The Gender Wage Gap Myth

22 04 2017

Twice in the past week I found myself engaged in an ad nauseum facebook debate with different people about the gender wage gap. Specifically, people (all white cis hetero males) who believe that there is no wage gap between men and women, or that it is at least greatly exaggerated in the news. As an intellectual, I immediately was surprised by their position, and thought to myself, “Is he right?” And if so, where is the discrepancy in our positions?

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One anti-gapper claims that women actually make MORE than men in major metropolitan areas… (… if they are young… and single… and childless. And who knows what other factors.) And he was seriously using this to declare that the wage gap doesn’t exist. Which made me think, where the heck are these guys getting this information?? They aren’t making this stuff up. They really, truly have been convinced by someone, somewhere, that the gender wage gap is some sort of giant hoax perpetrated against men by (presumably) a very well-organized group of people with nothing better to do than spend their lives fighting a made-up inequality. When I read the drivel that this one person shared as their “proof,” I was appalled. I’d encourage you NOT to waste your energy reading this clickbait written by Ben Shapiro, but, as a critical thinker, I do like to cite my sources and let people read the original content… unlike this dude, who quotes some statistics with no way to actually fact check him, and relies heavily on an article from the Washington Examiner for most of his other support. (If you do choose to read this- brace yourself for contradictions within the article.)

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I generally do not engage with people who refuse to read data that contradicts their personal opinion, so after one or two exchanges, I will simply ignore them and move on to something more productive. Thankfully, I have some amazing male friends who stepped in to counter the arguments by the instigators of the “wage gap myth” argument. One even paused to apologize to me if he was mansplaining, and I thanked him for his endurance at arguing on the behalf of myself and all feminists. (See the end of the article for the entire Facebook discussion)

 

One privileged male, who is quite intelligent (we’re also related, so… ya know…), simply asked me, “Don’t you think that if companies could hire women for 20% less, they would, and men wouldn’t get the jobs?” That’s a great point, I thought to myself, since I had stopped responding to him on Facebook already. I wanted to get the answer. After all, maybe my data IS outdated. I assume the wage gap is shrinking, after all the hard work decades of women (and men) have put into understanding the reasons for the wage gap and trying to actively counter those.

 

So, I spent some time searching for current data to see if we have truly managed to eliminate the age gap. Is our struggle for equality finally over?!?

 

The answer is simply- NO. But, there was such a great depth of information, sliced and diced so many ways, that I thought it might be helpful to use this fact-based data to counter the points of those who simply choose to believe that there is no gender wage gap. My sources? The U.S. Senate’s Joint Economic Committee issued an update on this very topic, a detailed report titled, “Gender Pay Inequality,” published in April 2016. For those of you who don’t have the time to critically read all 58 pages of this report, perhaps the TOC will give you insight into the depth of research conducted to support each and every one of my following points.

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Myth #1: Men don’t make more than women… or if they do, it’s only 3-5% more.

First, even if it’s only 3-5% more- now, you may need to double check my math on this, I am a grrrl, after all, but- 3-5% more is still… MORE. Secondly, let’s look at the data. Typically we’ve been hearing the recited information that women make (pick your favorite number) 75 cents on the male dollar. Or 85% of what male equals get paid. Or somewhere in there, right? The fact is, there IS a lot of variation. It depends on things like race, age, parental status, location, etc.

gender wage gap by race

Myth #2: Today, female graduates make just as much as male graduates coming out of college.

It is absolutely true that the gender wage gap varies with age, so the gap IS much smaller at the start of your career. But, while there ARE cases where women graduates are earning equal pay to their male peers, it is not an absolute truth, and ignores the ramifications of even a slight inequality down the road.

gender wage gap age

So, let’s go back to that math thingy. It’s okay, I’ll walk you through it. Einstein once said, when asked how it felt to be the man whose inventions changed the world as we know it, responded, “I didn’t invent compounding interest.” So let’s say my recent college grad, Jill, is making just 1% less than her male counterpart, Jack. It’s just 1%, right? Don’t get your boxers in a bunch? They are smart kids, and make bank with their engineering degrees, and she’s still making $99,000 a year. So, when it comes time for a raise (assuming they both get that opportunity in the same amount of time), that first 10% raise translates into a BIGGER INCREASE in salary for Jack than Jill. So Jack now makes 110,000, but Jill only makes $108,900. The gap between them increased in just the 1st year of their careers. That means that, over the entire course of their careers, not only did Jill start out making slightly less, but every single raise she gets- even if identical in percentage, equates to less and less money than her male equal. Then consider the facts that she’s less likely to negotiate her raise, less likely to be given a raise as frequently as Jack, and her raise is likely going to be a smaller percentage (more on this later). Suddenly, at the end of her career, she’s retiring with significantly less earned income, less savings, and has less to retire on. In 2014, the median annual income of women ages 65 and older was $17,400, only 56 percent of men’s the same age.

Jill is 1.6 times as likely as Jack to live in poverty once they reach age 65, and nearly twice as likely to live in poverty once they reach age 75.

gender wage gap retirement

Myth #3: Women make choices that lead to them making less money

 

Holy smokes, this one is pervasive! Where to begin?? Phew! Okay, first, let’s break this down.

  1. Women choose to start families.

So…. You do know where babies come from, right? It generally involves a penis. Or at least semen. Do you know where semen comes from? Yes, good job! It comes from men. Historically, the burden of childbearing and childrearing were viewed as intertwined, and therefore it was “the woman’s job” to stay at home and raise the kids. In post-WWII decades, as women grew in the workforce and households became dependent on two incomes, somehow this concept persisted. Only in recent generations have we seen a normalization of men choosing to stay at home to raise the kids. And they still get made fun of for it by their peers. This is key.

gender wage gap mommy penalty

As long as we accept the norm that women should be the ones to sacrifice their careers and stay at home- even if only for one year- we are continuing to hold women back. “But some women want to stay at home!” you may hear. Well, duh, of course some of us are the gushingly parental types who couldn’t wait to make babies and stay home to rear them- which is WONDERFUL! But for the rest of the population, we are stuck with a reality that punishes men for staying home (ahem… paid MA-ternity leave), and encourages women to leave the workforce (“your job won’t be waiting for you”). In fact, not only do women get financially punished for having kids, but men actually make MORE once they start a family. Why?? Because regardless of having both  parents working full-time, it is perceived that women will be the ones who will take on more responsibility, and more time off, to haul kids to doctor’s appointments and soccer games, whereas men “have a family to provide for,” and therefore need more money. These subtle gender role norms lead to frequent subconscious discrimination when it comes to hiring, raises, and promotions.

gender wage gap family sacrifices

  2. If women want to make more, they should ask for more money.

Peer pressure, or societal norms, are a HUGE part of the wage gap problem, because they cause expectations and stress on women who choose to deviate from the norm. A lot of people don’t take the time to listen and learn about the differences in gender norms, but we all recognize them inherently. If a little boy gets in a scuffle in the playground, he might get reprimanded, but he’s just as likely to be taught how to punch back. Little boys are taught to “Speak Up!” and to “Be Assertive!” while little girls are taught “If you don’t have anything NICE to say, don’t say anything at all” and not to be “too pushy.” It’s hard to become the boss without being a little bit “bossy,” yet this word is used as a pejorative when applied to women and girls. Women are also taught to be appreciative and pleasant and “smile”…  not to be confident or demanding.

So what is the result? Only 15% of women feel that they are effective at negotiating,and as a result, just 16-30% of women actually negotiate their salary, according to Salary.com and Monster.com. Whereas men are taught to believe they are worthy of more, and to be aggressive, women aren’t getting that same foundation of confidence and self-worth. However, despite the outdated idea that women are less likely to ask for a raise, recent studies are proving otherwise. In fact, a 2016 study, revealed that women were 25% less likely than men to get a hike in pay when they asked for it. 

 

Myth #4: Women make less because they choose low-paying careers

Do you remember what I said about social norms and peer pressure? My mother was told she could either be a teacher, or a nurse. She’s very smart and wanted to be an engineer, but she ended up becoming a teacher instead. That was it. Nurse or teacher. Because those were careers deemed suitable for women. While we’ve made great strides in combating this reality, girls are still less likely to think they are good at math and science, and the STEM fields suffer from a lack of female workers.

 

It’s true that most careers that are primarily employing women make significantly lower salaries than male-dominated fields. but even in if we focus just on those jobs, there’s still inequality. Even within those female-dominated career paths, men still make more.

gender wage gap low paying jobs

Myth #5: Men actually make LESS than women in big cities

This one really piqued my curiosity. Location DOES matter. The fact is that women DO make more, percentage wise, in some big cities. HOORAY!! Instances of gender equality are wonderful and should be studied to expand to the larger platform!

There are a number of potential factors that lead to a smaller wage gap in big cities. Like…

  • Big cities are home to larger corporations, and international pressures focus more on gender equality than we do in the U.S.
  • There is more competition, and more risk of employees leaving to work for a competitor in a big city, so pay tends to be better for both men and women
  • Denizens of big cities tend to be more exposed to diversity, have different values, and are less prone to the ‘Good Ole Boy’ culture that still remains in many small towns
  • But, on average, men STILL make more than women, even in big cities

 

When you look at the wage gap broken down by congressional districts, you can also see a stark difference that correlates with the number of major cities in each district. But the areas with larger wage gap are not necessarily only rural. Just compare Austin, TX with Salt Lake City, UT, and you can see that being in a large city is not enough in itself to expect to earn closer to male counterparts. So, clearly, if I as a woman am willing to make a major move, I know which parts of the U.S. to avoid.

gender wage gap

Honestly, if I’m able to be mobile, I’m going to cast my net a little wider. There are plenty of other countries that are actively working to install policies to close the wage gap, that include things like new laws on transparency, paternity leave, and other methods to create a culture that values women equally.

gender wage gap world

 

Now, I’m not saying we should throw in the towel on gender wage equality here in the U.S. Our mothers and sisters before us have worked tirelessly to get us to where we are today, and I am incredibly grateful for their hard work! Now we also have phenomenal allies in our male feminists, who love and appreciate the women in their lives, and are equally passionate about breaking down the misogynistic history to help us get closer to true gender equality. We are making incredible progress, and the more we talk about this, the more we can consciously focus our efforts to eliminate the subconscious acts of discrimination. This can be as simple as paying attention to your choice of adjectives when  describing a boy and a girl doing the same activity or achievement. Is he bossy while she is confident? Is she nagging while he is persistent?

gender wage gap over time

Also, to go along with all the data, there are COUNTLESS stories that women are happy to share with you if you bothered to ask us what life is actually  like for us. I have a great example of wage gap reality in my personal life. After our company closed its doors in 2010, I found myself applying for the same job as my male colleague. Identical degrees. Similar work experience (mine was actually greater). Similar age. When my colleague decided to turn down the job offer for a better one, I asked him what they offered him. They offered me $5k less per year. That’s real wage gap. I happen to be educated on things like this, so I am an unusually tough negotiator compared to my female peers, but the best I could get was a pay equal to his original offer. So- YES- the wage gap is real, and I have personally been impacted by it.

 

And here’s that referenced Facebook debate where my friend Eric earns a GOLD STAR for being a fabulous male feminist!

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The Year of the Woman-2017

8 03 2017

17191117_1512593198823299_2500333079812462773_nToday is International Women’s Day, and I am wearing my red in solidarity, to raise awareness for all the fights that we are continually fighting. Last year, I remember reading about the massive walk-outs in other countries, how services were disrupted and some places had to shut down because the women of that country refused to be silent, and were determined to demonstrate the importance and power of women in our global economy. I, however, did nothing. 

 

This year, I am doing something about it. And there is one person to thank…

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Our battle has only just begun, but the backlash against our new President (aka #45) is already yielding incredible growth in anti-apathy activism. The momentum of the Women’s March on Washington started with a roar, and is still growing.

 

Lots of people were confused about the goals of the Women’s March on Washington. I know that when you gather 3 million people together, each individual goal will vary. Let’s clarify, at least one perspective.

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I traveled 12 hours on an overnight bus to Washington D.C., not because I wanted to have a rough night of sleep and protest the next president. I came to D.C. to make it clear to the new administration that women are NOT going to sit back and let them ignore us. The president can NOT call us ‘nasty’ or ‘pussy’ or ‘bitch.’ There is no undo button. There is no ‘Back.’

 

I march because I am not willing to let our children live in a society where women are STILL less than. I don’t have kids. But I live in a village, so I (kind of) have dozens of kids. The march in DC only affirmed my faith in humanity. When I boarded the bus (1 of 6) from Indy, I was surprised to see several men. After just a few minutes of conversation, I could see that these people were allies, and self-proclaimed feminists.

 

At 4am, our bus stopped at a rest area in the middle of nowhere, and we filed off of the bus, bleary-eyed and sore. I stood in line waiting for the women’s room for 15 minutes, then realized there was no line for the men’s. Along with a half dozen other ladies, and a couple of men, we relieved ourselves and discussed how silly it is that people worry about who’s in which bathroom. I just had to pee. And no one was arrested.

 

My wife disappeared, and came back telling me about how she randomly ran into 4 women we know who were traveling from northern Indiana, and just happened to be stopping at the same rest stop, for the same 20 minutes in the middle of the night. What a coincidence! On my way back to the bus, I ended up somehow leading an impromptu yoga session for strangers waiting in the queue. They were stretching, and I stopped- as a joke- to share an exaggerated stretch with them… and then a group of 6 of us moved through my regular yoga poses together, before I left to get back on my own bus. It was an unexpectedly beautiful experience!

 

16143153_10212060536858928_8363833951619441822_nWhen we arrived in DC, we were sorely missing our Metro cards, which we ordered weeks in advance, but never received in time. We got to RFK stadium at 7am, but our group decided to enjoy the unseasonably warm (thank you climate change) walk to the national mall. We were lucky for warm, dry weather, and we were grateful. At the mall, things got crazy real fast. I’m not a fan of crowds, but was prepared for the worst. We ended up with a group of 13, all linking hands to try to not be separated. It took at least 30 minutes of pushing through a crushing crowd of hundreds of thousands, but we did end up getting separated.

Once we got into the thick of things, there was really no turning back. We could not move. We could barely turn around. We could not hear or see the presenters. After not too long, the three of us who remained together had to escape to the fringes of the national mall to get a breather, and find some nourishment.

 

The day was intense, amazing, AWESOME! I was inspired by all the people I met along the way. The 80 year old woman who showed up with her 3 adult sons willing to march for women’s rights! The young, early 20s women who marched for their future. I’m proud for this diversity! There were over a million marchers. And no one was arrested.

 

16194931_1438807779535175_1141294287900534876_nFunny coincidences? There were several. The night before the march, our friend, Christine, told us that she decided last minute to also go to DC, from Michigan. She wanted to make plans to meet up, which we weren’t sure about, logistically. We made semi-vague plans for a time but no place, knowing that cell service in the massive crowds would be challenging. As we were marching down Independence, listening to women’s voices chanting, distant drums booming, I heard a squealing sound rapidly growing in intensity. All of the sudden, I saw my friend’s face come crashing into me! Literally- she smashed her forehead into mine as she tripped to hug me, and we almost fell over together, perched on the curb. She had recognized my sign from an earlier Facebook post, and didn’t want to lose sight of us, so she launched into action. I could not believe that she found us. It was LITERALLY a 1 in a million chance. 

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My heart lacks for nothing. In one tiny weekend, I was filled with so many rich experiences. A woman searching for direction? Done. A woman wanting to document our pride flags? Done. A woman who lacked anything to carry, liked my planet poster, and wanted to carry it? Done. Lifelong memories of being a part of something far bigger than myself? You betcha. The fire has been stoked, and I am raring to go! Each and every person I encountered at that march has reaffirmed my passion and commitment.

I hereby declare 2017 the Year of the Woman!

 





The Gay Way to Shave (My Lesbian Car Lesson)

9 06 2016

I was 15 when I bought my first car. I still have him, 20 years and 11 months later- his name is Sam, and he’s a 1969 Volkswagen Bus. If you’ve not had the pleasure of riding in a VW bus, you should know that it is pure joy to drive, though not without its nuances. Yes, a fender bender may render you crippled, as there is less than an inch of metal between your legs and the car ahead of you. It’s also loud, and the exact opposite of aerodynamic- like driving a brick wall. When I was 16, my bus, Sam, was my daily driver, and he strolled me through many a Michigan winter with ease, even on the sketchy, ice-covered dirt roads I resided on.

 

11329844_873397612742864_7132719970890849809_nVolkswagen buses are known for one more thing. Heat… or lack thereof. When your engine is at the back of your bus, you are lucky to keep your toes thawed enough to shift gears in February. Thus, at age 16, I decided that it was prudent to stop shaving my leg hair, to trap any excess heat I could muster to survive the season. Believe it or not, I truly felt a difference! Years later, in architecture school, I understood the basic principles behind this thermal phenomenon, and felt affirmed in my nascent intuition. Thus began my exploration into defying American gender norms.

 

I knew that European women scoffed at this weird American standard requiring women to strip their legs bare of the hair that their parents gave them. It’s a vestigial element from our cavewoman days, no? Either way, the fiery internal feminist in me didn’t care about what was “normal,” and neither did my high school boyfriend, thank goodness. He love me regardless. And I never asked him to shave his back either, so we were pretty even, it seemed.

 

Flash forward to Indiana. I moved from Michigan to a state barely touching the vast bodies of water that we call the Great Lakes, and naively assumed that the treacherous Michigan humidity would be left behind as well. WRONG. It is humid as… um… frack… here. And as I struggle to maintain my sanity in the celebratory month of my birth, which also coincides with PRIDE, I am at a loss of how to balance my feminist ideals with my tendency to overheat.

 

IMG_4111Several years ago, after I came out, I discovered a certain freedom that allowed me to embrace my feminine side more so than I ever felt comfortable as a hetero-normative female. (See January’s post for more insight). One of those discoveries was this- when it’s really friggin hot, the inverse of my teenage years is also true- shaving my legs (at least up to my knees) can truly help to keep me to stay cooler in the summer time… and that is OKAY. It makes me no less of a feminist, no less of a butch lesbian, to choose to do whatever the hell I want with my body for the sake ofFullSizeRender_1 personal comfort. In fact, despite everything I felt forced upon me as a young person, when I CHOOSE to alter my body for myself- not for the perception of others- it is truly empowering. Yes, most of the time my legs are au naturel, and beautiful, and sexy, and just as they were born to be. But sometimes, when the forecast calls for 97 degrees and I will be baking in the heat all weekend, every little bit helps, and I will gladly shave off that excess, heat-trapping hair because it will make me cooler and happier. For the same reason some people choose to shave their heads in the summertime, I will lower my cooling load (yes this is ‘Archispeak’) via my shins and calves. I think that just makes me smart and practical, but you can apply whatever labels you like.
13244708_1142559419160014_5404030174740506919_nSo, this Saturday, I will be strutting my naked legs at Indy Pride, not embarrassed or proud- just comfortable and cool. And you should also listen to your body, and do what makes you comfortable and happy. Life is too short to be shoehorned into someone else’s idea of conformity. 





Lean OUT- What it Means to be a NON-Leader

13 02 2016

Leadership“I knew that I could only be happy if I was in charge.”

 

At a recent Women in Business Retreat, I listened to amazing women share inspiring stories about how they overcame failure, started up new businesses with only $33 left in their bank account, brought sexual harassers to justice, and grew into CEOs of billion dollar corporations.

 

bookInspirational? Undeniably.

 

Relatable? Not so much.

 

Society tells us that these women are WINNERS. They are the very definition of SUCCESS. As much as we all may think we want to be that successful, when it comes right down to it, we are not all leaders. For some of us, in fact, being the president of a company would be our worst nightmare. All the responsibility. All the stress. All the blame. And, yes, all the glory.

 

We have fought for generations to break those glass ceilings. Studies show that women are proven to be more effective leaders, because of our differences in communication, and yet we still only hold 17% of the leadership positions in this country. All true, and important, right?

 

The subliminal messaging out there to women is this: If YOU don’t get out there and climb that corporate ladder, you are failing womankind, and dooming the next generation of girls because they won’t have enough role models of women in power.

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Now, I absolutely agree that some women have innately superior leadership skills than their male peers. Yes, I am always proud when I see women heading up companies and doing a damn good job of it. And OF COURSE I want to see a female president. But just because women are still fighting for equal rights doesn’t mean that we ALL should be vying for the corner office.

 

Why Don’t You Want to be a Leader??

Fotolia_17117162_XS_f_improf_254x292We all define success differently. Sure, when I was a little kid, I wanted to be a movie star. I wanted to be that person you read about or see being interviewed because they have done something so awesome that society deems them newsworthy. I excelled in school, getting excellent grades, winning scholarships. After being vice president of Earth Club as a sophomore in high school, the next year I became president, because… there’s nowhere else to go but up, right?

 

I took on leadership roles, because that’s what you are supposed to do. I studied psychology and loved learning about all the different personality types and how those innate characteristics influence the ways in which we communicate with each other. I learned about effective leadership skills, and have been trained on how to be a good manager. I never asked for a promotion, but was given them.

 

In 2012, I was working for a company with layers upon layers of middle management, in an office led by a narcissistic chauvinist who took pleasure in smiling while he insulted you. Just 6 months after being hired, my direct supervisor approached me to offer me a promotion to Outreach Manager. I would have additional responsibilities for a team of seven, with more goals to meet and reports to write. There would be a 10% pay increase, and I would, of course, be expected to work more hours and set a ‘standard’ for work ethic. I told him I would think about it and let him know. He looked at me with utter confusion, “Don’t you want to be a manager? Don’t you love mentoring other people?” He was handing me a golden ticket and I responded with maybe.

6a00d83451c07669e201287768714e970c(Image credit here)

I looked at the hierarchy of our company, and remember thinking, “No, I don’t want to climb this ladder. I don’t want to be the one to get berated at meetings by the dictator in charge. I don’t want to fill your position when you get promoted. I don’t want any of this.” But I took the promotion. I managed the heck out of that team. I met all my goals and dealt eloquently with underperforming team members, working hard to mentor them and train them for future success. I strove to be the best boss I could be, and to shelter my team from the toxic work environment that we were in.

 

6_easy_tips_for_climbing_the_corporate_ladder_like_a_champ_655_1384507817Every day, I came home and walked in the door completely drained. I hated my job. It’s not that I don’t love mentoring other people- especially younger women. I’ll tell every single woman I meet to never accept her first job offer, to know her value and negotiate her salary. I have spent a lot of time learning and sharing the secrets of how to effectively communicate with different types of men in order to succeed. I want my peers to be ready to climb that ladder, but I just prefer the view from down here.

 

What Does it Mean to NOT Want to be the Leader?

I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean.

It does not mean you are brainwashed by society.

It doesn’t mean you simply can’t envision a woman doing it.

It does not mean you are lazy or don’t believe in yourself.

It doesn’t mean you’re settling.

 

I now have a job that I LOVE. I travel the state and get to tour all sorts of cool factories. I’m constantly learning interesting new things! I’m interacting with people at all levels of a company. I know how to talk to C suite executives, and I do it quite well.

 

In 2015 I was approached by my boss to apply for a brand new, manager position. It’s basically the same job I have, plus managing a few other folks. I applied for it, and got the promotion, along with a 4% pay increase. I’m not going to say no to a raise, but there’s pretty much nowhere else for me to go in this position… and I like that. I don’t want to be the director, because that means that all the fun stuff that I love so much would disappear, replaced by forecasting and spreadsheets and meeting after meeting after meeting. I don’t want that job. And that’s okay.
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For those of us who know that we don’t want to be the leader, defining success is a bit trickier. I know that I love my job, but I also love my family, my health, my hobbies, and my friends. I think that having a work-life balance IS success. I don’t need a new job title, or a fancy promotion, though they trigger lovely ‘congratulations’ from friends and family. I could do this job for the rest of my career, and as long as I’m still enjoying it, I am a success. That doesn’t mean I’m lazy. It means I’m intentional. And happy!!