Good Hair Day, Fair Pay Day

Apr 12 2011 Published by under women

What is equal pay day?

Today, April 12, 2011, is Equal Pay Day. This date symbolizes how far into 2011 women need to work to catch up to a comparable man's salary. As recent as 2008, the gap between men and women was 77 cents per dollar.

This gap is even more stark for women of color - "Latinas earn 58 cents and African American 68 cents for every dollar men earn." (National Committee on Pay Equity).

Doesn't more education help?

Some people say, "But look at all these women in college and graduate school! Getting more education will help, surely."

Not so, I am sorry to report. In fact, at the highest level of education the pay gap is the largest:

Credit: Professor Hilary Lips, Northwestern Univ. [source]


Median weekly earnings, women

Median weekly earnings, men
















High school graduate, no college




Isn't a woman's choice to get paid less than men?

Then people say, "Well, what about all those women choosing to [rear children, go into professions that don't pay well, etc.]". Professor Lips writes as much as the media loves to say it's a woman's "choice", there are far more factors at play:

Women’s choices are not the problem.

Individual women can sometimes evade the effects of the gender pay gap by making certain kinds of choices, such as selecting male-dominated occupations, working more hours, avoiding parenthood. However, these choices occur in an environment suffused with subtle sexism and discrimination: there are more barriers for women than for men to making certain choices, and the consequences of some choices are starkly different for women and men.

Moreover, these individual solutions are not effective on a societal level; they work only if the women enacting them remain in a minority. For example, if most women moved into jobs that are now male-dominated, signs are that the salaries associated with those jobs would likely drop. But, by making it difficult to go against the tide, the forces of discrimination ensure that most women don’t move into such jobs. And as long as a few women get past the barriers, the illusion persists that any woman could do it if she wanted to—it’s a matter of free choice. However, women’s choices will not be free until their abilities and their work are valued equally with men’s, and until women and men reap equivalent consequences for their choices in the realm of work and family. [source]

This comic sums up the 'choices' argument best:

Credit: Amerstand at Alas, a blog. [link]

This post is depressing. Can you please give me some good news, FCS?

I am happy to report the news isn't all bad. Asian-American women, you're doing the best of all of us, making 91 cents on the dollar to men. And my fellow Engineering women, we're looking at 96.7 cents at least for the first three years of our careers. [source]

What can I (a woman) do to close the gap for myself?

Ask! Ask for a raise. Ask for a promotion. Apply to tons of jobs and get employers into a bidding war over you. Negotiate that starting salary.

Just don't be a wallflower, waiting around for people to recognize your brilliance. Fellow FCS Valerie Aurora has some great negotiation tips on her website. Remember - don't be afraid of people getting mad at you!

What can I (man or woman) do to close the gap for others?

If you're in a position of power over people's salaries (manager, department head, dean, etc.), go through your employees' salary data and crunch the numbers. Check for statistically significant differences between your male and female employees of comparable experience level to ensure salaries are fair.

Also, be sure when you assess employees for raises/tenure/etc you are using equal objective criteria. When you give an employee a merit raise, make sure you use the same criteria for John as for Jane.

Finally, remember to laud the ladies! Talk up the professional accomplishments of your female colleagues to anyone who will listen. Be a sponsor.

5 responses so far

  • Kimberly says:

    Here in the UK a few years back, women employed by city councils began winning equal pay cases based on 'equivalent jobs', that is based on the fact cafeteria workers and garbage men were approximately the same level of job and should be paid approximately the same amount. Turns out garbage men (if they played their overtime cards right) could earn £50k or more while cafeteria workers were on minimum wage (about £9.6k). The result: panic as the councils realized they didn't have the budget to pay everyone, howls of protest as the men contemplated a pay cut, the unions (who represented both sets of workers) in dissarray ... funny how it all seems to have gone quiet and no one seems to have gone bust ... I wonder what happened. I imagine it wasn't good news for the ladies.

  • chall says:

    Interesting graphs and statistics. Thanks for the source links!! (guess who's sending this out to her friends?!)

    One thing I thought about though, the "professional degree" is that referring to "mechanic" or other "professional schooling degrees"? Since that is the biggest difference and not "doctoral degree". I guess I didn't read it as "Professor positions" but maybe I'm mistaken? Just a tad bit confused and not that it really matters since the graph paints a fairly bleak picture...

    As for the "choices discussion" - thanks for Prof Lips explanation which is less aggressive than the one I usually end up saying ^^

  • FrauTech says:

    Indeed. Happy equal pay day.

  • Nic says:

    Something else you can do ... join a union. Here in Australia at least, the pay gap between men and women is less for those in a union (see p9 of this federal govt department report: Re. the choices argument, the same report quotes OECD data that even after differences in career paths, choices over part-time work etc are taken into account, up to 50% of the pay gap remains unexplained.

  • Howard Gray says:

    There is something really wrong here. It is not just the disparity between the genders. I know auto mechanics that bring home more per week than the pay cited for CS PhD's. They are not even working for themselves. I live in the south.

    This is most disturbing.

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