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Gender inequality in the workplace continued to be a subject of contention this past year. Companies from Netflix to Goldman Sachs sought to make their paid-leave programs more equitable. The gender wage gap was called out again and again, by workers as varied as Hollywood actresses and Google engineers. Government policies in the U.S. and abroad aimed to increase transparency around pay and require more women in company boardrooms. Gender discrimination was brought to the fore in a series of high-profile lawsuits.
These make up just a fraction of the events that transpired. What follows is a look back at some important moments from the past year when men and women moved closer to workplace parity.
Ellen Pao takes a break with her legal team. (Stephen Lam / Reuters)
In a $16 million lawsuit, Ellen Pao sued her former employer, the venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, for gender discrimination. She alleged that the company overlooked her for promotions on the basis of gender and later terminated her when she brought up the issue. While Pao lost her case in March. it ultimately drew greater scrutiny to the underrepresentation and experiences of women in tech and venture capital. She’s since written more about her careers in law and tech, including a commentary in the newsletter Lenny . in which she continues to call out sexism in Silicon Valley, but is optimistic about change. She writes: “Eventually, there comes a point where you can't just rally and explain away all the behavior as creepy exceptions or pin the blame on yourself … You see patterns, systemic problems, and it doesn't matter where you are or what industry you pursue.”
Patricia Arquette accepts the award for best actress in a supporting role, for Boyhood. (John Shearer / Invision / AP)
During her Oscars acceptance speech in February, the actress Patricia Arquette highlighted the need to close the wage gap in all industries and earned a standing ovation from several audience members, including Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez. “It's our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” she said.
In this 2006 photo, Erica Baker works with Raiford Storey in Google’s New York Office. (Mark Lennihan / AP)
Erica Baker, a former engineer at Google (now at Slack), created a spreadsheet earlier this year that enabled people to fill out their salaries and share that information more broadly within the company. Nearly 5 percent of workers at Google have since completed the spreadsheet, according to Baker, although she noted that she was penalized for creating it: At Google, employees are able to give each other $150 bonuses as a nod to good work, but, Baker says, seven of the bonuses she received, all of which mentioned the spreadsheet, were denied by her manager.
Peggy Young, a former UPS worker whose health care ended when the company denied her request for special accommodations during her pregnancy, with her daughter (Jacquelyn Martin / AP)
When she was pregnant, Peggy Young, a former driver at UPS, requested an adjustment to her workload, per her doctor’s recommendations. The company refused and put her on unpaid leave, citing her inability to lift the 70 pounds required of her in the job description, and she ultimately sued. In March, the Supreme Court decided in Young’s favor on the grounds that UPS, which makes special accommodations for others with specific health conditions, needed to make comparable ones for pregnant women that enable them to continue working.
David Cameron arrives at Fort St. Angelo during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. (Andrew Winning / Reuters)
In July, British Prime Minister David Cameron established a rule requiring all companies with 250 or more employees to share information on the average pay that their male and female workers receive. His aim: to “cast sunlight on the discrepancies and create the pressure we need for change, driving women’s wages up.” In a 2014 World Economic Forum report. the U.K. ranked 48th out of 131 countries for gender pay equity, while the U.S. came in 65th.
While the headlines covering the topic were lighthearted—a Washington Post piece in July was titled “Freezing women, oblivious men ”—a study from Nature published this year found that the formula used to calculate standard office thermostat temperatures was biased, and based on the resting metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man who weighs 154 pounds. Women, who tend to have lower metabolic rates, may get warmer at a slower rate and thus find that offices, in one sense, are not built with them in mind.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin. (Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters)
Today, 20 percent of Germany’s corporate boardroom seats belong to women, and in a move that will increase gender diversity, the country passed a law in March instituting boardroom quotas. The law requires that companies have at least 30 percent women in supervisory seats, and German Justice Minister Heiko Maas called it “the greatest contribution to gender equality since women got the vote.” Germany follows in the footsteps of Norway, Spain, France, Iceland, Italy, and Belgium, which all have similar legislation.
California state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson is congratulated by senator Marty Block after her wage-equality bill was approved. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)
In October, California’s governor, Jerry Brown, signed into law the Fair Pay Act. which enables employees to freely ask their employers how their wages compare to others in comparable positions, including those at different physical locations of the same company. It’s been called one of the strongest laws in the nation to offer such protections, and goes into effect on January 1, 2016.
While many strategies have been recommended to address the wage gap within companies, Salesforce, the cloud-based software company, opted to vanquish it completely by reviewing its payroll and simply adjusting salaries so that all female employees made the same amount as the men in comparable roles. The decision, which was first made public in November, was implemented following the review of 17,000 employees’ salaries and cost the company $3 million.
Reed Hastings, the founder and CEO of Netflix (Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters)
This summer, Netflix became the first company to offer one year of paid family leave for new mothers and fathers. Other organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Facebook, and Spotify, quickly followed suit, enacting similarly generous policies.
Although many large companies have announced more comprehensive paid-leave policies, many of these apply exclusively to a small subset of workers in high-paying white-collar jobs. In October, the Washington D.C. City Council proposed a law that would cover all workers and enable them to take 16 weeks of paid leave to care for a child or sick family member, regardless of where they work.
Jennifer Lawrence walks the red carpet at the U.K. premiere of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. (Luke Macgregor / Reuters)
In October, Jennifer Lawrence wrote an impassioned op-ed in the newsletter Lenny about the lack of gender wage equality in Hollywood, citing the difference between her salary with that of male co-stars Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale for their roles in American Hustle. “When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn't get mad at Sony,” she wrote, “I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early … I'm over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable!” Her piece has since ignited fierce discussion about wage gaps in Hollywood and beyond, with Bradley Cooper announcing that he will openly share his salary information, in an effort to promote pay transparency.
Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, poses with his cabinet after their swearing-in. (Chris Wattie / Reuters)
In November, Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, appointed equal numbers of men and women to his 31-person cabinet, which he also sits on. His reason for prioritizing gender parity? “Because it's 2015.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks to PBS NewsHour about Obama’s childhood, his legacy, and how he connected with the American people.
Li Zhou is a former editorial fellow at The Atlantic.
The country’s first black president never pursued policies bold enough to close the racial wealth gap.
Over the next few weeks, The Atlantic will be publishing a series of responses to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s story "My President Was Black ." Readers are invited to send their own responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. and we will post a sample of your feedback. You can read other responses to the story from Atlantic readers and contributors here .
Born in 1953, I am a child of the waning years of legal segregation in the United States. My parents, on the other hand, spent about 40 years of their lives under Jim Crow, and all of my grandparents lived most of their lives under official American apartheid. At the time of Barack Obama’s election to the presidency in 2008, my mother and all four of my grandparents were deceased. But my father was alive and well—and absolutely thrilled to have lived to see the election of a black man as president of the United States. Usually deeply cynical about American politics and politicians, my dad could not comprehend my deep reservations about Barack Obama’s leadership. Indeed, he viewed any criticism of Obama as bringing aid and comfort to white supremacists.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
The main source of meaning in American life is a meritocratic competition that makes those who struggle feel inferior.
What is happening to America’s white working class?
The group’s important, and perhaps decisive. role in this year’s presidential election sparked a slew of commentary focused on, on the one hand, its nativism, racism, and sexism. and, on the other, its various economic woes . While there are no simple explanations for the desperation and anger visible in many predominantly white working-class communities, perhaps the most astute and original diagnosis came from the rabbi and activist Michael Lerner, who, in assessing Donald Trump’s victory, looked from a broader vantage point than most. Underneath the populist ire, he wrote. was a suffering “rooted in the hidden injuries of class and in the spiritual crisis that the global competitive marketplace generates.”
A nonproliferation expert puts the president-elect’s latest remarks in context
Donald Trump tweeted something controversial today. After Twitter controversies involving Boeing, terror attacks, and former President Bill Clinton, Trump has directed his attention towards the American nuclear arsenal. Thursday morning, Trump tweeted that “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” The impetus behind the tweet is unknown, but Trump may have been responding to the concerns of Boeing and Lockheed Martin executives after a Wednesday meeting, or to a rather similarly-worded statement from Russian President Vladimir Putin early Thursday.
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes
The government is dismantling a dormant program that was used to track people from Muslim-majority countries.
The Department of Homeland Security will take apart the vestiges of a controversial program that was used to register and track visitors from Muslim-majority countries, a move which will make it more difficult for Donald Trump to instate a registry system for Muslims once he takes office next month.
The change, which comes just four weeks before the end of President Obama’s last term, removes the skeleton of a program that hasn’t been in use since 2011. When it was active, the “special registration” program—the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS—had two parts, and applied only to people from 25 countries named by DHS. Twenty-four of them were Muslim-majority countries.
The Atlantic ’s editors and writers share their favorite titles—new, classic, or somewhere in between—from a year of reading.
Roadside Picnic is a book about aliens in which no aliens appear. Rather, one character hypothesizes, aliens seemed to have zipped carelessly around Earth and strewed it with trash—like roadside picnickers leaving behind wrappers and empty bottles. The scientists, smugglers, and other profiteers so drawn to these alien objects are but ants crawling through the picnic crumbs. Is this a book that makes you contemplate the smallness of humans? Absolutely. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly breezy title. Roadside Picnic was first written in Russian in 1972, and it is the very loose inspiration for the movie Stalker. An afterward to the 2012 English translation describes Soviet efforts to censor the book, which seems somehow newly relevant in America.
His tone and temperament haven’t changed since the campaign, and he’s poised to enter office with historically low approval ratings.
On the night in December 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount and effectively decided the presidential race for George W. Bush, the Texas governor delivered a nationally televised speech soon after Al Gore called him to concede.
Speaking from the stately chamber of the Texas House of Representatives, Bush seemed tentative, even nervous. But his message to a nation bitterly divided by his controversial victory was clear. “Here in a place where Democrats have the majority, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to do what is right for the people we represent,” Bush said. “The spirit of cooperation I have seen in this hall is what is needed in Washington, D.C. … Our nation must rise above a house divided.”
“I went to a job interview after my first daughter was born and cried the whole way home.”
This is the third story in a seven-part series looking at women’s ambitions in the years following college.
When we began interviewing our former classmates at Northwestern, we expected to encounter a few stay-at-home mothers. Even though no one in college had explicitly stated that they planned on stopping work to raise children, we understood that many women make this choice for a range of reasons. The Pew Research Center reports that 10 percent of highly educated mothers (those who earned a master’s degree or greater) stay home. We found that for the 37 women in our sorority’s 1993 graduating class, the percent was more than double: One-quarter are at home raising children—10 people, six of whom hold advanced degrees. These numbers surprised us, to put it mildly. We weren’t the only ones.
From fortified foods to nutrition labels, the legacy of an early financial crisis lives on in kitchens across the United States.
It’s difficult to imagine that modern Americans, at the zenith of an era of self-styled gastronomy and rampant food waste. could have much in common with their Depression-era forebears who subsisted (barely) on utilitarian liver loaves and creamed lima beans. But trendy excess notwithstanding, the legacy of the 1929 financial crisis lives on: From the way that ingredients and produce wend their paths to American kitchens year-round, to the tone taken by public intellectuals and elected officials about food consumption and diet.
The nation’s hunger and habits during the Great Depression are of particular interest to Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe, whose book A Square Meal offers a culinary history of an era not known for culinary glamour. The pair not only trace what Americans ate—when they were fortunate enough to secure food—but also the divergent philosophies that guided government strategy in the battle against widespread hunger. One enduring, easily caricatured figure of the crisis is former President Herbert Hoover, a self-made tycoon who knew deprivation as an orphan in Iowa and whose rise to the White House was hastened by his heroic work to alleviate hunger in Europe following the First World War. “He was the great humanitarian,” Coe told me recently over breakfast. “He had the skills, he had the knowledge, he’d done it before. Everything was there.”
The decline of a once-powerful majority is going to have profound implications.