Equality and Your Paycheck: That (Hasn’t) Happened


ColumnTo celebrate Equal Pay Day, President Obama is making some big moves for equality, but this problem runs deep.

Hey ladies, guess what? Ten years ago, we used to make a measly .77 cents for every dollar a man made. Today, we make .77 cents. That’s not a typo.

The pay equality gap hasn’t changed since 2004, the year Facebook launched and the big news was Janet Jackson’s nip slip. (Justin Timberlake was there too but Miss Jackson took the fall. Oh JT, that rascal.)

Today is Equal Pay Day, and there’s some good news to report. President Obama is ensuring equal pay for government contractors — and they make up one-quarter of the U.S. workforce, so that’s no small deal.

Obama will also sign an executive order to prevent federal contractors from “retaliating” against workers who discuss their compensation, reports Reuters.

This is important because, culturally, it’s not cool to ask your co-workers what they make. But it goes beyond being cool. Without protection in place for workers, employers can fire employees who talk openly about compensation.

Pay equality  impacts women at all career levels. Though we tend to be more educated than men, as of 2012, women held 14.3 percent of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies, and were still paid only three-quarters of what their male colleagues made. While 14.3 percent is actually a higher number than I would think, it still sucks.

This new legislation is a good step, but it doesn’t address any of the underlying reasons that contribute to sexism when it comes to pay equality — or inequality.

Pay Inequality Is Total Crap — But It’s Real

My favorite excuse for why men pay women less than their male counterparts is work wife syndrome: the perception among male CEOs that their female employees do not actually need to make money.

Studies have shown that male CEOs pay women more if they themselves have wives who work outside of the home, and that these guys see married women as needing less money. This is total bullshit for so many reasons.

There is no reason compensation should ever be based on need when there’s a much easier way to determine how much to pay someone: look at the market value for the job, evaluate the candidate’s experience level and education and go from there. I’m an HR genius!

If you still doubt that men have it better at work, ask a trans man. A Stanford University study of transgender people who have worked identifying as both men and women is incredibly disheartening.

Two-thirds of the transgender men in Kristen Schilt’s study experienced “workplace rewards in a newfound authority and competence.”

Many of the trans men she interviewed reported being fast-tracked for raises and promotions — and many also said they were listened to and taken more seriously in meetings.

Screw the Man, I’m Getting Equality by Going Out On My Own

While more women are saying, “fuck it” and going out on their own, we’re still hitting walls.

Those seeking venture funding for start-ups have an uphill battle, according to a study published last March and conducted by women from the nation’s top business schools. The study found that in pitch competitions, male entrepreneurs are 60 percent more likely than women to succeed in getting funding, other factors being equal.

And, physical attractiveness, as rated by those viewing pitches, leads to a 36 percent increase in pitch success. So, attractive men, rejoice! All women and ugly men, well, sorry.

And even those of us who set our own rates as freelancers might be part of the wage gap problem. A study found that male and female freelancers tend to charge about the same amount for projects under the $100/hour mark. However, after that point, the scale tips and we’re back on the bottom. As women, we can blame ourselves for not asking for what we deserve, and perhaps we should. But, that’s only part of the problem.

What Can We Do to Get Pay Equality?

First, those of us who set our own rates need to talk to others and ask what they charge. Ask people you don’t work for, but who do hire freelancers, what they pay people. Talking about money can be awkward. Do it anyway.

Second — and this point is for women and men — quit being part of the problem. Those of us who are in a position to hire and promote women should do so, especially in industries that are traditionally male-dominated.

A recent study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that managers of both sexes are twice as likely to hire a man as a woman. Stop! Examine your internal biases and commit to hiring and promoting women.

Third, pay attention. As part of Equal Pay Day 2014, President Obama also will direct the U.S. secretary of labor to require federal contractors to submit summary data on employee compensation including details on sex and race to the government.

This requirement will lead to more transparency, and we can assume, more clarity on just how wide the pay gap actually is and, hopefully, compel us to acknowledge the problem and to act.

If you’re not mad yet, look at what you made last year and add 23 percent. What could you have done with that money?

Related on EcoSalon:

Three Reasons Work Still Sucks for Women

Working Girl to Work Wife: Sexism at Work

I Was Told There Would be Beer

Image: Mark Turnauckas