Breaking Down Barriers, One Goal at a Time

I’ve always been a huge fan of soccer. As a Uruguayan, I often joke that our chief exports aren’t really soybeans, but soccer fanatics. Whenever the World Cup rolls around, I never miss a game, and I was devastated when Uruguay was knocked out by Colombia last summer. And let’s not even speak of this year’s embarrassing performance in the Copa America. But as much as Uruguay is soccer-obsessed, it’s always disconcerting to me that they have no significant female soccer presence on the global stage. The United States, however, is a whole different matter.

On July 5th, the United States beat Japan 5-2 in an astounding display of skill and sheer passion, rightly winning the title of World Champions. Carli Lloyd’s Hat Trick, which happened within the first sixteen minutes of play, was greeted in my living room with open mouths, incredulous laughter, and “can you believe that just happened??” stares. Although Japan made a good attempt to even the score, the game was truly a world class performance from world class players. This historic win, which makes it the United States Women’s National Team’s (USWNT) third World Title since 1999, can be seen as a manifestation of the legacy of Title IX, which was signed a little over 43 years ago.

Title IX has vastly increased female participation in sports: the number of girls playing sports in high school has increased tenfold since it was signed, and six times as many women now compete in college athletics. But as much as Title IX is known for increasing equality in athletics, its impact goes far beyond sports.

Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination in all federally funded programs and allows more women to participate in male-dominated activities. The law has had a huge role in expanding opportunities for women in not just the sports arena, but, less often recognized, in women’s access to educational and job training opportunities – where they remain underrepresented.

Under Title IX, programs that receive federal funding are prohibited from discriminating against students on the basis of sex and federal grants even require schools to take proactive steps to ensure women and girls have equal access to educational resources. The law applies to K-12 educational opportunities as well as postsecondary education. One example from the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education’s Title IX at 40 report describes the breadth of Title IX protections, even beyond sexual harassment, pregnancy, and athletics. “[I]f the use of a counseling test or other instrument results in a substantial underrepresentation of women in STEM courses, the school must take action to ensure that such disproportion is not the result of discrimination in the instrument, its application, or counseling practices in order to be in compliance with Title IX.”

In STEM fields, the percentage of female workers is actually declining; WOW’s fact sheet on Women in Technology reports not only on this unequal gender representation, but on their difference in pay; technology occupations with the highest percent female have the lowest earnings. Women face many obstacles in not just getting degrees in these fields, but also in their integration and retention into these male-dominated jobs. Barriers include lack of mentors, role models, and gender and cultural support. This lack of support can account for the large percentage of women who graduate with STEM degrees, but then find themselves unable to continue with STEM as a career and emphasizes the importance of Title IX in expanding women’s access to and success in these jobs.

BLS STEM Wages

Beyond STEM, early education and exposure to career and technical education (CTE) and non-traditional jobs, such as trades, opens the door for high-paying and rewarding careers; careers where women have also seen societal and systematic barriers to entry. CTE is offered in middle and high schools, career and technical centers, and other postsecondary institutions to increase the total pool of skilled workers. Traditionally, women have been clustered in retail sales, services, and clerical positions, all of which have a medium pay far below male-dominated jobs.

NCWGE Women Earnings

According to a report done by the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE), a traditionally female job, such as an administrative assistant, makes an average wage of $32,000 per year, while working as a surveying technician (a non-traditional job for women), makes an average of $63,000. It is important to note that Title IX has also helped men gain access fast-growing non-traditional jobs as well, such as nursing.

In fact, Title IX is responsible for ending the practice of boys being funneled into shop and woodworking classes while girls took home economics. The law made it illegal for educational institutions to direct students into coursework by gender and required schools to, like STEM education, ensure the disproportionate representation in courses was not caused by discriminatory practices.

Although early education and access to these occupations can make great strides towards closing the wage gap, failures in implementation and enforcement undermine its effectiveness. Tracking of this data, incentives for increasing women’s participation in nontraditional occupations, and resources for effective recruitment, such as WOW’s Pink-to-Green Toolkit are all essential for equal access to CTE.

The United States Women’s National Team is a symbol for the continuous push for equal representation and equal treatment in the athletic and academic worlds. They are paving the way for a wider cultural acceptance of women in a traditionally male role, and soccer is one of the many avenues where women are not only able to dominate, but dominate on a global level.

 

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