Value: The Plight for Women?

Ebonni N. Bryant, Entrepreneur and Business Consultant, The Idea, Inc., NLC Broward County

While pay equity has been positioned as a “women’s issue,” the pay gap problem does not begin with women and how they are compensated for work. It begins with how citizens value women proportionately to men. The career choices one makes today are intrinsically linked to many variables including family, fulfillment, and/or autonomy regardless of gender. Some argue the gender pay gap results not from discrimination, but from the fact that men work more hours and can commit to more responsibilities. Others suggest the formula used to determine the pay gap is skewed. The gender pay gap, however, exists even when accounting for these differences and has been documented by organizations and councils internationally. The gap ranges from 36.6 percent in South Korea to 5.6 percent in New Zealand. [1] In the United States, the Equal Pay Act was enacted in 1963 which prohibits gender discrimination between men and women for equal work. When the Equal Pay Act was enacted, women made less than 60 percent of what men made. [2] While we have made great strides since then, it could take decades to completely close this discrimination gap.

For gender equity to exist, we must look at the values and needs of men and women and consider a cultural assessment of our bias towards women and the role government has in improving work conditions, both within the workplace and at home. The realities of the modern workplace must also be assessed including compensation, family leave, and work/life balance.

The Value of Women

Women comprise almost 50 percent of the workforce. They are the sole or co-breadwinner in half of American families with children. They receive more college and graduate degrees than men. Yet, on average, women continue to earn considerably less than men. In 2015, female full-time, year-round workers made only 80 cents per dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 20 percent. [3] If current trends continue, hispanic women will wait 232 years for equal pay; black women will wait 108 years. [4] While the discussion regarding women and their pay is largely focused on the statistical data, we are not asking ourselves the right questions to lead to a more nuanced conversation about the continued existence of the pay gap in addition to these alarming statistics. It is paramount, both politically and socially, that we look at how men and women prioritize different aspects of their life to rethink how we will compensate our future workforce. A study from the University of Delaware indicated men and women value the same aspects of work, but ranked them differently. Men valued pay, money, and benefits as well as power, authority, and status significantly more than women did. Women valued the following significantly more than men did: friends and relationships, recognition and respect, communication, fairness and equity, teams and collaboration, family and home. The results also indicated that men underestimate and are generally unaware of women’s work-related values. In comparison, women overestimate how men value pay, money, and benefits, power, authority, and status. [5]

Parenthood is another source of disparity between men and women. Research has found that we do not value a working mother the same way we value a working father. While men are financially rewarded for being working fathers, working mothers are penalized. The disadvantages are not limited to pay. Research shows that describing a consultant as a mother leads evaluators to rate her as less competent than when she is described as not having children. Similarly, other studies show that visibly pregnant women managers are judged as less committed to their jobs, less dependable, and less authoritative, but warmer, more emotional, and more irrational than otherwise equal women managers who are not visibly pregnant. [6]

This dynamic is most extreme for the parents who can least afford it, according to new data from Michelle Budig, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who has studied the parenthood pay gap for 15 years. High-income men get the biggest pay bump for having children, and low-income women pay the biggest price. [7] This motherhood penalty impacts all, since a financially strong household strengthens the economy. Mothers experience disadvantages in the workplace in addition to those commonly associated with gender. For example, two recent studies find that employed mothers in the United States suffer a per-child wage penalty of approximately 5 percent, on average, after controlling for the usual human capital and occupational factors that affect wages. [8] The opportunity here is to evaluate benefits packages, pay scales, and bonuses based on skill, education, and productivity. Findings suggest that how we view women in roles dominated by men can result in lower pay for women. [9] Can the monetary value we place on women be brought into the twenty-first century? If so, what role can government play in shaping our nexus to the future of work and equality?

The Productivity Myth

Explanations for the differences in pay for men and women include productivity, ability to work longer hours, and ability to ask and receive a raise. These explanations are, however, inadequate. There is no evidence to support the idea that a productivity gap between men and women explains the wage gap. In fact, there does not exist a standard definition of productivity across industries and sectors. One likely reason for the lack of workplace productivity measures is that it is inherently problematic to fully specify what makes someone a good or productive employee. This difficulty leads to another: unexplained gaps in wages between two groups (e.g., employed mothers and non-mothers) can always be attributed to unmeasured productivity differences between the two groups. [10] The same lack of criteria also hurts women of color. In fact, black and Hispanic women vie for last place on the earnings pyramid at every level of education. Routinely, when pay equity analyses are done for corporations, the employees whose actual salaries are greater than two standard deviations higher than their predicted salary, based on job-related variables such as market value, time served, and performance ratings, are white men. [11] Measuring productivity simply by number of hours logged also fails as a metric because it fails to account for worker efficiency. It is suggested by opponents of the women’s pay gap analysis that if a gap exists it is because men are more likely to clock longer hours at work, get more work done and therefore adding more value to their agency, organization, or company. The issue is we do not politically or economically recognize the role a working parent plays both during paid and unpaid working hours. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development considers the work done to build community, bear children and take care of a home, jobs done by men and women, but not considered when opponents of the pay gap reference “productivity”. In the Global Gender Gap Index from the World Economic Forum, women work almost 9 hours a day where men work almost 8 hours a day. When you compare the 5 hours of unpaid work performed by women to the less than 1.5 hours of unpaid work performed by men, we are not adequately valuing the impact women have on the continued evolution of our society.

In explaining the gender pay gap, others point to a gap in self-confidence in women as compared to men. Through their research for the book “Womenomic”, authors Claire Shipman and Katty Kay suggest that women are less confident than men and that this plays a factor in career advancement and pay. “In our jobs and our lives, we walk among people you would assume brim with confidence. And yet our experience suggests that the power centers of this nation are zones of female self-doubt — that is, when they include women at all.” [12] Again, we see that men become the barometer for success and therefore women must live up to this linear view of confidence to experience “different but equal” and, as an extension, lack of fair pay and benefits. Culturally, politically, and economically, if the gap in pay occurs in part due to a lack of self-confidence when it comes to pay raise, contract negotiations and/or career advancement, human resources can shift this perspective through continued education and leadership development.

Assessing Pay and Benefits

In Massachusetts, Congress enacted a law that forbids employers from requesting an employee to reveal their salary history. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed H.B. 314 into law in 2016, making it illegal for employers to require employees to sign a document waiving the right to discuss salaries with other workers. [13] States can set an example for federal legislation, as well as for being on the right side of history. Legislation like this can go a long way to ensure women earn equal pay. We can do this on a federal level. As of 2017, 17 states have “pay secrecy” laws essentially prohibiting employers from making it difficult for employees to learn how much male employees are earning. In 2016, California made it easier for women to push for any perception of pay inequities. The new California Fair Pay Act broadens that prohibition by stating that bosses cannot pay employees less than those of the opposite sex for “substantially similar work,” even if their titles are different or they work at different sites. [14] Legislation included in the California Pay Act includes makes it illegal to penalize an employee for conversing with a colleague about pay. We can use these legislations as a model for federal policies. Additionally, the tendency to answer every problem with policy can sometimes leave those most affected by bias on the outside of the conversation. Non-profit organizations with a mission focused on women and minorities would go a long way to prevent conversations like this from missing those who will benefit from it most by having a national conversation and campaign on the modern-day workplace, how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.

Reexamining and assessing how we value women and the workforce is an integral piece to closing the pay gap. We must recognize the strengths women and men bring to not only the boardroom, but also toward the betterment of society. The way we work, how we define work, and how we are compensated continues to evolve while antiquated policies are entrenched in our careers, affecting our ability to be economically in-line with our male equals. These systemic inequities can be solved with the help of a greater cultural conversation about strengths and priorities for men and women. It is incumbent upon us as a society to rally our local elected officials around policies that have proven successful in other areas of the country. While we do not always recognize these bias in our day to day lives, data and dated policies tell a different story and we have the forward-thinking values as progressives to ensure pay gap is diminished for the generations that come.

[1] Holmes, Kaitlin, and Danielle Corley. “International Approaches to Closing the Gender Wage Gap.” Center for American Progress. April 4, 2017. Accessed May 16, 2017.

[2] Colburn, Courtney. “New Government Policies Attempt to Address Gender Wage Gap.” Berkeley Public Policy Journal. April 18, 2017. Accessed May 21, 2017.

[3] Hegewisch, Ariane, and Emma Williams-Baron. “The Gender Wage Gap by Occupation 2016; and by Race and Ethnicity.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research. April 4, 2017. Accessed April 23, 2017.

[4] “If Current Trends Continue, Hispanic Women Will Wait 232 Years for Equal Pay; Black Women Will Wait 108 Years.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research. October 31, 2017. Accessed April 23, 2017.

[5] Peterson, Michael. “What men and women value at work: implications for workplace health.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. December 2004. Accessed July 14, 2017.

[6] Correll, Shelley, and Stephen Benard. “Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty?”. March 2007. Accessed June 2, 2017.

[7] Miller, Claire Cain. “A Child Helps Your Career, if You’re a Man.” The New York Times. September 06, 2014. Accessed May 31, 2017.

[8] Correll, Shelley, and Stephen Benard. “Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty?”. March 2007. Accessed June 2, 2017.

[9] Cain Miller, Claire. “As Women Take Over a Male-Dominated Field, the Pay Drops”. March 2016. Accessed June 1, 2017.

[10] Correll, Shelley, and Stephen Benard. “Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty?”. March 2007. Accessed June 2, 2017.

[11] Ashton, Deborah. “Does Race or Gender Matter More to Your Paycheck?” June 10, 2014. Accessed April 14, 2017.

[12] Kay, Katty and Claire Shipman. “The Confidence Gap”. May 2014. Accessed April 23, 2017.

[13] Zoppo, Avalon and Sam Petulla. “See What Your State Is Doing to Close the Gender Wage Gap”. April 2017. Accessed June 2, 2017.

[14] McGreevy, Patrick and Chris Megerian. “California now has one of the toughest equal pay laws in the country”. October 2015. Accessed July 15, 2017.

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