The Gender Pay Gap: My Responsibility

Funny things happen when you research. For one, you learn new things. For two, you learn new things that blow your mind wide open. That happened to me this week.

In light of Mary Beth’s post concerning Mitt Romney’s comment about allowing his female staffer to leave work early to start dinner, I decided to research Romney’s history as well as Obama’s history when it comes to women’s rights, or, more specifically, equal pay.

Any working mother who paid attention to President Obama at any time over the last four years of his leadership had to have heard this statement: “If you do the same work as a man, you ought to be paid the same wage as a man.”

Any working mother living in the United States must have heard statistics thrown around: women make about 77 cents to every dollar a man makes.

But are those numbers legitimate, and has President Obama kept his logical position that a woman in the same position as a man should be paid the same amount? I wasn’t so sure.

You see, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics determines numerical values concerning the gender pay gap, there are often important variables left out. Warren Farrell, author of Why Men Make More, argues that “people who work 44 hours per week make 50 percent more than people who work 34 hours a week.” That makes sense. My father purposely worked overtime hours a lot during my childhood and maybe, just maybe, a woman working in his field made the same salary but didn’t work as often. I’ll give it a maybe. But if that’s true, it begs the question: Why?

As it stands, more men than women work 40 hours or more on a weekly basis. Why is that? Well, the way I see it, it’s because many of us have “mother” attached to that working status. We’re multi-taskers. And why does that matter when many of us have husbands who are also working fathers? I can only put it one way: we’re the sacrificial lambs. Others come first.

There is an entire section of LWM dedicated to the topic of guilt for a reason. There is a reason why women sign onto websites for advice and buy books during pregnancy and blog to vent and need reassurance. We are constantly trying to figure out if we’re doing everything well enough. If we’re making sure everyone else is taken care of.

Forbes recently published an article entitled Even When Women Write Their Own Checks, the Gender Pay Gap Persists. In essence, according to the 2012 Catalyst report, women are averaging $36,931 a year compared to men’s $47,715—or, the typical stat we’ve heard since 2001, about 76 cents to every dollar earned. But here’s the kicker: women are not paying themselves! Serious mind-blowing facts coming your way, my friends.

Julie Weeks, President and CEO at Womenable, claims that across the board, “There’s a tendency for female entrepreneurs to pay themselves last.” Shocked, are you? I’m not. We belong last, don’t we? We’re mothers. We eat last. We shower last. We fall asleep last. And then add to it, we’re working mothers. Our students come first. Our clients come first. Our coworkers come first. Our bosses come first. Our phone calls and emails and deadlines come at the expense of an actual half hour or—gasp—hour lunch. We’re last. It’s where we’ve chosen to be.

Forbes goes on to explain that corporations owned by women gross less money than corporations owned my men, and that if women have additional funds, they tend to spend money rewarding employees, pursuing new hires, or reinvesting in their companies. Damn it. Why the hell are we so selfless? Why don’t we ever take what’s ours?

At this stage, in 2012, we’re shouting at President Obama for [possibly] paying his female staffers 18% less, for not inviting female athletes to play at the White House, or even for not having enough females in his entourage. We’re crucifying Mitt Romney because his wife chose to stay at home with their kids and he makes comments about binders and wives making dinner. We’re upset because the topic is avoided. Yes, companies should pay women the same amount for the same position and experience. Yes, our President and any presidential hopefuls should set an example. But really, if we’re not even choosing to pay ourselves, if we’re not even recognizing how fantastic and hard-working and worth it we are, how can we expect anyone else to see our worth?

See what I did there? I just took responsibility for a nationwide issue that belittles me. Because I’m a working mom. And let’s face it, we’re always, always to blame.

Photo Credit (homepage) Flickr via 401 (k) 2012

About the author

Shannon is a graduate of University of South Florida, a high school English teacher, and an aspiring author. In April 2011, she and her husband met the love of their lives: a son named William. Shannon is currently learning to balance teaching 115 teenagers and being William’s mommy. You can find her blogging at Momma Bird and tweeting as @bluebird_momma.

12 Comments

  1. Mary Beth says:

    Are you surprised I’m the first to comment? LOL. You’re right – we’re supposed to stand up for ourselves, and I love that you pointed out that entrepreneurial women and business owner women pay themselves last, etc. But I’m not sure that’s most people’s experience. Think about fast food workers, maids and bartenders… or any salaried job, basically. In most cases, people are offered a job and limited ability to negotiate salary.. and especially in a tough economy, those with low-paying jobs don’t feel in a position to question authority. I’ve had :hmna hmna: lots of jobs – ranging from Papa John’s, state employment and nonprofit work. Only with my new job was I able to negotiate salary. You rarely get to decide what you get paid. Your employer does. You have to settle for “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit” and if they choose to pay you less than a male because you’re [a woman, a mom, whatever] that’s their prerogative. You can sue, sure. But there’s little accountability or incentive for fairness.
    Mary Beth recently posted..Obama Rally in Richmond Virginia – a Photolog {10.25.2012}My Profile
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    • Shannon says:

      You’re right that it might not be “most” women’s experiences. However, if we set a standard and refused to pay ourselves less, I believe it would set a precedent. It’s a start at least.

      When I worked in fast food throughout high school, 2 or the 3 managers I worked with were female and close friends of mine. They were actually promoted and given a raise in pay before the male manager was recruited, and they made more than he did because of their experience. I haven’t had as many experiences before teaching (I was a legal assistant and worked at Publix throughout college, neither of which provide any insight to this topic) but I do know the possibility is there for advancement and for us to speak up for ourselves and demand fair pay.
      Shannon recently posted..Unpaid Maternity Leave and Human RightsMy Profile

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  2. HeatherK says:

    I am a gov’t contractor in Wash DC. Here, almost everyone either works for the gov’t or works for one of the many dozens of defense corporations. The best and easiest way to make more money in DC is to job hop. With gov’t contracts starting and ending all the time, this was easy to do (before our economy started to go downhill), and you always seem to make more money with each new job and contract. But here’s the thing: I have been with the same company and the same department since I started my career. I have a good thing going. My boss is very family friendly, I have proven myself to him and my co-workers, my hours and my commute are great, and he will let me work part-time next year. I have seen dozens of men come and go through my department, although lately it has been with a pink slip. I know I could make more money elsewhere, but I am not leaving. I know lots of people who change jobs every few years: they all make more money than I do and the majority of them are men! Women tend to stay at the same job, and men tend to job hop where it is easier to negotiate a higher and higher salary. Unfortunately, companies always say they want to increase retention, but they don’t usually follow through on these practices! Here’s what I do know: in this economy a loyal long-term employee has a much better chance of keeping his/her job than a job-hopper!

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  3. Jessie says:

    You are so right. I am an engineer, which is a very male dominated profession. When I had my son, I took a pay cut in order to work part-time. I contributed to the statistic and I now make less than men who are in my same profession. But you know what? I’m so happy that I did. I am now cuddling on the couch with my son. We will spend today, as we do every Friday together. Will I eventually return to full-time and start competing for salaries with the men? Who knows? All I know is that I’m not just a number. I’m not just a statistic. I’m a mom and a professional and that means a lot more than any study can define.
    Twitter: jessieyeager

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    • shannon says:

      This very much sums up my position. I stepped down from leadership at my job when my son was born, and I don’t regret it. Many times, when events come up and my superiors need help, they don’t even ask me and I’m not offended. I have become less of a worker and more of a mother and that’s what I’ve chosen. To me, I have a good gig. In my profession, men and women are paid equally, and my administrators are very family-oriented and understand if I get to work a few minutes late or have to leave to take the baby for a doctor’s appointment.

      My only concern is for people who are not like me, like my principal who doesn’t have a family and is attempting to work her way up in the education system. Or for friends of mine who have worked for years in the same company where they are made to feel like less of a person if they ask for a wage increase. The discrepancy is out there even if at the moment, it doesn’t (thankfully) affect me directly.
      shannon recently posted..Unpaid Maternity Leave and Human RightsMy Profile

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  4. Melissa says:

    I work in Highway Construction, aka “a man’s world”, I don’t know exactly what my co-workers make because its confidential. However, I know the pay range that fits within our work-scopes and guess what, there is no male or female question as to my pay. Also, I don’t care what the men make. I know the job I do, the things I know, and the amount of money I make. Guess what, I’m happy with it! Do I get irritated at times when I’m telling a man (who makes more) how to run the copier or send an email? Yes, but when my boss lets me leave to tend to sick kids, or take a 2 hour lunch because I need to eat and buy formula, it doesn’t matter anymore. I know my worth, he knows my worth, that’s what matters. My mom taught me to work hard and learn everything you can. I’ve done that and its paid off. I provide for my family and love my job. The End.
    On another note, i was truly appalled during the one debate I half way watched because this was still being discussed. It is 2012 not 1912. Get over it!
    Twitter: melissamott

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  5. Observacious says:

    First, you should read the book “Women Don’t Ask” by Linda Babcock. It really demonstrates a big gender difference in that women tend to expect their good work to be recognized. We feel that if we work hard someone will notice and give us raises, promotions, and opportunities. In contrast, men are more likely to point out their contributions and request those other things. Bosses, often oblivious to their surroundings, are more likely to take action when they get a direct request, which leaves women behind. When we start out behind in pay we have a hard time catching up.

    Second, I have now “mommy tracked” myself in a job with no direct reports and limited hours. I expect less pay. But even when I was single with no kids I saw the pay gap. I had several male interns seek advice about their full time job offers. In doing so they confided their salary offers. I had a hard time hiding my shock. They were being offered salaries painfully close to mine even though they had little real world experience and only had undergrad degrees when I had over a decade of experience and 2 master’s degrees.

    I met my husband. We worked at the same place. He is 6 years younger (and therefore has 6 years less experience) and only has a bachelor’s degree. When I met him he was making at least 10% more than I was. But our raises were capped, which meant there was little I could do to negotiate. I had come in at a lower salary for whatever reason, and so I was on track with that lower salary.

    Whether it is due to bias or stereotypes of our gender the pay gap is real and it sucks.
    Observacious recently posted..Vote Because I Hate Losing with Points on the BenchMy Profile
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    • HeatherK says:

      I hear you! I guess I have mommy-tracked myself at my job too! We won a new contract the day after I found out I was pregnant with my second. It was between my male coworker and me for the Project Manager position. When I looked over the requirements I saw that the first demo would take place in one year. It would last 2 weeks and was on the opposite coast. This means I would have to cut my maternity leave short and not be able to breastfeed for 2 weeks. I put my baby first and told my boss to give the PM job to my coworker. He looked at me and asked when the baby was due. Now, two years later I am second fiddle on the contract. Do I make less than my coworker: probably. Should I make less than him: YES! Now I am not taking on any bigger responsibilities because I am planning on cutting back to 32 hour weeks next year when my son starts Kindergarten. I am totally on the mommy track, making less money, but I am HAPPY!

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  6. Shannon says:

    That is SO true–we expect to be praised and recognized! I remember working with men who would point out how great they were doing and think to myself, “How presumptuous!” But it’s so true!
    Shannon recently posted..Unpaid Maternity Leave and Human RightsMy Profile

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  7. ChristieH says:

    I love this post. I especially love how you point out the ways in which we under-value ourselves. It reminds me of a researcher/speaker/writer named Brene Brown (see her talks here: http://www.ted.com/speakers/brene_brown.html) that is kind of changing my life with the things she talks about regarding self-worth and self-value. I listened to one of her podcasts where she talked about how we need to base our self-worth on who we are, and not what we accomplish, because when we base it on accomplishments and we fail at something it can chip away at our self-worth, and when we don’t see enough progress we don’t value ourselves enough. Again, LOVE to see these issues coming out and being shared! Thank you!

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  8. When I started working outside the home again, I made darn well sure that the owner of the company knew what I was doing, when I was going above and beyond, and that I was getting results. Also, when I was getting roadblocked. The only other woman at the company used to ask me all the time why the owner never noticed how much she did – and she was literally the hardest worker at the firm. I told her again and again that she had to lay it out for him in no uncertain terms, but she never did. I ended up with a bigger raise, percentage wise, at year’s end because I negotiated. Do I get paid less because I work a 30-hour week? Yep. But I do whatever I can to bust through that since in that 30 hours, I do everything I’d do in 40.
    Christa the BabbyMama recently posted..Homecomings, One Old and One NewMy Profile
    Twitter: mommeetmom

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