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'Binders full of women' comment sparks discrimination discussion

When Mitt Romney uttered the phrase 'binders full of women' during the second presidential debate, he prompted a national discussion about pay inequity and women in the workplace. The problem of gender discrimination in hiring and employment is still real and very present in the American workplace.

Though it can be difficult to detect gender discrimination in the form of pay inequity (as most companies don't make the salaries of fellow employees public knowledge), the reality that women make a fraction of every dollar that their male colleagues make is fairly standard at this point.

Some argue that the pay disparity between men and women is the direct result of women's choices to pursue family over career, years spent away from the workforce, less education and the lower-paying work many women choose to pursue. However, when two professors at Cornell conducted a study to account for these "human capital" factors, they still came up with a 9-percent pay gap between men and women that cannot be explained away by these elements of "women's work."

In essence, according to this study, roughly 9 percent of the nationally averaged pay gap between men and women is likely the result of discrimination, institutional bias and/or some other gender-specific factor that cannot be explained by measureable human capital forces.

The 'binders full of women' comment will likely be largely forgotten once the campaigns wrap up in these final weeks. However, the gender discrimination and pay inequity that women face in the workplace is not likely to disappear without significant action on the part of regulators, employers and employees alike.

Source: The Atlantic, "Why Are Women Paid Less?" Jordan Weissmann, Oct. 17, 2012

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