Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Happy Equal Pay Day!

Today is the day that women "celebrate" their pay "catching up" to that of men. "Celebrate" and "catching up" might not be quite the right words, but celebrating is better than whining. In fact, some AAUW chapters, including my local chapter here in Ashland, OR, celebrated by giving away free cookies with a bite taken out of them. The remaining cookie was 78% of the original cookie to represent the ratio of women's wages to men's wages. The AAUW's booth in our downtown plaza today was quite crowded with people of all ages and gender taking free cookies and free literature about pay disparity.

The National Committee on Pay Equity started Equal Pay Day in 1996 to raise public awareness about the gap between men's and women's wages. The day, observed on a Tuesday in April, symbolizes how much a woman must work, on average, to earn as much as a man. Tuesday is the day of the week on which women's wages catch up to men's wages from the previous week. April is the month when women's wages catch up to men's wages from the previous year. On average, full-time working women earn 78% of what full-time working men earn.

I've read a few blog posts that object to women making a big deal out of the earnings disparity. The blogs rehash the same old myths we've been hearing for years. I would like to make a few points about these myths:

Myth #1. Women earn less than men because more of them work part-time. Nope, that doesn't explain it. The data used to celebrate Equal Pay Day are based on an analysis of full-time, year-round workers.

Myth #2. Women choose less lucrative occupations than men. A 2003 Government Accountability Office study controlled statistically for this factor and still showed women's average pay was about 80% of men's. Also, I have to ask, why do certain occupations (librarianship, teaching, etc.) attract more women and why do these occupations pay so little?

Myth #3. Women aren't as well educated as men. Well, this simply isn't true. More women go to college than men these days. Also, studies show that one year out of college, women graduates earn, on average, only 80% of male graduates.

Myth #4. Women take time off to raise families or take easier jobs because of small kids at home. Um, why should women do that more than men? And even if they do, please note that the GAO study mentioned above took that into account.

Myth #5. Women aren't as good at negotiating salaries as men. This is possibly true, but studies by Carnegie Mellon researchers and others show that when women do negotiate, they are less likely to get the job. Hiring managers are often turned off by an assertive woman but impressed by an assertive man.

Myth #6. Women whine too much and the government shouldn't protect them. Well, we're trying to whine less and celebrate with half-eaten cookies, so give us a break! Regarding the government, I'm all for a government with a small footprint. It would be nice if anti-discrimination laws were unnecessary. Let's all aim for that. If you're a man in a position to hire employees, please consider writing job descriptions that detail the knowledge, skills, and abilities that potential employees should have and appropriate salary ranges. Then hold interviews. Let other managers and employees assess the potential hire. Don't just give the job to your male buddy at the salary he suggests. I've seen enough of that to make me want to upchuck my cookies.

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