The harsh reality of the gender pay gap

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ADDRESSING THE GENDER GAP at a recent luncheon on pay inequity is (standing) Suzanne Gellman, a financial education specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, and (seated left to right) Joan Suarez, coordinator for Bread & Roses Missouri and a union activist; Karen Francis, chairwoman of the AAUW Public Policy Committee and co-chair of public policy for the Missouri AAUW; and Malaika Horne, the founding director of the Executive Leadership Consortium – College of Business Administration at UMSL. – Labor Tribune photo

Experts explain root causes, offer solutions

By SHERI GASSAWAY
Correspondent

By now, we’re all familiar with the fact that on average women make only 78 to 80 cents for every $1 a man makes. As if earning 20 to 22 percent less than men isn’t bad enough in this day and time, think about the effects those numbers would have over a lifetime.

Pay inequity and its root causes were the topics of discussion at a recent luncheon co-sponsored by the St. Louis Press Club and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) of Missouri, a gender equity advocacy organization. The event was held March 30 at the Missouri Athletic Club in West St. Louis County.

Karen Francis, chairwoman of the AAUW Public Policy Committee and co-chair of public policy for the Missouri AAUW, noted the timeliness of the topics with March being Women’s History Month and April 4 being National Equal Pay Day, symbolizing how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

“How many of you in this room with a college degree would like to have $1.2 million?” Francis asked. “Because that is how much you as women will have lost in wages compared to a man by the time you retire.”

Francis said for women without college degrees, that number is $500,000, for those with advanced degrees, it’s $2 million, and for those with doctorates, it ranges between $2 million and $3 million less upon retirement.

“That is the simple truth behind the pay gap,” Francis said. “We’re talking hard-earned cash, and the only way that is going to change is with new policies. We need to push legislators to be more invested in and supportive of issues facing women.”

WORSE FOR WOMEN OF COLOR

The gender gap for women can vary based on location, age and education, but it is even worse for women of color.

According to the 2015 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, the earnings ratio compared to white men for African-American women is 62 percent, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women is 60 percent, American Indian or Alaska Native is 58 percent and Hispanic or Latina is 54 percent.

ALSO WORSE FOR MOTHERS

The gender gap is also worse for mothers. Francis talked about the “Motherhood Penalty.” It’s a term coined by sociologists that argues that working mothers encounter systematic disadvantages in pay, perceived competence and benefits relative to women who have no children.

“Specifically, for every child a women has, her salary goes down four percent,” Francis said. “On the contrary, men who have children are likely to see their salaries go up by six to seven percent.”

CAUSES OF PAY INEQUALITY

Some of the root causes of the gender pay gap discussed at the meeting included:

  • Implicit associations. Implicit social cognition refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect a person’s understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner toward various general topics including gender, race and age.

“The Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures the biases we have that we don’t think we have,” Francis said. “I’d encourage you to take the test. You’d be surprised by the results.” The test can be found at implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html.

  • Outdated notions that men are the sole breadwinners. Malaika Horne, founding director of the Executive Leadership Consortium – College of Business Administration at UMSL, said many employers are still under the false assumption that it’s men, not women, who bring home the bacon.

“Women are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in 60 percent of American families,” she said.

  • Gender segregation in the Labor force. Out of 500 careers, women are concentrated in only 22 occupations, Horne said.

“Women are steered into too few occupations like teachers, nurses, social workers and service workers, and those jobs tend to pay less,” she said. “But interestingly enough, men who work in traditional female occupations are paid more.”

  • Insufficient professional networks. Most men have more professional networks and women have more family networks, Horne said.

“And then there’s the ‘double shift’ phenomenon where women work full time and then go home to housework and childcare,” she said. “It creates a barrier to access opportunity. The more networks you have in your field, the opportunity for rising to the top is greater.”

HOW WE GOT HERE

Joan Suarez, coordinator for Bread & Roses Missouri and a union activist, said to understand where we are now in terms of the gender gap, we have to remember where we came from.

Suarez, who retired from Workers United in 2001 and became a leader with Missouri Jobs with Justice, said the 22 occupations where women are concentrated are representative of what a women’s job used to be when she was home.

“Women cooked, they washed clothes, took care of children and paid the bills, and now those jobs pay,” she said. “And the majority of those jobs are in the 22 occupations where women are concentrated today.

“The average pay of those 22 occupations is less than $15 an hour and if you’re a family of three and you’re the sole breadwinner, you’re living in poverty and not in a position to even think about getting your bills paid.”

WHAT CAN BE DONE

So besides improving legislative policies to address the gender pay gap, what can women do to fight for better wages and benefits?

Suzanne Gellman, a financial education specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said the best advice is for women to negotiate when they are first offered a job.

For example, Gellman said if an employer offers $35,000 to man and a woman who have the same qualifications, and the man says I want $38,000 and the woman says “I’ll take it,” the man is already making $3,000 more from the start.

“But here’s how that calculates out,” she said. “Raises are usually based on a percentage of what you’re already making. So five years out, he could be making $25,000 to $30,000 more than she is – maybe because he may have negotiated along the way, but mainly because he was making more to begin with.”

Gellman said studies show that women who negotiate have salaries that are seven percent higher than those who don’t. She said AAUW has two programs in house to help women learn how to negotiate their wages and benefits that focus on the research and steps women need to take as well as role-playing.

One is called Start Smart for women new to the workforce. The other is Work Smart for women already in the workforce who may be underpaid.

“Pretty much everything is negotiable,” Gellman said. “They’ll pay you, but you have to ask for it, and if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.”

For more information on the two programs, visit salary.aauw.org.

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