Gender Wage Gap

Men make more money than women. Always have. Probably will for a long time to come. It’s the gender pay gap. Or pay inequity. A discrepancy by any other name would smell as unfair.

So, call it whatever. Measure it however. In virtually every apples to estrogen comparison, the bottom line tilts toward testosterone.

Today, for every dollar men earn in America, women make 82 cents. All men. All women. All races. As descriptors are added, the gap changes. For Asian women, that number jumps to 90 cents — thanks to more education, greater proportion of professional workers and cultural factors like parental expectations, according to the American Association of University Women. For most others, the numbers tank: non-Hispanic, 79 cents; African-American, 62 cents; American Indian, 57 cents; Latina, 54 cents.

For the top 2% of wage earners in America, the gender gap doubles. Business Insider reports women make just 39 cents for every dollar men make, partly because women are painfully underrepresented in higher levels of management.

State stats are even worse. In Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition found female full-time workers earn 77% of their male counterparts. Just 19% of women in this state have a four-year college degree; 20% haven’t completed high school. In a world where education equals earning power, Oklahoma lags far behind.

Women occupy just 29% of management positions in the state. Oklahoma ranks 38th in women’s median weekly earnings. And in the 22% of Oklahoma families where women are the single head of household, that pay gap affects the economic security of the state’s children.

In 2020, the top three jobs primarily held by women remain similar to past decades, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Teachers. Nurses. Administrative assistants (once known as secretaries).

Only 5% of women work in jobs not deemed “women’s jobs.” Jan Wilson, assistant professor of history at the University of Tulsa asks: “Do we choose to be teachers? What is choice? If it’s not from the full range of options, is it really a choice?”

Women have tried remedies — leaning in, recognizing their value, moving into male-dominated fields. Wilson notes a huge dropout rate for women in STEM jobs. “Women in those positions feel out of place, unsupported, in the classroom and on the job,” Wilson says. So they leave.

Various studies have found two things happen when women take over men’s occupations. Men leave. And salaries decline. The New York Times reported over the past two decades, as women took over jobs in the parks and recreation field, compensation dipped 57%. Until the Civil War, most nurses were men. Today, women nurses outnumber men, yet male nurses earn $6,000 more annually than females. Women physicians, on average, make less than men. Even within the same specialty.

“This is ideological. This is the gender frame,” Wilson says. “The biggest determinate of job and salary is gender.”

Why does this gap continue? If men were on the short end of the pay scale, what measures would men take to equalize it? What if women were better educated? If they were better negotiators?

Closing the pay gap isn’t as simple as pushing for one law or voting for one state question. The reasons are many; solutions are few. The fixes are vague and long-term, and require major behavioral shifts like corporate and societal changes.

A 2017 report by Wells Fargo attributes about 14% of the wage gap to experience. Many leave the workforce in their 30s because of family obligations. There’s also more men than women in the game.

“The mommy penalty/daddy reward is a real thing,” Wilson says. “For every child she has, a woman experiences a 5% wage penalty in lost benefits or salary. Yet men with kids make 11% more than men without kids.”

Wilson’s solution to the pay gap is creating a better institutional and social policy framework. But how?

The dance

“The idea of negotiating is new to many women, even those in the C-suite,” says Meg Myers Morgan, creator of the TEDx Talk, “Negotiating for Your Life.” She has individually coached more than 200 women to negotiate salaries/promotions, and hundreds more with her speaking engagements.

“There are subtle societal cues to be passive,” she says. Women worry about how they’ll be perceived if they negotiate. Greedy? Ungrateful? Bitchy? Yet in another Mars/Venus difference, men themselves don’t worry about how they’re perceived and are surprised women do, Morgan says, so it’s difficult to understand.

A Hewlett Packard internal report shows women disqualify themselves from many positions, applying for jobs only when they meet 100% of the qualifications. Men confidently toss their hats into the employment ring with only 60% of what employers are looking for.

Women who don’t know the mechanics of negotiation dutifully list their current salary on a job application. Big mistake. Any women who tells a prospective employer her current salary has already given away too much. “Your best leveraging is over before you take the job,” Morgan says.

Instead, she suggests asking what salary is budgeted for the job. “You get paid to do the job you do today, not the job you did yesterday,” she says.

“Most companies expect a counter,” she explains, and recommends a 10% bump. Something like, “Given my education and experience, I’d like to look at a salary of $__.”

Before negotiating, Morgan recommends compiling three data points: (1) a baseline range for the role from online resources such as Glassdoor, LinkedIn Salary, etc.; (2) speaking with someone else in your company in a comparable role; and (3) talking to someone in your network, especially in your industry at a competing company.

The Pace

For those hoping for a quick and easy solution to the pay gap issue, Liz Charles concedes, “There’s nothing new to make it less complex.”

She is the executive director of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, an advocacy organization working to advance gender equity and justice. Her research shows more than 60% of the gap can be explained by education, hierarchy and experience. That leaves more than 30% to “hidden things that are harder to put a finger on,” she says.

Nothing blatant. “It’s sneakier than that,” Charles suggests. “It’s more that they devalue or undervalue women.” Perks available to men — travel, training, mentorships, conferences, more education — aren’t made available to women in the same numbers, making it harder to get ahead.

The Coalition plans to advance such key legislative priorities as pay transparency and paid family leave by filing bills for the 2021 legislative sessions.

Workers have been taught not to talk about money (compensation) at work, and that secrecy becomes a culprit in the pay gap. Often, it’s just good manners to keep quiet. Although the federal National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from firing employees for discussing salaries, some businesses use that language in company policies, and have been known to demote or otherwise punish employees for having those conversations.

The idea behind pay transparency is to share, collect and report employment compensation data, which would promote fair pay within organizations and across industries. The advantage to companies is that pay transparency can help them attract and retain talent.

Men can help by standing up for women. Especially that woman who brings up a great idea in a meeting, but no one listens until a male colleague says the same thing and takes the credit. Women can defend themselves with a statement like, “Thanks, Fred. Glad to have your support for my idea.”

Women can also support candidates who will work for paid family leave, pay transparency, paid sick days and a higher minimum/living wage. Most importantly, Charles says, women can discuss these issues with their children and grandkids. “Do the cultural work of talking to daughters. And sons.”

The river

The pay gap fight is a little like the story about building the Hoover Dam. First, they had to move the Colorado River.

First, “We have to change the minds and behavior toward women and their work … convince people in everyday lives to think and behave differently,” says Oklahoma Policy analyst Courtney Cullison.

She says new policies are needed to share family responsibilities and take the burden off moms. OK Policy is an independent think tank that advocates for equitable and fiscally responsible policies — namely paid family and medical leave and an increased minimum wage.

The federal 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act provides employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for themselves or a family member. “This protection covers about 60% of the U.S. workforce,” she says. OK Policy wants a separate program, in addition to FMLA, that would provide paid family and medical leave to workers. OK Policy hasn’t specified a specific number of weeks.

This policy is gaining traction at the federal level with both parties because it addresses the situation at multiple levels — illness, birth, adoption, fathers’ leave and time to bond with newborns.

None of this is reality yet, but a direction in which to move forward. “It won’t be easy or quick,” Cullison warns. But the Colorado River was moved once. Then back again.

The treadmill

Women might have come a long way, baby, but the only federal legislation that speaks to equal pay for equal work was passed in 1963. The penalty for non-compliance remains at the 1963 rate: $100 per worker. That was about a week’s pay at that time. In current dollars, the weekly office coffee budget?

Multiple studies found the U.S. is one of only five countries that doesn’t guarantee paid leave. The others include Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Lesotho (in southern Africa) and Swaziland.

The hill

All women have the same equal-pay hill to climb, but different women start from different positions on that hill.

Charity Marcus is a local entrepreneur and co-founder of Black Women Business Owners of America, a business association that supports Black women entrepreneurs, business owners and founders with receiving access to resources to help grow their business. Marcus says Black women receive less than 1% of available venture capital or bank funding. “How can we fight for women’s equality when all of us don’t have equality?” she asks.

“We’re asked to fight battles we’re not equal to,” she adds. “Before we can get to women’s pay gap, we have to achieve race equality first. 

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