucks charged women 20 percent more than men for the same cup of coffee.

That would never happen; there would be universal outrage.

Why? Because we accept that the price of a cup of coffee should be the same regardless of the gender of the consumer. Yet, by accepting less pay for work of equal value, we are essentially accepting a diminished spending capacity for women.

It’s not that this issue hasn’t surfaced on the political agenda.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would prohibit gender discrimination in terms of wages, has failed to pass the Senate since the House passed it in January of 2009.

Despite Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz claiming that he was “very concerned about ensuring that women are protected in the workplace and be treated fairly,” he voted against this piece of legislation.

With President Barack Obama’s recent executive order mandating that institutions employing 100 or more employees report their employees’ compensation along with data regarding gender, race and ethnicity, data will be available to substantiate what many argue we already know – that women are paid less than men.

Still, reporting the data, much like publishing a list of a company’s board of directors, in which 80 percent of the representatives are men, is not enough to correct the issue.

We would never accept women being denied service at the local Starbucks. We would never accept differential pricing based on a customer’s gender. When it comes to a cup of coffee, we demand equity for women. Isn’t it time we did so when the stakes were higher?

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