'Wage Gap' inflicts gender-based injustice in the workplace
"Wage Gap" is the term used to describe the difference between men's and women's salaries. Study after study has shown that even when variables that influence salary, such as education and experience, are controlled, the wage gap persists.
In South Carolina, women earn 78 cents for every dollar men make (American Community Survey 2009 www.census.gov/acs).
Women work 16 months to earn what a man makes in 12 doing the same job.
The wage gap is a statistical fact, but we wondered whether local women believe that they have been paid less because of their gender. Over 100 women replied to our Center for Women survey.
Our survey sample was not scientifically drawn, but it does paint a picture that well-educated, local women have personally experienced pay inequity. The majority of survey respondents had attended college or graduate school and about one-third were in each age group: between the ages of 20 to 35, 35 to 50 and over 50.
Out of 106 women, 51 percent stated that they had been paid less than male colleagues in a similar position even though they could not prove it. About 40 percent leaned toward describing their situation as subtle bias, 40 percent leaned toward overt discrimination and 20 percent were in between.
No less disturbing, 39 percent believed that they had been skipped over or denied a promotion because they were women, and 14 percent held the opinion that they had been let go or fired because of their gender.
When queried as to whether or not they had discussed the situation with their employer, the following verbatim comments characterize their positions: "I've spoken to my immediate supervisor, who basically blew me off. I'm afraid to take it higher for fear of losing my job"; "This is a right to work state and there are too many other people that would take my job and not complain"; "I did [discuss the situation] and have since been treated poorly"; "I need to keep the job, so I keep my mouth shut!"; "State budget cuts make it unlikely that the situation could be resolved even if I were to convince them that the pay grade was unfair"; "I don't want to rock the boat"; "I attempted to discuss and was shot down. Now I'm a trouble-maker"; "I was let go"; "Hard to prove and unfavorable outcome feared especially as an African-American."
Why should men care?
Women's salaries no longer pay for extras. They are essential to supporting families. In married households, women's income typically accounts for 36 percent of the total family income and about one-third of employed mothers are the sole breadwinners for the family. (U.S. Senate Joint Economic Committee 2010 Invest in Women, Invest in America: A Comprehensive Review of Women in the U.S. Economy.) Fair pay for women translates to fairness for families and a more economically stable environment for children.
I would ask men, "Do you believe that your hard-working wife, mother or daughter with equal skills and ability should be paid less than her male peers?"
The wage gap is an injustice that deserves attention from the business community and all employers. We should not be afraid to acknowledge its existence and talk about its consequences.
When the opportunity presents itself, middle management and executive women should raise the issue within their organizations and press for human resource policies and procedures that seek pay equity. Understanding that some pay inequity is due to subtle cultural bias and not in-your-face gender discrimination, open discussion and dialogue can do much to increase awareness of how widespread the practice really is and how unfair to families it is.
Women for their part can learn to be better salary negotiators. Men are much more likely to negotiate their pay than women who are not as comfortable with self-promotion and do not like to be perceived as pushy.
Yes, the job market is very tough and many of us are thankful simply to be working, but fair pay is a goal we should all be working toward.
Center for Women