Former EEOC Chair Reflects on Gender Equality in the Workplace
Decades ago, female flight attendants were fired when they got married, had a baby, or gained weight and weren’t allowed to wear glasses on the job. Advocating for those flight attendants was a landmark case for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination.
Jenny Yang, who chaired the commission from 2014 to 2017, spoke about its history during a visit to Rutgers Law School on March 28. Her talk, “Gender Equality in the Workplace, Where are We Today?” was sponsored by the Center for Gender, Sexuality, law and Policy.
Yang, who still serves as a commissioner on the bi-partisan board, said that while the overt sexism that existed when the commission began has gotten better, new challenges remain. She said women are still underrepresented in certain corporate jobs, crafts trades, and industries that include trucking and mining, but are overrepresented in office and clerical jobs.
The EEOC doesn’t just advocate for women, she said, and has brought suits against companies that discriminated against men, such as a dating company that argued its clients didn’t want to see men organizing dating lunches for singles.
Yang said contemporary issues include combatting sexual harassment at work, increasing opportunities for women to be promoted, protecting LGBT employees from discrimination, including allowing workers to use the bathrooms that conform with their gender identity.
“This is a tumultuous time in our nation’s history,” she said.
She said equal pay for equal work is still an issue that needs remediation, but that it has been difficult to get data since most companies keep employee salaries confidential. The EEOC plans to collect pay data from companies with 100 employees or more to study disparity in wages, she said.
All people, not just attorneys, can promote equality in the workplace through their actions, their language and speaking up when they see injustice, she said. “It is a time for all of us to be a part in taking action. You can make a difference to advance the workplace. Each of you can be a change agent right now. “
Yang said she was inspired by her mother, former Judge Sue Pai Yang ‘84, who was recently honored by the New Jersey Women Lawyers Association. She said, “My mom was a trail blazer and an outstanding judge. She knew it was important to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect. “