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The Workplace Bias Against Women You're Not Even Aware Of

Photograph by Twenty20

Everyone's pretty familiar with the persistent wage gap between men and women in America. White, college-educated women make, on average, 79 cents to every dollar a man in the U.S. makes. The gap is even wider for women of color.

Hiring, promotions, even who gets to speak up the most and without consequence is a gendered subject at U.S. companies. There's something else, too, as Dawn Bovass, a creative diretor at an agency in Boston, points out in a recent issue of Fortune magazine.

Rules about when and what can get filed on expense reports also discriminate against women, she says.

She first noticed it when the head of her agency organized a dinner out to celebrate Bovasso's department. For Bovasso, a single mom, the "gift" would cost her $200. She'd have to organize and pay for a sitter and the expenses that go along with that. The men, some dads, who booked hotel rooms so they wouldn't have to drink and drive home could expense their accomodations. Their wives, presumably, could take care of the kids "for free."

RELATED: Politics of the Gender Wage Gap: Facts

And she was just getting started. Bovasso points out tax codes decide what expeneses companies can write off, which is how companies decide what is reimbursable: hotel rooms, yes; babysitting, no. Dry-cleaners and laundry when on a work trip, yes, but not so much for those things in daily life. (Her argument: the men could do their laundry while on the road, but the expensing criteria presumes he can't because his wife isn't there to do it. Same for dinner, which is also expensable for travel but not at home.)

"When the male leaders of this world travel, there is an embedded assumption that they have women at home maintaining the hearth, cooking their meals, taking care of their children, feeding their dogs, watering their plants. They do not need to pay for these services, because it is built in as part of the traditional family unit. They don’t need to pay for babysitting, though they do need drinks and they definitely cannot do their own laundry. You can get $30 for takeout if you work late (because your wife isn’t there to cook you dinner) or $30 for scotch if you want to drink your face off, but you can’t get $30 for a sitter (because your wife is at home with the kids)."

RELATED: The Politics of Affordable Childcare: Facts

If it sounds like a stretch, it's because we've internalized these ideas about life on the road. Why wouldn't she be able to be reimbursed for babysitting that night? (A sympathetic boss totally did reimburse her, but all the risk had been on Bovasso to go through with the dinner, not knowing). Childcare can't be expensed, and it's also not subsidized. The system—society, corporations, lawmakers—place the entire burden of that on low-wage workers and families with kids, though society, corporations and lawmakers benefit from the arrangement (which, thanks to the wage gap, is often most logically a task performed by women, aka: mothers).

Bovasso isn't just nickel-and-diming us with complaints, she's got real solutions. At the very least, childcare outside of her regular work day should be among the items (Like scotch! And cab rides!), an allowed expense. It's no longer just a man's world at the office or at home. So let's pony up the money accordingly.

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Photograph by: Dawn Bovasso via Fortune

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