Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Gender and Pay

Generations after women first began to demand social and political rights, we are still struggling.

It almost seems like a worse kind of struggle, because it’s a struggle that many people refuse to see. Instead, they choose to believe that men and women are finally on equal footing. It’s 2014, after all. We must be equal by now, right?

The website of the American Association of University Women states the facts of the issue. In 2012, women received 77 percent of the pay that men received. It was even worse in Wyoming: women received 64 percent of the pay that men received. Hispanic women got the worst deal, receiving 53 percent of the pay that white men received, white men being the largest demographic in the workforce. The pay gap exists in almost all occupations. It increases as women grow older. The amount or quality of a woman’s education does not exempt her from this pay gap. Women without children are also not exempt: a study done by the AAUW discovered that women from a group of full-time working, recent college graduates — most of whom had no children — received 82 percent of the pay received by their male peers.

Now, that last finding is particularly interesting because one of the things we might surmise is that maternity leave contributes to the pay gap. It makes sense in theory: the time taken during maternity leave is time spent not earning money by the woman and time spent earning money by her male coworkers. But if recent female college graduates are earning less than their male peers right away, that tells us something. That tells us that this is not about women having to do woman things like giving birth to children. This is a systemic, institutional problem.

According to an article by Think Progress, women held only 14.3 percent of executive positions at Fortune 500 companies in 2012. Of the country’s highest earning jobs, women earn 8 percent. Some might argue that in the business world, one must be particularly aggressive and assertive in order to obtain a top executive position. They might argue that men get more of these executive positions because they are just naturally this way, more so than women.

Here’s why that argument is completely invalid: we can’t just lump a personality type with a gender. It doesn’t work that way. Personalities don’t work like that. Yes, men and women obviously have biological differences, but you cannot say that because a man is a man, he will naturally be more aggressive and assertive than a woman. It’s just not true. There are plenty of aggressive and assertive females in the world. There are also plenty of demure, timid males in the world. Males and females are not cookie cutters.

The AAUW presents a few possible solutions to the gender pay gap problem. They urge companies to perform salary audits; women to improve their pay negotiation skills; and political or presidential action. They support the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is scheduled to be voted on by the Senate this month. The purpose of this Act is to improve the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by requiring employers to demonstrate that pay differences are not related to gender, and by allowing employees to talk about their salaries without being punished by their employers.

It was actually just recently announced that President Obama is going to sign two executive orders on equal pay. One bars federal contractors from punishing employees who discuss their salary information, and the other demands that the Department of Labor establish updated regulations on federal contractors reporting wage-related data. This is a positive step, but executive orders can only do so much. It would take legislation enacted by Congress to extend these regulations to non-federal employers.

Perhaps because I have become somewhat disillusioned with the effectiveness of Congress, I am not inclined to put much faith in political methods of solving this problem. Nor am I inclined to rely on companies to monitor their own salary practices. Nevertheless, it is my belief that this problem cannot be solved simply by women being more aggressive with their careers and by working harder. The problem in the first place is that women who are working as hard as their male coworkers are still earning less for no apparent reason. Thus, I know that it will take authoritative political action to change the institutional issues and fully eradicate the problem. But I do not expect this to happen in a very timely manner. So I think that meanwhile, it would be helpful for women to adopt a changed mind set. It is so easy for us to forget or ignore this pay gap. It is so easy for us to believe that we are going into the workforce judged and paid solely based on our performance. Women must go into the workforce aware and mindful of this gap. We must be ready to defend the pay that we deserve. We must be loud about this issue, if only to make it public and to spur the political process along. We have been fighting for ourselves for well over a century. We will continue to do so.

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