THE BLOG

Is Occupy Good for Women?

01/10/2012 01:20 pm ET | Updated Mar 11, 2012

From the 11th floor of our offices in downtown Chicago, I could hear the Occupy Chicago protestors chanting, "We are the 99 percent," as they marched down LaSalle Street to City Hall last November.

They've been "occupying" Chicago for over three months as part of an international protest movement against social and economic inequality. Many women and minorities know the effects of economic injustice all too well, but they didn't start the Occupy campaign.

The movement started in New York City in September after a Vancouver-based activist group initiated the idea of "occupying" Wall Street to protest the "growing disparity in wealth and the absence of legal repercussions" for the global financial crisis. Frustrated with wealth inequality and corporate greed, New Yorkers took to the streets, inspiring an international response.

The motto of the movement -- "we are the 99 percent" -- is a reference to a study by Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, which revealed that the richest 1 percent of Americans are controlling 40 percent of U.S. wealth. But who are the 1 percent? We know not many are people of color. Last month, Gallup found 78 percent of the top 1 percent to be white. And while no analysis could be found showing the percentage of women in the top income bracket, a breakdown by occupation indicates it's not a female-friendly field. Professionals in non-financial executive and managerial positions accounted for 31 percent of the top 1 percent, followed by 16 percent in the medical field, 14 percent in financial professions and 8 percent in law -- most of these are historically male-dominated fields.

When we take a look at leadership roles in businesses, the issue becomes obvious. Only 18 women held top leadership positions at Fortune 500 companies at the end of 2011, which means only 3 percent of the business executives were women. As a whole, women in managerial jobs tend to earn less than men, and they are also less likely to be married or have kids. Regardless of profession, on average, women earned 81 cents for every dollar their male counterparts did in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Thirty years ago, women earned 62 cents for every dollar men made. Will it be 30 more years before we close the gender wage gap, or will it take even longer than that?

Unfortunately, the issue is not any better for the next generation. Young women graduating from college face their own unique set of obstacles in the job market. A recent study from Georgetown University confirmed that women need a college degree to earn the same wages as men with only a high school diploma. But in 2010, the unemployment rate for college graduates aged 20-24 peaked at 9.1 percent, and graduates left college with an average debt of $25,250. This means that if a female college graduate even manages to find a job, she may likely owe a considerable amount in student loans, all while making 81 cents for every dollar earned by her high-school-educated male counterparts.

If the Occupy movement is a fight for economic equality, it should be fighting for women to earn equal pay for equal work. Occupy says the biggest problem in our country is the growing disparity in wealth. I say women have always faced this disparity. And when we live in a society where women, in general, are predetermined to be poorer than men and face increased obstacles to financial stability and security, those protesting in the name of economic justice should pay more attention. Perhaps we should take to the streets with our own rally cry: "We are the 51 percent."