The Great Labor Sale: Moms, 25% Off!

Cross-posted from Working Moms Break. This makes my blood boil. Here is another mom’s perspective on Congress’s failure to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Thanks, Katrina! -Elisa

 title=As you may have heard, women still make only 77 cents on every dollar a man earns, and in recent years, progress on closing the pay gap has nearly ground to a halt. On Wednesday, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was supposed to right this wrong, was defeated on the Senate floor.

I’ll try not to get too wonky about this, because it’s Friday, but there are a few things I think you should know.

What often gets left out of the whole pay gap discussion is that it not just about women, it’s about mothers in particular. Here’s how the pay gap breaks down: [1]

   * Women without children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar
   * Mothers make 73 cents to a man’s dollar
   * Single moms make 56-66 cents to a man’s dollar

If those numbers don’t make you queasy, maybe this will: [2]

   * Mothers are 79% less likely to get hired and 100% less likely to be promoted.
   * Studies show mothers are held to higher performance and punctuality standards than men.

Keep in mind that more than ever, women are primary or co-breadwinners for their families, so when they make less money for equal work, the whole family is affected. This pay gap isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s a child issue. It’s a husband issue. It’s a family issue.

I keep thinking about my friend Jackie, who will put up with just about anything to keep her job because she has a little discretionary flex time. Or Lily, who was advised by a senior (male) colleague to keep mum about the fact that she’s, well, a mum. Or another friend of mine, who I haven’t written about (yet), who was passed up for promotion by a less capable coworker because she works four days, not five.

This is what I want to know: How much of this pay gap can be explained by our own feelings of guilt because we have obligations outside of work? If we understood our real value, would we be just as willing to participate in this Great Mommy Markdown?

Some people would have you believe that women make less because they “work less hard and are less productive“although there is no statistical evidence for this. On the contrary, studies show that women’s labor is incredibly valuable to their employers. Allow me to share a few facts: [3]


   * Women have more college degrees than men
     That’s right. Not only do we represent fully half of the labor force, we are the better educated half. With a talent shortage looming, those degrees are nothing to scoff at.
   * Women are the driving force fueling economic growth
     We really do hold the purse strings. We’re responsible for making 80% of consumer buying decisions.
   * Women make fantastic managers
     Studies show women have a communication style that tends to foster creativity and teamwork. (Hint: we’re good listeners.) Some studies seem to indicate that we actually get better results than male managers. (Sorry guys, but I didn’t make that up. Read the report.)
   * Companies with more women leaders make higher profits
     This is my favorite. Research shows that companies that “consistently promote women to positions of power and leadership over time and across their operations have greater financial success across a variety of measures.“

It’s well-documented that men and women negotiate differently at work, and that women often get shortchanged because they don’t ask for resources as frequently as men. I suspect this is true for women at all levels of leadership.

Mothers of course, have a lot at stake when they’re supporting their families, so perhaps that makes us more risk-adverse. But knowing our families need our income could also make us more motivated to get what we’ve earned. I’d like to humbly suggest that we learn to be a little less humble when it comes to advocating for ourselves at work.

* * *

By the way, if you’re as disgusted as I am by the senators who voted The Paycheck Fairness Act down, sign the MomsRising petition.

[1] Source: MomsRising “Realistic and Fair Wages“

[2] Source: Joan Williams, “The Pay Gap Grossly Underestimates Women’s Economic Inequality“
[3] Source: Brad Harringon and Jamie J. Ladge “Got Talent? It Isn’t Hard to Find: Recognizing and Rewarding the Value Women Create in the Workplace“

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Senate Republicans Oppose Fair Pay for Women

In an effort to appease business interests, the Senate Republicans unanimously opposed passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have narrowed the pay gap between men and women. The bill fell short by two votes, 58-41.

Right now there is an oft-repeated 77-cent-to-a-dollar pay gap between men and women. The gap between mothers and non-mothers is even greater, which is why we are very disappointed at MomsRising.org. Here is an e-mail recently sent by our co-founder Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner:

The Paycheck Fairness Act was (and is) sorely needed to update the Equal Pay Act, which passed in 1963, and doesn’t reflect modern realities of a labor force that’s 50% women. Right now women make 77 cents to every dollar made by men and the pay gap has been narrowing by less than half a percent a year. [1] That means at this rate the pay gap won’t close until 2057. Forty-seven years from now! With more and more families depending on moms’ paychecks, American families simply cannot afford to wait that long.

Sign on to our short letter to all the Senators who voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act asking them to explain to their daughters, and ours, why in 2010 women don’t deserve the right to equal pay for equal work.

I did a quick google search on the Paycheck Fairness Act, and was disappointed that hardly any news organizations covered it. But there was plenty of gloating by the business community. Here is what one HR newsletter had to say:

Employers can breathe a little easier. The Paycheck Fairness Act — which one labor attorney said had “the potential to cripple companies, particularly smaller businesses” — has been scuttled.

My reaction? Eff you. This is about protecting BIG BUSINESSES who donated handsomely to the coffers of the Republican Party to kill this bill. It is unconscionable that in the 21st century, paying women for the same jobs that men do still sparks raucous debate and is somehow responsible for the crippling of our economy. As the mother of a daughter, I am saddened that gender bias in the workplace still exists. Otherwise, why would the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its ilk spend so much time and money to fight it?

What will it take for us to achieve equal pay for equal work in this country?

In related news, private health insurance companies gave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce $86.2 million to fight healthcare reform legislation, namely a government-run public option to compete with them, according to Bloomberg News.

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Something to whine about

A few weeks ago I met a woman who is an executive at a Fortune 500 company. She looked the part, with her power suit, well-applied eyeshadow, and short mid-west haircut. Let’s call her Cheryl. We were at a conference together having an informal women’s lunch. Cheryl told me she had a teenage daughter and had been asked to give a talk to a group of women at her company about work-family balance.

“I didn’t know what to tell them,” she said, adjusting her salad plate on her lap. “You just do it.”

I think I said something about how hard it is to get used to being a new parent.

“Frankly,” Cheryl said, looking straight ahead at the sea of women milling about with their salads. “I think women whine too much.”


As soon as I heard this sweeping judgment leave her lips, somewhere deep within the dark and mildewed basement corner of my brain, I formulated a judgment about Cheryl:

As if you even know what you’re talking about. You have one kid and she hasn’t been in diapers for ten years! How many hours do you sleep a night?

OK. Take a breath.

Let’s examine Cheryl’s statement in the cool light of day. Women whine too much.

Is this true? Do the women you know whine too much? What about the men you know…Do they whine too much? The women I know certainly talk more than the men I know. Do they whine more? Possibly. Do I? About some things. I think my husband whines more than me when he’s sick. Does that count?

Let’s step back and look at the bigger picture.

Most of the women I know do more housework than their husbands, including the women who work full time. They do more childcare. They arrange most of the play dates, the summer camps, the dentist appointments, the after school arrangements, the school events, all that stuff. Even when the dads are awesome, involved, fun, responsible dads who do drop offs and pick ups and help with homework, the moms almost always handle the kid logistics.

The moms carry more of what I think of as the psychic burden of parenting. Many of the dads I know are great, don’t get me wrong, but they will be the first to admit they aren’t being measured by the same standards as the moms. The bar is lower for them. And even in the progressive Bay Area, when I go to a meeting at my son’s preschool, the moms outnumber the dads five to one. Whether right or wrong, we are not sharing the responsibilities of parenting evenly.

This is just anecdotal. Let’s take another step back and look at some facts.

   * Women hold more college degrees than men and make up fully half of U.S. workers and yet, look at almost any corporation or government office and the majority of leadership positions are held by men, not women.
   * Women still make 78 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts. The gap gets wider between college-educated workers.
   * The wage gap between mothers and non-mothers is even worse that the gap between women and men.
   * Motherhood is the single biggest risk factor for poverty in old age.
   * When women drop out of the workforce to take care of children, it can be incredibly difficult to reenter the workforce. And if they do manage to reenter the workforce full time, they lose 18% of their earning power. [1]

Perhaps, ladies, we have something to whine about.

So, back to lunch.

“I see it a little differently,” I said to my lunch companion. “I think women judge each other too much.”

It’s hard to describe the change that came over Cheryl’s face. Everything softened. If she was a needle on a compass, she would have flipped from north to south.

“Yes. Yes. I think you’re right,” she said. “We all do it. Even I do it.”

I do it, too. And it’s a distraction from the issues I care about.

So I’d like to ask two questions. How are you judging other women? And, can we cut each other a little slack? Because if we can, we might learn to be kinder to ourselves. And if we can do that, maybe then we can make some progress on the issues we all care about.

[1] Mary Ann Mason & Eve Mason Ekman, “Mothers on the Fast Track” p. 63, 2007

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Is a College Degree Worth the Money?

Thank you to Daddy Dialectic for highlighting this piece: David Leonhardt at the New York Times wrote a column examining whether people are indeed better off graduating from college. As it turns out, it is women more so than men who receive that coveted piece of paper and we have made gains in the workforce.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, about one out of every three young men got a bachelor’s degree. In the years that followed, the share fell somewhat, both because Vietnam War draft deferrals were no longer an issue and because college became more expensive. In the 1980s and 1990s, the share rose again.

But the shifts have been fairly small. For the last four decades, somewhere between 30 and 35 percent of men have graduated from a four-year college by the time they turned 35 years old.

The story is quite different for women. In the 1960s, only 25 percent received a college degree. Among today’s young women almost 40 percent will end up with one. At one commencement ceremony after another this month — be it at Boston College, San Francisco State University or Colby College — women in caps and gowns outnumber men…

Armed with college degrees, large numbers of women have entered fields once dominated by men. Nearly half of new doctors today are women, up from just 1 of every 10 in the early 1970s. In all, the average inflation-adjusted weekly pay of women has jumped 26 percent since 1980.

And men? Their pay has increased about as much as their college graduation rate — it’s up just 1 percent since 1980.

Leonhardt attributed education and less discrimination against women for the progress — although he did concede that women earn 75 percent of what men do for the same work. He also dismissed the notion that women were succeeding at the expense of men.

By becoming more educated — and able to do more productive, higher-wage jobs — women have increased the size of the economic pie. The economic growth in a country like South Korea, which has made much more educational progress than the United States, clearly demonstrates this. “If you look across countries,“ says Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard, “education is the strongest predictor for how quickly the pie grows.”


But here is where Leonhardt’s premise that a college education is good, gets complicated. Yes, a college education helps graduates score higher wage jobs. But the cost of living has also gone up: healthcare, education and retirement.

He believes more federal dollars on preschool and college financial aid as well as more accountability of universities will make a college degree worth it for everyone. What do you think?

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