Equal pay discussion won’t end soon

April 13, 2012

Rosie the RiveterDo we still need Equal Pay Day to remind us that women are not paid on a par with their male counterparts? Apparently, we do!

Despite 50 years of advocacy and legislative efforts, equal pay for equal work remains elusive for millions of women. And, with one-third of employed mothers serving as the sole wage earner for her household, unequal pay is as much a family issue as it is a women’s issue. Lower wages for these women mean fewer choices and opportunities for their children as well.

Equal Pay Day illustrates the extra time women must work in order to earn the same wages as men do in one year. In short, the average woman must work from Jan. 1, 2011, through April 17, 2012, to earn the same income the average man earned from Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2011 – more than three more months. Data from 2011 indicate that women are, on average, paid only 82.2 cents for every dollar earned by men. The gap is even larger for women of color: African-American women earn an average of 69.5 cents and Hispanic women earn 60.5 cents for every dollar earned by men. As women grow older, the gap widens.

Concerns about the wage gap between men and women are too often dismissed as the result of other, non-discriminatory factors: level of education, family choices, career path, and years of experience. However, research that controls for these factors makes it clear that there is still a gap in wages that cannot be explained by any factor other than the individual’s sex.

As the president of a women’s college, I am appalled that one year after graduating college, women earn approximately 80 percent of men’s wages in the same stage of their careers. Ten years after graduation, that number shrinks to 69 percent. In all, it is estimated that a college-educated woman will lose more than $400,000 during her lifetime because of wage gaps. Despite the increasing number of women earning advanced degrees, the wage gap persists – and is even accentuated – at higher levels of education. Research compiled by the American Association of University Women found that the wage gap is greater for women with professional degrees and Ph.D.s than for women with lower levels of education.

This disturbing evidence of a consistent, across-the-board wage gap is clear as an increasing number of women have entered careers that have traditionally been the province of men, such as medicine, science, finance and law. And while these women are often earning more than women in other industries, they lag behind their male counterparts. Wage data show that women in computer science earn approximately 78.2 cents for every dollar earned by men in the same industry. In law, they earn 77.7 cents per dollar; in medicine, 72 cents per dollar; in financial management, 66.1 cents per dollar.

There are also wide regional differences in the average wage gap. Washington, D.C., has the smallest gap at 88.2 cents per dollar, and Louisiana has the largest gap at 66.4 cents per dollar. California has consistently ranked as one of the states with the greatest wage parity, with an average woman earning 82.7 cents per dollar earned by men. While some might be inclined to celebrate progressive accomplishments, the differences and snail’s pace illuminate just how far we must travel to achieve wage equality. Progress has slowed since the early 1990s, and at the current pace of increase, it will take until 2056 before we achieve wage parity.

As a delegate to Vision 2020, a national initiative convening allies and women leaders from across the United States with the purpose to advance women’s equality by the year 2020, I can assure you that we are committed to closing the gap in the next eight years. We will not wait that long. In fact, Vision 2020 is working to amplify and increase leadership opportunities for women in all aspects of American life.

What can be done to remedy the wage gap? While there are several legislative avenues, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act, which seek to provide equal pay protection, this multi-dimensional problem will not be solved solely by regulations. Employers can and should take their own initiative to audit worker compensation, check for gender equality, and take steps to correct inequity. With the number of female college graduates beginning to outstrip their male counterparts in numerous fields, it is time for employers to take notice and take action. And women themselves must serve as their own best advocates beginning with their first career contract. The price is too high to demand anything less.

I am confident that with the collective wisdom of the business community, leadership in the public sector, and an ever-growing and highly educated female workforce, I will not need to write this op-ed again in 2020.

Source: Inland Valley Daily Bulletin