Working Women: Social Entrepreneurship and the Gender Wage Gap

This week, I attended the third annual Sheluncheon, a discussion about the intersection of social entrepreneurship and feminism, featuring a panel of diverse, female social entrepreneurs in the Durham area.  Through their respective endeavors, these women elucidated how the second-wave feminist slogan the “personal is political” serves as a guiding force for re-shaping the male centric “public sphere” into one that is more encompassing of feminist values.  Indeed, one of the panelists, Areli Barrera de Grodski, co-founder of Cocoa Cinnamon along with her husband Leon Barrera de Grodski, explained that she modeled her business as a “microcosm for her ideal society” – one in which workers are not treated like commodities and business does not fracture a community. Although she pays her employees Durham’s living wage, purchases fair trade beans, and has a deep-seeded desire to “do good”, Barrera de Grodski stated that in order to remain competitive, she is currently unable to fulfill her vision for Cocoa Cinnamon entirely.  She expressed her internal struggle working in an environment that discourages many of the values she strives to promote.

I wondered if a tension, similar to the one Barrera de Grodski described, may also be a contributing factor to the gender wage gap.  Bibi Gnagnu, one of the moderators at the Sheluncheon event and the Student Development Coordinator at the Women’s Center, led a discussion about the gender wage gap for the eighth-grade girls group at Brogden Middle School this week. During the discussion, she challenged the young women to identify some of the underlying factors for the fact that the “average woman will earn $12,000 less than her male counter-part each year.”  Initially, many of the young women explained that they believed so-called innate aspects to their female identity prevented them from partaking in certain activities.  During an implicit bias training I attended, Dr. Benjamin Reese, Duke’s Vice President for Institutional Equity, mentioned a recent New York University study in which researchers discovered that by age six, children of both sexes overwhelming believed boys to be more knowledgeable than girls.  Thinking about the implications of this study, I wondered if women are less likely to ask for raises and promotions due to feelings of incompetence that begin to develop in early childhood.  Similar to Barrera de Grodski’s struggle with both wanting to treat her employees as fairly as possible, but also needing to make a profit, I realized that there is still little incentive for employers to increase the salaries of their female employees.

Although women of color earn even less than their white women peers, the gender wage gap is an obstacle confronting all women.  Furthermore, as many of the eighth-graders at Brogden reported wanting to hold part-time jobs in high school, I think the gender wage gap was an especially important and relevant topic for discussion.