Friday, October 2, 2009

Why There's Still A Wage Gap (With Apologies To Peggy Olson)

Blog reposted in part, with permission from author Doree Shafrir. Originally posted on Jezebel.

A couple weeks ago on Mad Men, Peggy got recruited to go to another, much larger ad agency. Instead of saying yes right away, she went into Don Draper's office to see if she could get a raise.

She's a copywriter, but she gets paid much less than the other copywriters, all of whom happen to be male. And so she invokes the recently passed Equal Pay Act. "It's a law now," she says. "Equal pay for equal work." Don looks at her as though she's speaking another language. "Peggy, it's not a good time," he tells her. Then he asks her if she wants a drink.

When Peggy confronts Don, it's 1963, and the median annual income for women was around 60 percent of men's. Today, it's around 77 percent—a gain, to be sure, but hardly anything to be thrilled about. While some of the so-called gender gap can be explained by the fact that women tend to work in lower-paying fields—such as education and child care (I'm going to bracket the debate about whether these deserve to be lower-paying fields at all)—there's still a five percent wage gap for male and female college graduates, even after controlling for things like age, race and ethnicity, region, marital status, children, occupation, industry, and hours worked, according to testimony given in April to the United States Joint Economic Committee. The conclusion? "It is reasonable to assume that this difference is the product of discrimination."

But it's slightly more complicated, I think, and it raises uncomfortable questions about the differences between men and women—whether they're socially determined or not. A couple years ago, there was another study that focused on men vs. women in negotiations; men, it showed, will take the initiative and ask for things like more money or a promotion, while women will wait to be asked.

It's hard not to look at these studies and think about anecdotal evidence from my own life. At my first job out of college, I was offered just that salary: $25,000 a year. I didn't even think about negotiating. Sure, you could argue that I wasn't exactly coming from a position of strength, as a 22-year-old college graduate with little experience who was desperate for a job. But over the years, I saw how certain people—and nearly all of them were men—were able to ask for things that I wouldn't even have thought of to ask for: Extra vacation days. Bonuses. When I was in graduate school, better teaching schedules (and better professor assignments). A few years later, I was offered another job at what I now considered a laughable salary, $35,000 a year. I countered at $65,000. We settled on $57,000, with a guaranteed raise to $60,000 after three months. And I came up with a new motto: "You don't ask, you don't get."

Read the full blog and comments here.

It's time to update the Equal Pay Act, untouched since its passage in 1963. Go here for more information and to write a letter to your Senator -- The Paycheck Fairness Act has passed the House, but is stuck in the Senate and needs your voice.

1 comment:

Gunfighter said...

"You don't ask, you don't get."

Sure as hell, Zaffy.