Pay Equity and the Gender Debate

Friday, April 11, 2014
posted by elizabeth @ 11:15 AM

Pay Equity Day was this week.   I have written on this issue before.  And, I will continue to write on the issue to ensure that women are not depicted as victims.  I am tired of that.  In order to gain political footing, some claim misleading information about women’s pay and equality.   What women need is a strong economy, employers who can reward those who work hard, and the acknowledgement that women are already doing great.  

What are the facts?  First let’s start off abolishing this myth that women make 77% percent of a man’s salary.   This faulty statistic compares all jobs evenly across the board.  So, women teaching school (at all levels of tenure, education, and regional differences) are compared with off shore oil rig drillers (a profession dominated by men).   Not a fair comparison. Furthermore, if women were such a cheap source of labor, wouldn’t men be standing in long lines at the unemployment office? 

In reality, if we factor in education, experience, and position, women make almost as much as men.   In fact, women earn more higher education degrees on all levels – bachelor, masters, and Ph.Ds. than men.   Where a difference in education lies, isn’t in quality or quantity, it is in the field of study.  Women tend to choose majors in education and liberal arts.  Men are more likely to choose engineering and finance.   Furthermore, men largely pick jobs that are more risky such as truck driving, oil field services, or construction.  Higher risk jobs tend to pay more.  Whether the Progressives like it or not, women do tend to stay home with children, thereby losing some years of experience in the workforce and/or taking flexible jobs.   For example, 44% of female physicians worked part-time in 2011 (part time male physicians accounted for 22%) (American Medical Group Assn.)

The difference in incomes is closer to 97%.  This can be accounted for by women choosing more flexible options, not working as long hours, and not negotiating salary as well.   None of these make women discriminated against or inequitable.  While the system may not be perfect, the rhetoric presents a false premise.

Now that we know the 77% statistic is not accurate, why did the U.S. Senate vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act last week (blocked by a Republican Filibuster)?  Well, it’s an election year and women are a hot demographic.  The bill was not helpful for women, though.  Why?   The bill would have automatically added women to class action law suits without their written consent and required the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to collect pay information from employers for starters.

This legislation would have actually been harmful to women.  Employers would no longer be able to use education, training, and experience for salary differences unless they could prove the education or training was a “business necessity.”  (Independent Women’s Forum).   Really?  Is that how we want our society to function?  You are given a job and a salary as a one size fits all – your motivation, experience, and education is irrelevant?   And, by the way, gender discrimination for employment is already illegal as passed in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, and amended in 1963 with the Equal Pay Act.

Then, we have the Lily Ledbetter Act.  On the federal level, this legislation passed and was signed into law in 2009.  In Texas, the issue has been in the news recently again as gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis debate the usefulness of the legislation (it passed both the Texas State Senate and House in 2013 and was vetoed by Governor Perry).   Knowing that pay discrimination is already illegal in the United States, the Lily Ledbetter Act is a legal maneuver allowing women to move their date of alleged salary discrimination for their court cases.  The legislation provides an unfair burden on employers who could be held responsible for decisions made decades ago by past leadership or supervisors.  

Women have not always had the opportunities that we have today.  Women have fought hard for economic growth, upward mobility, and to be treated as professional equals. Let’s not succumb to being portrayed as victims.  

Elizabeth Biar
April 10, 2014

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