Closing The Gap

More women are the breadwinner at home, but most still say men treat them differently at work

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Thomas Barwick | Getty Images

Today, 49 percent of employed women in the United States, including 42 percent of working women with children, say they work primarily because they are their family's main breadwinner, according to a joint NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll. That's up from 37 percent in 2000. Unfortunately, the way women are treated in the workplace overall hasn't changed much.

The poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. adults, found that 52 percent of Americans say men do not treat women equally in the workplace while 61 percent of women say that their male counterparts fail to treat them as equals. Those numbers are virtually unchanged since the poll asked the same question in 1999.

What's more, 44 percent still say they've personally experienced discrimination because of their gender. That number hasn't improved either in almost 20 years.

Majorities of employed men don't believe that there's a significant gap in how women are paid, promoted and valued at their workplaces, the poll shows. In reality, women, on average, are paid 20 percent less than men. In industries like tech, they are offered lower starting salaries than their male counterparts for the same job at the same company 63 percent of the time, and, according to some employees, still experience discrimination even at companies like Google.

They also get stuck with the grunt work more often, including low-status and tedious tasks as opposed to more coveted assignments, according to the Harvard Business Review. It reports that women are "more likely than white men to report doing more office housework than their colleagues" while they "have less access to glamour work than white men do."

There are some signs of progress.

Perceptions of working women who are also raising children, for instance, have become more positive in the last two decades, according to the poll. In 2000, 46 percent of Americans said that more women working while raising children was a "positive development." Now, that share is up to 78 percent.

Newer women's movements such as "MeToo" and "Time's Up" have gained traction as they advocate for victims of gender inequality, sexual misconduct and sexism in the workplace. And nearly half, or 48 percent, of respondents say the "MeToo" movement has increased discussion about what's appropriate in their workplace, for example, the poll notes. Over half, or 58 percent, now say that the problem of sexual harassment is being appropriately addressed, and 67 percent say the changes will be long-term, up from 60 percent in December.

On a national scale, leaders such as Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, and California Senator Kamala Harris are trying to address the issue of gender inequality, including efforts to close the pay gap. Some business, like law firm Fisher Phillips, are following suit.

Corrie Hunt of Hart Research, which conducted the poll, sees room for improvement on a larger scale, though.

"While Americans have become less judgmental about working mothers, this is a story about taking one step forward and one step back," she says. Americans have become "more willing to say the right things about women in the workplace, but we haven't put the supports in place to back it up. Our words have not yet been put into actions."

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