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This post first appeared on last year’s Equal Pay Day, but, frankly, we think it’s worth repeating — especially in light of the women of Wal-Mart’s ongoing travails. And we think, once you read this, you’ll agree that their travails are your travails. Happy Equal Pay Day — and we encourage you to celebrate by asking for a raise!

Today is Equal Pay Day: and while the name implies equality, the meaning itself is its precise opposite. Working women of the world, brace yourselves, and prepare to be pissed: today marks the day that your salary catches up to your male counterpart’s… from last year. That’s right, as compared to the dude in the next cube, since January 1 of this year, you, sister, have been working for free.

Yes, despite the fact that it is 2011, despite the fact that the first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which extends the time employees have to file discrimination suits, despite the breadwinning Alpha Wives appearing in trend pieceshither and yon, despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act was enacted oh, some 48 years ago, the fact remains: on average, women earn 77 cents to a man’s dollar. (Even less for women of color.)

Here’s some more fuel for the fire, from a piece from yesterday’s Morning Edition on NPR:

Economists say part of the gap is because women are more likely to take time off work for child care, and an even bigger part is because of “occupational segregation”: Women tend to work disproportionately in lower-paying fields….

But even when you control for occupation and a host of other variables, economists still find an unexplained gender gap of anywhere from around a nickel to a dime or more on the dollar. [Emphasis mine.]

Yep, those convenient, fall-back excuses citing time off for kids or lower-paying career tracks are handily debunked by Ilene Lang, with the women’s research group Catalyst:

‘From their very first job after getting their MBA degree, women made less money than men,’ Lang says. ‘On average, they were paid $4,600 less.’

Very first job? MBA? I think that settles the time-off-for-kids/lesser-paid-career-track thing. Of course, the truly ugly thing about a stat like that is that, not only does it persist, it inevitably gets worse over time. Every time you change jobs and are asked for a salary history, you’re at an increased disadvantage–and coupled with this gender-based pay discrimination disparity, well–that disparity is going to do nothing but get worse. And that’s how it is that you’ve been playing financial catch-up for THE PAST THREE AND A HALF MONTHS.

But wait! There’s more:

Catalyst’s findings held even when those studied had no children. For Lang, this says that decades-old stereotypes persist.

‘There are assumptions that women don’t care about money, which is crazy!’ Lang says. ‘There are assumptions that women will always have men who will take care of them, that women will get married, have children and drop out of the labor force. All those assumptions are just not true.’

Of course they’re not. And yet, even if they were true–even if women didn’t care about money at all, and every one of us had a man to take care of us and the intention to stop working once we had children–well, would that in any way justify the inequities? I myself, as you may have guessed, think not.

How best to address the issue? Well, asking for more money is a start. A big one, and one in which many agree women might need a lesson. We don’t want to be rude, pushy, or assertive, but we don’t want to be broke, or the underpaid schmuck on the payroll either, now do we?

But, as with a lot of things, focusing only on the individual leaves a little too much unaddressed. There’s a bill pending in the Senate now, The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier to prove gender bias, increase penalties, and nix the hush-hushness that exists around salaries in an organization. In an open letter, Ms. Ledbetter herself writes:

Without the Paycheck Fairness Act, women will continue to be silenced in the workplace, just like I was–prohibited from talking about wages with coworkers without the fear of being fired. This forced silence keeps many women from discovering pay discrimination in the first place…

Now I know that some people will say that with times as tough as they are, we can’t afford to worry about pay discrimination now. But I’m here to tell you that this recession makes pay equity even more important. With women now making up half of the workforce, more and more families are dependent upon a woman’s paycheck to make ends meet.

So, happy Equal Pay Day! …and apologies for the rant, but I think you’ll agree it was warranted. If you’re inspired to take action, rather than taking it out on Dude-in-the-next-Cube, there’s a link to email your Senator here. And, I dare suggest that you do it while you’re on the clock: more than likely, your boss owes you.


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