U.S. women far from equality, lawmaker's book says

NEW YORK Wed Jun 25, 2008 3:29pm EDT

An United Airlines employee works behind a check-in counter at O'Hare International airport in Chicago, June 4, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

An United Airlines employee works behind a check-in counter at O'Hare International airport in Chicago, June 4, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Despite Hillary Clinton's success, U.S. women remain held back by glass ceilings, lower pay, child-bearing responsibilities and sexism, a female lawmaker says in a new book backed up by survey results.

"We tell girls and young women in this country that if they work hard and play by the rules, they can achieve anything. But guess what -- they can't," Rep. Carolyn Maloney, an eight-term Democratic congresswoman from New York, told Reuters in an interview.

Maloney's publisher commissioned a Harris Interactive Poll on U.S. women to coincide with the release of her first book, "Rumors of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated."

The book and the national poll of 1,000 women conducted in April paint a bleak picture of gender equality in the United States, from wages to reproductive freedom.

For example, while nearly every woman in the poll say the country is closer to gender equality than it was 20 years ago, some 90 percent believe they do not get equal pay for the same work as their male colleagues.

That belief is well founded, Maloney writes. Women in the United States are paid on average only three-quarters the salary of their male counterparts, she said.

The disparity is higher among women in managerial positions, whose salaries are on average lower today than in 1983, Maloney writes.

'CULTURAL STEREOTYPES'

Meanwhile, the number of women in executive management positions fell to 19 percent in 2000 from 32 percent in 1990, according to U.S. Census data.

"The problem is not just a result of faulty legislation, but also of deeply rooted cultural stereotypes," Maloney said.

Working mothers face further obstacles, she said, and the poll found 72 percent of respondents said having children hurts women's careers.

Working mothers tend to be passed over for promotions, marginalized if they seek flexible or part-time schedules and are the first to be fired during downsizing, Maloney said.

"Becoming a mother blows up a woman's career," she said. "After couples have children, fathers' incomes tend to go north while mothers' incomes go south."

Single mothers in particular are victims of harassment and discrimination, the book said. Almost 60 percent say they have received sexual comments or lewd gestures in the workplace.

"The days of blatant sexism and harassment in the workplace may be gone," Maloney said. "But more subtle forms of discrimination are still alive and well."

The book, co-written with Bruce Corwin, is not entirely bad news. Weaving in stories of real women, Maloney presents "take action" guides and practical ways to promote change.

She also points to advances in companies such as accounting firm KPMG, which offers nontraditional work arrangements, and the rise of women such as U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Clinton, the presidential candidate edged out by Barack Obama for the Democratic Party nomination.

"But the fact remains that for every Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Oprah Winfrey, millions of women are held back by gender bias that permeates virtually every realm of American society."

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Xavier Briand)

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