Politicians Talking About Pay Equity

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Today is Pay equity day, and state and national politicians are talking about how women earn less than men.

If you tweet, you can follow the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), @EEOCNews, and tweet questions under the hashtag #talkpay to the EEOC chairwoman, and to U.S. Rep Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd district. The chat runs from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

What these statistics mean is often misunderstood — much of the difference is because male-dominated fields often pay more than female-dominated ones.

As I wrote in 2010:

Women’s pay is lower than men’s for a variety of reasons, so there’s no single answer and no simple explanation about what it means.

But data from the U.S. Census shows that the gap in Connecticut is wider than elsewhere for the same reason Connecticut has a huge gap between rich and poor: Famously, the state has more than its share of super-earners — and they tend to be men.

Nationally, the biggest reason that women make less is because they are concentrated in professions that have more modest salaries. Nearly all secretaries are women, 2.7 million nationwide; managers are majority men. Less than one-third of attorneys are women, but 88 percent of paralegals are women. Women are much more likely to be a poorly-paid cashier than a well-paid construction worker.

The gap has been shrinking, more slowly in recent years than in the ’80s. But while new data isn’t available yet, the ’08-’09 recession and slow recovery could be narrowing the gap more quickly. That’s because unemployment hit typically male professions especially hard.

But pay differences between professions is just one piece of the gap. Even within the same profession, women have almost always have lower salaries than the men. For attorneys, it’s 74 cents. For doctors, it’s 61 cents. For pharmacists, it’s 92 cents. For insurance underwriters, it’s 70 cents.

Jennifer Cheeseman Day, a statistician with the U.S. Census, detailed the gaps within jobs. The lingering effects of employment discrimination 35 and 40 years ago isn’t the answer — the proportion of women among the older workers in a job did not determine the relative pay, she found.

She said the fields where the gap is smaller are those where there aren’t many outliers, or what she called “super earners.”

In almost every case, women and men at the bottom of the scale in each job are close to each other, if not at nearly identical wages — even if that floor is well above minimum wage.

But in fields where there are more super earners, men are far, far more likely to be the big winners.

Take lawyers. The 90th percentile of women earn on average $200,000 a year, meaning that’s the pay level where 10 percent earn more and 90 percent earn less, for that profession. The 90th percentile of men earn on average a little more than $300,000. Chief executives have the same pattern by gender.

Day said what’s harder to understand is in low-paid professions, why men still earn more than women.

In her study, based on national data, the median wage for a woman working full-time cashier was under $20,000; for a man, it was $25,000.

“When you look at cashiers, why do men get paid more than women? It doesn’t make sense,” Day said. “Maybe they’re in an area that’s more unionized?”

The number of women going into blue-collar male-dominated fields is not changing as rapidly as, say, the number of women going for MBAs, now at 40 percent.

Among the majority of Americans who haven’t gone to college, women’s earning power is hurt by their decisions to go into low-paid child care, say, rather than moderately paid welding.

Feminism had a bigger effect on college-educated women than on the majority of workers who don’t have a degree.

“If you look at the extent of women’s entry into traditionally male jobs, we have a lot of successes in the formerly male professional jobs,” said Francine Blau, a Cornell economist who studies the reasons for the pay gap. “But there’s been much less change in the blue-collar arena.”

After occupational segregation the biggest reason for the pay gap is women taking time off to raise children.

Even though these data compare a year when both the women and men worked full-time, and didn’t take any leave, women who return to the workforce after a period of part-time work or homemaking usually take a hit that lasts for years.

But researchers, even after they’ve controlled for this effect, still see a gap of 12 percent for married women with children, according to Catherine Hill, who has studied the gap for the American Association of University Women.

The gap for childless, early career women is 5 percent.

Some of the difference may be because women often don’t feel empowered to negotiate for a higher salary offer when they’re hired.

That was the experience of Lee Miller, who wrote A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating with one of his daughters. He worked as the head of human resources at three Fortune 1000 companies before writing the book 10 years ago.

“It’s rare that your first offer is your best and final offer,” Miller said, speaking from the company’s perspective. Men understand this, he said, and he can’t remember any time he hired a man who didn’t ask for more money, or more vacation, or more perks. “Very, very significant numbers of women accepted the offer” with no negotiation, he said. That means they frequently left money on the table.

Miller believes younger women are finally shaking free of the idea that they might anger an employer by asking for more. “Younger women, once they learn how to negotiate, are not afraid to negotiate,” he said, and he thinks their wider participation in sports since Title IX changed scholastic sports is a factor.

Talking about salary needs to wait, he cautioned.

“Early on in the process, before they decide on you, it can’t help you to talk about money. Either you’ll ask for too little, and you’ll get it,” or you can price yourself out of the running, he said. But once the company has offered you a job, and has named a salary, you have leverage, even in today’s terrible economy. The best way to negotiate well is to research what people in that firm make at that job. If you can find out what your predecessor made, even better.

“No one that I know, in all my years of negotiating, lost a job offer because they asked for something,” Miller said.

But it’s not just timidity holding women back. Subtle discrimination — even subconscious bias — does explain some of the gap, researchers agree. For instance, when orchestras started auditioning musicians from behind a screen, more women were hired.

“To what extent are we seeing discrimination, and to what extent is it choices of men and women?” Blau asked. “It seems discrimination still exists.”

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