Thursday, June 20, 2013

What Miss Utah Should have said about the Gender Wage Gap.

The Center for American Progress says that in the last five years before retirement, the annual wage gap between women and men jumps to $14,352. Between the ages of 25 and 29, it’s just $1,702.

Mid-way through my 30-year journalism career I and another female editor learned that we were earning far less than the men we worked with who were in the same jobs in the same newsroom. Together we visited our in-house human resources department to complain and to ask for raises. We got them -- 20 percent increases.
The pay gap we experienced was the result of what was and still is typical of many female employees. I didn't begin my full-time working career until I was 34 after my kids were in school. Same for my friend. We were hired at entry-level pay rates and never caught up even though we were promoted and getting top performance reviews every year. The men we worked with had been in their jobs longer and benefited from raises for a longer time period. Not overt discrimination but certainly inequality. How long you stay in a job is a lousy way to set pay rates and generate annual raises, we thought. Shouldn't pay be determined by job responsibility and a rate that fits that responsibility? Yep. But many employers find themselves flunking performance reviews and failing to set pay rates by category based on responsibility and performance, not time in the job.
My experience was more than 20 years ago but the pay gap for women is just about as wide. Women earn an average of 77 cents for every $1 a man makes in the equivalent job. That's not much of an improvement over the 59 cents to the dollar earned by women in the 1970s.
The pay gap exists across nearly all wage categories and types of jobs. For instance, according to the London School of Economics, female chief financial officers are paid 16 percent lower on average than their male counterparts.
Then we have the flub-up by the Miss USA finalist who couldn't handle a question while on national television about the pay gap. Here's the question: "A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does that say about society?" Miss Utah Marissa Power couldn't come up with an answer. She said something about the economy needing to "create jobs, create better education."
The gender pay gap is real and it not only weighs on women who are supporting families but gives them less opportunity to save for retirement. I often wonder how much I'd have in my 401(k) if I'd been able to put more money in the tax-deferred savings fund at an earlier time in my work life. Compound tax-deferred interest and income from reinvesting are the most attractive aspects of 401(k) wealth accumulation.
Our society is still not giving women equal footing in the workplace...everyone can take some blame. Women often set the bar too low when entering the work force and fail to strive for greater levels of responsibility at work, which in turn generates higher pay. The recession has contributed to lower pay for women by putting a hold on pay increases, in general or by bringing people in a lower pay levels. Men seem oblivious to the situation. Women do little to nurture other women as leaders and managers. Women often see their jobs as secondary to a spouse's income and fail to accumulate savings or retirement funds. Thinking and talking about money, about pay and making more money, is unfashionable in our trip-to-the-mall society.
Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead" has brought this issue again to the forefront. But are women really leaning in or listening? Do they ask for raises? Do they ask for more responsibility, which in turn generates higher pay? Are they thinking about retirement savings? Many don't want the hassle, the stress of competing in, yes, a man's world, and are content to work part-time. But what about the 40 percent of households being supported by women? My guess is that many of these women need a mentor. They need family-support to hang in there on tough days at work, to ask for the responsibility and the raise.
Meanwhile, women are creating businesses at twice the rate of men for many of the same reasons. They don't want to work twice as hard as men in corporate settings to get ahead. But can these self-employed women afford to put money into a retirement fund? Probably not. All this is why so many single American women over age 65 are living in poverty....20 percent. We live longer, earn less and save less for retirement. What does it say about our society? Plenty. 
For more:
"What Miss Utah Should Have Said," Kerry Hannon, Forbes - click here.
"Retirement Age Women Twice as Likely as Men to Live in Poverty -- What's going On? - Time - click here.
"The Retirement Prospects of Divorced Women," - Butrica/Smith - click here.
 

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