Since March has ended and so has Women’s History Month, I thought it was fitting to take a look at the continued battle for equal pay. While this is a phenomenon which is not new, nor does it only affect certain industries, I would argue there is a larger negative impact we are missing. Mission driven organizations, or companies practicing corporate responsibility and philanthropy send a harmful message to the women they may be trying to help: you have less value.
What women make
Women earn 77.9 cents for ever dollar men make. This is not a news flash, but it means that women on average earn 22 percent less than men. When you control for factors like experience, industry and job level women still only earn 97.8 cents to every dollar men make. According to PayScale.com, men and women start out their careers relatively similar in job titles, but my mid-career men are 70 percent more likely to be in executive roles as compared to women, and by late career men are 142 percent more likely to be in vice president or chief roles as compared to women. In fact, while the pay gap is 97.8 cents when you control for factors like experience, that gap widens to 94.4 cents for women in executive levels.
Historically this has always been a problem. There have been periods where the pay gap between men and women declined, such as between 1980 and 2000, but since 2000 change has stagnated. Why is this the case? Well, it is complicated. Some of it is about discrimination, some of it is about women being more likely to leave the workforce to care for family and some of it is that women tend to seek careers with more flexibility (even within the same profession as their male peers). (Check out this Freakonomics podcast on the topic). This does not even address issues of sexual discrimination at work, for which 42 percent of women in the United States have reported experiencing because of their gender.
What are we saying to those we serve?
These issues are on-going. While there are groups, policy makers and advocates fighting to close the gender pay gap and end sexual discrimination in the workplace, there is a larger message that those with privilege, either through our race, gender or socioeconomic status do not think about. If your organization is fighting, either domestically or abroad, for women’s rights, women’s access to health care or improving women’s socioeconomic development are we really leading by example? Most philanthropic endeavors preach sustainability, but how can we can really tell women in the developing world, or women struggling in poverty in the developed world, to fight harder and achieve more when the models they see are women at the “top” still being undervalued when compared to men.
If society does not recognize the unconscious biases that govern our interactions, especially in regards to the workplace, closing the gender gap is unlikely to occur. Without everyone making conscious decisions to confront bias in how we view gender roles, responsibilities as well as any abilities we unconsciously subscribe to specific genders, these biases will turn into discrimination and continue to grow. This will hurt an organization’s larger mission, in-turn, to empower the unempowered. Without moving past the persistent need to attribute more value to specific races and genders we will never truly help anyone, nor truly make the world a better place.