By: Jenny B. Davis
Despite gains over the last few years, women still earn less — sometimes significantly less — than men in most professions, and the difference in salaries cannot be completely explained by traditional factors such as child-rearing and other lifestyle choices.
Cameron Szok, an account executive with a North Texas advertising and marketing firm, had spent the previous six to eight months working grueling hours — nights and weekends included —and her agency had hired a man to help with the work load.
“My boss had even told me that I was grossly underpaid at some point,” Szok said. She found herself in an increasingly stressful environment and had begun thinking about changing jobs or even professions. Those kinds of hours are fine, she says, “if you are 20.”
Then she learned that the newly hired account executive was being paid 48 percent more than she for what was clearly the same work. She had a master’s degree and seven years’ experience. The man had 10 years’ experience but no advanced degree.
“I felt like I got kicked in the gut,” Szok said.
She is not alone. Across professions, across socioeconomic status, across positions within professions, across races, women in the Fort Worth metropolitan area — and the nation — earn less than men in comparable jobs.
The reasons for the gap between the wages paid men and women are many and complex, and can be used both as explanation and justification.
“My personal belief is that there’s probably 20 or 30 factors that explain it,” says William Cron, senior associate dean for Graduate Programs and Research, at the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University. His study of fees charged by male and female veterinarians showed women were willing to charge less than their counterparts in the scenario studied.
Against Federal Law
Discrimination in compensation is illegal under several federal laws including the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says that the Equal Pay Act requires that men and women be given equal pay for equal work in the same establishment, and the jobs do not have to be identical but only substantially equal. “It is job content, not job titles, that determines whether jobs are substantially equal,” SHRM said.
Szok did not raise the issue with her boss. She said she had been led to believe that the small size of the company meant that it was exempt from some regulations, and she wasn’t sure she had a case. So she contacted employment lawyer Rod Tanner.
Tanner took her case and, as a first step, wrote a letter asking that the company rectify the situation. When that was rejected, Szok decided to proceed with a lawsuit. She was in the office the day Tanner’s letter arrived and continued to work during the case.
“It’s not something that you think’s going to happen to you, at least to that degree,” she said. “Honestly, one of the feelings was just being embarrassed that I had been taken advantage of.”
The case was settled, and the details are confidential. “It wasn’t about the money. It was on principle,” Szok said. “I also will say I did it for women. I have a daughter — I didn’t have her then, but it was about her. It’s about any woman.
“I was fortunate enough to know that my family could help me financially face a lawsuit, but sadly, a lot of people don’t have the resources to do this,” Szok said. “I knew I was going to change careers, so I didn’t think it was going to affect me professionally. I mean drastically change careers — I’m now an acupuncturist — and I work for myself.”
She owns Southside Acupuncture, located inside Renew Day Spa at 2116 Mistletoe Blvd. Her early interest in medicine led her that direction. “You know that statement that the best revenge is living well? I now have a lovely family and a rewarding career. My life is pretty damn good,” she said.
But not every woman is willing to or can afford to file suit.
Households in Poverty
“The wage gap is a serious problem,” says Rachel Malone, a senior financial advisor at Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. and the chair of the Women’s Policy Forum. “Almost one-third of all households in the Fort Worth metro area are female-headed, and they represent 54 percent of all households living in poverty. One contributing factor is that women in Fort Worth earn almost $11,000 less a year than their male counterparts.”
Malone is citing a report by the non-partisan Center for Public Policy Priorities prepared for a Forum meeting in Fort Worth that filled the ballroom at the City Club in June last year.
CPPP issued a report in 2014 entitled Economic Issues for Women in Texas in cooperation with The Texas Women’s Foundation, an arm of the Dallas Women’s Foundation. A special fact sheet issued for the Fort Worth session reported that full-time workingwomen in the Fort Worth metro area had median earnings of $38,111 a year while men earned $48,892 in figures from 2012. That means that Fort Worth women earn 78 cents for every dollar a man earns, and that particularly affects single-parent households headed by women and women living close to or below the poverty line. But the disparity in wages is not confined to lower income segments of society.
(Keep in mind that the median is a mathematical measure that identifies the middle number in a list of numbers, meaning that half of the values fall above that number and half below it.)
“In my profession, according to an article in Forbes Magazine last year, women financial advisors earn, on average, around 77 cents to the dollar compared to our male counterparts,” Malone said. “The interesting fact in this is that we basically set our own fees, within a range. This substantiates the argument that we, in large part, create our own glass ceiling because women don’t always value themselves as much as men, and we don’t know how to negotiate on our own behalf for a higher salary.”
The primary sources of statistical information on wages of men and women in the United States are the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census, both of which report using median figures. Exact comparisons can be difficult to generate from these data because the government doesn’t report on categories that contain less than 50,000 people. As a result, numbers for Tarrant County are collected into broad categories rather than by specific jobs.
The Women’s National Law Center reported in 2014 that the wage gap among union members is half the size the of the wage gap among non-union workers, with women working full time making 90.6 percent of what their male counterparts make weekly — a wage gap of 9.4 cents.
The wage gap is less among teachers nationally, but even in this often female-dominated area, differences in wages between men and women range from a low of 90.2 percent for secondary school teachers to 96.6 percent for special education teachers. Among lawyers nationally, women earn only 78.85 percent of what men earn weekly, and among physicians and surgeons, women earn 71.73 percent of what men earn.
Disparities Among Doctors
The wage difference between male and female physicians has traditionally been attributed to a tendency among women to enter primary care fields and work fewer hours, said an article in Health Affairs in February 2011. But researchers studied starting salaries by gender of physicians leaving residency programs in New York State during 1999–2008. “We found a significant gender gap that cannot be explained by specialty choice, practice setting, work hours, or other characteristics,” the researchers said. “In 2008, male physicians newly trained in New York State made on average $16,819 more than newly trained female physicians, compared to a $3,600 difference in 1999.”
There are many factors affecting the wage gap. “Most, but not all of the wage gap can be explained by certain measurable factors such as educational attainment, occupational segregation and differences in the number of hours worked (even among full-time workers),” said a December 2013 Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends report. “But there are other forces at work that are difficult to quantify: gender stereotypes, discrimination, professional networks that are more robust for men than for women, and hesitancy on the part of women to aggressively negotiate for raises and promotions. Experts suggest that these factors may account for anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of the earnings gap.”
The gap begins early, says the American Association of University Women report Graduating to a Pay Gap. The report said women “only one year out of college, working full time, were paid on average just 82 percent of what their male counterparts were paid. After controlling for hours worked, occupation, college major, employment sector and other factors associated with pay, the gap shrinks but does not disappear. About 7 percent of the gap cannot be explained by these factors commonly understood to affect earnings.”
Danyelle Keenan is an instructor in the Department of Management, Entrepreneurship and Leadership in the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University. She has 18 years of experience in human resources.
She is an example of one of the reasons women are sometimes paid less than men. “I made a job change last year and chose a lower-paying job,” Keenan said, rather than taking another job as a human resources executive. “Although the pay was 55 percent higher than what I make as an instructor, I chose the job that allowed me more time at home with my son,” she said. “This is a decision most women have to face at one point in their career. In order to move up on the career ladder, you often sacrifice time at home, whether it is longer hours or a longer commute.”
But there also is another factor she noticed during her years in human resources. “Men are negotiators and women are not,” she said. “When I ask a candidate for their desired salary, men are more likely to state a dollar amount. Women will state that they don’t know, or they’ll accept the range. When the candidate receives the job offer, men are more likely to try to negotiate. My perception and experience as a young female professional is that women expect their supervisors to recognize their value and pay them accordingly. Men ask for what they want and don’t wait for others to recognize their value. This leads to pay disparity, even within a set pay range.”
Learn to Play the Game
Dr. Tracey Rockett is associate professor of Professional Practice and Neeley Honors Faculty Associate Director at TCU and regularly speaks to various community and women’s groups on discrepancies both in pay and opportunities in the workplace. She believes that women should develop strategies for playing office politics.
“Women tend to believe that competence and hard work will trump politics, even though there is much evidence that suggests the opposite. If they are able to accept that politics are important and enter the game, they actually do quite well,” Rockett says. “Women are also more likely to think of politics negatively — as something deceptive and manipulative that should be avoided. And women often lack confidence in their skills and abilities, and so may be less likely to get in the game and go for what they want.”
Keenan said that an organization has a set range for a job, establishing a minimum and a maximum salary based on market value of the job and internal worth to the organization. “Companies desire the best candidate for the least possible price,” she said. That’s an understandable business practice, and salary offers can permissibly take into account other factors such as experience.”
Dr. Rachel Croson, dean of the College of Business at the University of Texas at Arlington, backs Keenan’s earlier remarks. “The evidence on opening offers that vary based on gender is quite mixed,” Croson said. “What is clear is that men tend to negotiate the offers they receive, while women tend to accept what is offered. Thus regardless of the initial offer they receive, men are likely to be paid more for doing the same job than women, simply because the men negotiated the initial offer upward.”
And there is where this issue of socialization and acculturation enters the picture. “Girls are socialized from an early age to play nice and share with others. They are taught to defer, while men are taught to compete,” Rockett said. “Women who are viewed as pushy or aggressive see a backlash and are more likely to be punished or lose out on raises and assignments.” The irony of that is that many of the qualities that are typically described as “feminine” are important to successful office politics, she said. “Things like being collaborative, patient and good at networking and team building.”
Also affecting the wages and success of women in the workplace are children. Sometimes this is referred to as the Mommy Track, under which companies give special consideration to women when they have children that gives them more flexibility, but does not offer much opportunity for advancement and salary increases, Rockett said. “Working mothers see decline in opportunities in pay while working fathers have an increase in both,” she said. “Parenthood is a cost for women, and a benefit for men.”
The Pew Research Center report cited above said an analysis of census data that shows that today’s young women are the first in modern history to start their work lives at near parity with men. “In 2012, among workers ages 25 to 34, women’s hourly earnings were 93 percent those of men. By comparison, among all working men and women ages 16 and older, women’s hourly wages were 84 percent those of men,” the report said.
“Yet there is no guarantee that today’s young women will sustain their near parity with men in earnings in the years to come,” Pew said. “Recent cohorts of young women have fallen further behind their same-aged male counterparts as they have aged and dealt with the responsibilities of parenthood and family. For women, marriage and motherhood are both associated with less time spent on paid work-related activities. For men, the onset of family responsibilities has a reverse effect on their career.”
Gender differences factor in. “This is just my gut feeling and experience,” says Cron. “For a man, the pay — and this is just in general — the pay level is a signal of how bright I am, how successful I am, and all these other great things about me. Whereas for a woman, I don’t think it does the same thing. It’s not nearly the end-all that it is for guys.”
The New York Times reported in a 2012 article that men are shifting into traditionally female jobs in search of economic stability. “The trend began well before the crash and appears to be driven by a variety of factors, including financial concerns, quality-of-life issues and a gradual erosion of gender stereotypes,” the report said. A Times analysis of census data showed that from 2000 to 2010, occupations that are more than 70 percent female accounted for almost a third of all job growth for men, double the share of the previous decade.
“That does not mean that men are displacing women — those same occupations accounted for almost two-thirds of women’s job growth,” the newspaper reported. “But in Texas, for example, the number of men who are registered nurses nearly doubled in that time period, rising to 22,532 from 12,709, and increasing the percentage of male nurses to 10.5 percent, from 8.4 percent. Men make up 23 percent of Texas public schoolteachers, but almost 28 percent of first-year teachers.”
And in both of those professions, men generally earn more than women. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2013, there were 254,000 men and more than 2 million women working as registered nurses in the United States. Median weekly earnings for men were $1,236 compared to $1,086 for women.
Texas Government Wages
One place you would expect salaries to be relatively comparable because salary information is so easily available is government. But the Texas Tribune found in an intricate examination that there were difficult-to-explain differences in Texas state government. (You can read the entire story here: texastribune.org/2014/03/21/gender-wage-gap-prevalent-throughout-texas-governm.)
“The Tribune looked at the differences in average and median pay for male and female employees at 54 state agencies with 100 or more employees, excluding universities. In both cases, wages for males came out ahead of females in more than 40 of the 54 agencies,” the report said. The report said the wage gap is most visible among the more highly paid workers in state agencies where only 12 of the 50 top earners are female.
Women are the majority of workers in some areas of state government. “The Department of Family and Protective Services, for instance, is 84 percent female, yet the average male employee makes $3,331 more than the average female employee,” the Tribune reported. But in the Governor’s office, which is 60 percent female, women hold a majority of the top roles and are paid $6,382 more than men on average.
(An interactive chart detailing the wage gap in Texas government can be found here: texastribune.org/2014/03/21/gender-wage-gap-state-agencies. The Tribune also has a searchable database of compensation for state and municipal workers here: salaries.texastribune.org.)
There is no simple solution to closing the wage gap. Already there are laws in place to deal with the issue, but the gap remains real and pervasive in Tarrant County and across the nation. It will take attitudinal and systemic changes in American business and American culture to close the gap. In the meantime, women must learn to value themselves more highly and ask for compensation that matches the work that they are being hired to do.
By: Jenny B. Davis