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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Columns

Corporate America can’t solve wage gap because it doesn’t buy it


Commemorating International Women’s Day is tough when income inequality haunts women in all sectors of the workforce. Wage disparities persist 55 years after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act.

As a minority woman looking toward corporate America, wage disparity incites concern and insecurity about my future. It is discouraging to think that my gender will place me at an automatic disadvantage, no matter the quality of my work.

Today the gender pay gap has narrowed but continues to loom over women. In Texas in 2016, women were paid 79 percent of what men were paid for the same jobs. Every state falls victim to this discrepancy, but it is worst in Louisiana and Utah. In those states, women make only 70 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

Sonny Singh/The Cougar

Wage discrimination is more than just companies deciding to pay women less or valuing the work of women less; rather, it is a side effect of cultural traditions that have trapped women in the domestic molds of caretaker, nurturer, mother and wife. The assertiveness that is necessary for women to thrive in corporate America is not encouraged in any of these stereotypes.

The top rung of the business world is dominated by men because women have been taught to put their families first and themselves last, which disproportionately affects their paychecks compared to their male peers.

Ultimately this affects women’s salaries and widens the wage gap compared to men, who do not face the full force of society’s pressure to take care of all domestic responsibilities.

If a woman stands up for what she believes, it comes with the risk of being labeled overly emotional or controlling, while assertive men are rewarded with leadership positions. Men are 85 percent more likely to be promoted to executive and CEO positions.

This is a pressing concern for a generation that celebrates the advances of women and claims to push them further.

“Women historically and now are more likely (than men) to make choices where family balance is a top priority,” said Jamie Belinne, the assistant dean for career services at the C.T. Bauer College of Business. “We can pretend like it doesn’t make a difference, but it does. Having had my own children as a working mother, a man is never going to have the experience of struggling with, ‘How do I handle breastfeeding while I’m going back to work?’ That is purely a woman’s issue, and it does impact your choices and your work.”

Motherhood begins for most women during their careers. Gabby Hume, a customer relations specialist and UH alumna, said she would consider changing jobs if another company offered better childcare and family leave policies.

Women can either spend their brief maternity leave with their newborn and then embrace their unreasonable corporate schedule once again, all the while being labeled bad mothers, or they can sacrifice career goals and receive the label “unambitious.”

There is no winning, especially since the United States has among the shortest paid maternity leaves in the developed world.

 

Men who take on non-traditional gender roles are criticized by society, while women who make choices based on family are celebrated. This double standard sabotages any chance of progress.

Often, men who take time off or work less receive, on average, steeper cuts in their salaries than if women did the same. A study of lawyers’ salaries found that if men switch to a part-time schedule for a year, it decreases their salary more than a woman who also goes part-time. This puts pressure on women to continue to conform to their assigned cultural norms.

One of the most prevalent misconceptions is that women are not competitive enough. This stigma is hard to shake and sabotages women’s confidence.

“Negotiating skill is not about gender, per se,” Belinne said. “I have found that women tend to be more open at the negotiating table to hearing other people’s viewpoints, and therefore often a little better, but if the subject of the negotiation is themselves, they frequently don’t do it.”

Difficulty negotiating can frustrate women who have the potential to move up the corporate ladder but are hindered by cultural labels, contributing to the lack of female diversity in positions like corporate boards or CEOs.

Even though the wage gap is narrowing, it is still important to understand that women face unnecessary hindrances. Before we can put the wage gap behind us, we must collectively recognize its existence.

Opinion columnist Janet Miranda is a marketing junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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