The Gender Pay Gap… It Still Exists

Here's What I Think The New Hampshire Women's Initiative

EQUAL PAY DAY: APRIL 8, 2014

The simple truth about the gender pay gap is that it still exists in nearly every occupation, in every state. It hasn’t budged in a decade: full-time, year-round  women workers are paid 77 percent of what men are paid, despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963!

To call attention to this continuing inequity, April 8 has been declared the 2014 EQUAL PAY DAY , which marks the date when women’s wages catch up to what men were paid in   2013. Many women will wear red on April 8 to symbolize the issue: pay equity is discriminatory, unfair, and illegal!

The gender wage gap affects all women, but for black and Hispanic women the pay shortfall is worse. (White men are used as a benchmark because they make up the largest demographic group in the labor force.) And the gap is greater for women over 35; younger working women typically earn about 90 percent of what men are paid. It is important to remember that when we talk about pay equity we   are talking about work that requires the same education, experience, skills – jobs that are equal, and which therefore require equal pay! But that isn’t happening! Women are earning the largest portion of college diplomas these days, and yet they are often paid less.

Why? Why do employers offer women fewer jobs and fewer promotions and pay them less for the same work? Gender segregation persists; sex stereotypes drive women into low-wage, often part-time jobs. Assumptions about pregnancy and care giving responsibilities at the time of hire are frequently made; employers fail to provide men and women with accommodations and flexibility to address their families’ needs. Some employers historically made rules about keeping secret wage scales and negotiations so that women were kept ignorant of longevity raises and bonus potential. (There is a move among some women’s organizations to pressure President Obama to issue an executive order that would protect federal contract workers from retaliation if they discuss salary or wage practices. )

In a perfect world, employers would pay women what they deserve without government intervention. In this imperfect world, however, government intervention is often the only solution to labor problems; voluntary equal pay policies seldom prevail.

Here in New Hampshire, right now, there is the probability of new legislation that will address the pay gap issue on a state level! SB 207  is an  act  relative to paycheck equity: “No employer or person seeking employees shall discriminate between employees on the basis of sex by paying employees of one sex at a rate less than the rate paid to employees of the other sex for equal work that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions…….”  This bill is scheduled to be acted on in the New Hampshire legislature on April 8 (Equal Pay Day!) Keep your eyes on the status of SB 207!

This is vital news for women and their families. Women are the sole or primary source of income in 40 percent of American households with children under age 18. And in this era of growing economic inequality, we all know that in order to maintain middle class status, two salaries in a family are usually needed; improvement in women’s pay raises the standard of living for all!

But at the federal level, the picture continues to be grim. On March 25, the Paycheck Fairness Act failed in the Senate, 52-47.  New Hampshire’s Republican Senator, Kelly Ayotte, voted  against paycheck fairness.  She was apparently  persuaded by  the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers who  pressured Senators to vote against the Paycheck Fairness Act because “employers would be exposed to increased threats of litigation….”  Fear of lawsuits versus expanded purchasing power for large segments of the workforce – those are frequently  the competing arguments in Congress. (Such litigation is often the only route to gender  pay equity and fairness, as the famous Lily Ledbetter case demonstrated.)  The different values here are astounding, and highlight political party differences on gender issues!

We can see, there is good news and bad news. New Hampshire legislators are considering a state law that would help to close the gender pay gap. But Washington legislators are once again at a standstill about legislation that is fair, necessary, economically just. At the rate the wage gap is changing, it will not be closed for another forty years, almost 100 years after the adoption of the Equal Pay Gap.  Politicians who refuse to make pay equity a reality do not deserve our votes.

Patricia Yosha
Exeter, New Hampshire

Debora Spar Review 2/20/2014

by Molly Branch, NHWI intern

Tucked away in a small black-box theater buzzing with women, Debora Spar begins to speak. She jokes that her book “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and The Quest for Perfection,” was actually supposed to be called “The Reluctant Feminist,” but her publisher convinced her to change it. She beat them at their own game and elected to use the word “sex” in the title, because – as we all know – sex sells.

Spar is the author of several books and the president of Barnard College, but last Thursday night was hosted by The Music Hall Loft to speak about her novel. The audience, mostly women and two men, was immediately enraptured by Spar.

She told us that for her whole life she avoided the “f-word.” She told us that she, as many women in her generation, fell victim to the idea that feminism was over –that we had won and that it was no longer needed. She told us that she grew up thinking she could and should have it all, and how her drive to succeed had landed her in fields traditionally dominated by men. Because of that, she told us, she spent a period of her life as The Token Woman in the Group of Men.  She told us about how for so long she heard the line, “We really need a woman,” and how that frustrated her. Until one day she decided that was Not Her Problem.

At this point, the audience was comfortable with the conversation – and that had little to do with the complimentary drinks. Something about Spar’s confident demeanor interwoven with light-hearted comic relief left the audience ready to go wherever Spar wanted to take us.

“Let me tell you The Dead Chipmunk Story,” Spar started. She animatedly told the story we all know too well: one disaster after another after another until a half dead chipmunk ends up on our carpet. In this story, she appealed to each woman in the audience. We have all had days like these. Days that, dictated by unwritten law of being a woman, require us to Do It All, and we can’t. We try so very hard, but we can’t. And things fall apart. And Spar assured us, “That Is Okay.” Even with the dead chipmunk.

She cited the “Charlie Perfume Ad”  as a source of this unrealistic dream (she even did reenactments of the Charlie girl!). As a girl she grew up watching women like the one in the ad “Having It All.” These women were carefree. They had their lives together. They seemed to not be concerned with the stresses of being a successful mother-worker-wife-house-keeper. Instead, they were happy to finally have options. These women had freedom to have a job, and run the household, and care for the family.  They had won the first part of the battle in earning this freedom. That’s when she really started to get to it: Feminism.

Spar spoke for her generation when she confessed: “We got it wrong. We made it about us. Feminists never said that it was about us.” Feminism was never supposed to be about perfection, individually or socially. It was – and still is – about liberation. Then she opened it up to the audience for Q&A.  What stuck with me most was one of Spar’s answers, “Life is sloppy,” and that there is a need to find balance between success and happiness. It does not have to be perfect because it isn’t supposed to be.

Spar’s ultimate message remains that women can’t have it all. Something about the “quest for perfection” has really blindsided us to the infinite realms of joy in our lives. One thing’s for sure, women work too hard. We strive for an impossible dream that we cannot achieve. When we feel that we’ve failed, we are harsh to ourselves and too critical of each other. That is not what feminism is about. Feminism’s goal was to create a world of liberated women who supported each other. It’s 2014 and, per request of an audience member – an actual second wave feminist – it’s time to go back to the beginning: to liberation, sisterhood, and celebrating each other’s choices to be or not be a mother, career woman, wife, or whatever we decide.

Hearing Spar speak validated some of my own experiences as a 22-year-old woman who has always been pushed to be perfect. I’ve finally learned go easy on myself. I don’t beat myself up any more for not doing something “right.” Above all, I’m embracing the sloppiness that is life. That’s my personal success. I think Debora Spar would support that.

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Myself, Spar, and NHWI intern Stephanie Kuhn

Landya McCafferty Sworn in as judge for the U.S. District Court in Concord – the first woman to hold the job

Congratulations to Justice Landya McCafferty for being the first woman in New Hampshire to be a judge for the U.S. District Court in Concord. It was described as “the last of the firsts” for women in our state’s government. Check out the full article in the Concord Monitor here.

Landya McCafferty

Blog Post from Liz O’Donnell, Author of Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman. Book Signing on Thursday, February 6th in Concord!

Moguls, Moms and Maids: How the Housework Gap Affects The Wage Gap
by Liz O’Donnell

Equal pay advocates rejoiced when New Hampshire state lawmakers recently introduced two bills, HB 1188 and SB 207 designed to close the gender-based wage gap. And they were right to be excited about the legislation. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the typical women in New Hampshire who works full time is paid, on average, only .78 cents for every dollar a man earns. For non-white women, the gap is even greater. If passed into law, the bills will require employers to allow their employers to disclose their wages thereby removing a major barrier to discovering pay discrimination. However there is another barrier women face in their fight for equality at work: housework.

According to the American Time Use Survey, women still do approximately 30 percent more housework and child care than their spouses. And data from The Pew Research Center shows that even in households where the woman is the sole breadwinner and the man stays home, the division of household duties is inequitable. Men who stay home average 18 hours of housework per week, while their working partners average 14. Stay-at-home mothers, though, average 26 hours of housework. Their working partners average just a third of that time. Even in homes where couples split chores like cooking, cleaning, and yard work, women tend to shoulder the burden of invisible tasks like scheduling doctor’s appointments, arranging carpools, and organizing play dates. Clearly, women are carrying a large share of the responsibilities at home, regardless of their work status.

These inequities inside the home contribute to inequities in the workplace. Research shows a direct and negative correlation to women’s wages. Women are stretched thin; 15 percent report feeling tired or exhausted almost every day. And employers are concerned. Many employers believe mothers are less committed to their jobs than other employees. As a result, employers are reluctant to hire them and offer them high salaries.

Many believe the bulk of the wage gap is the result of choices women make, but they are missing the bigger picture. They attribute the gap to women choosing jobs with lower salaries or choosing to work part time or take time off to care for family. Some women do. But many women, who may appear to choose to cut back at work, are actually just trying to manage the demands of home and career. The truth is, women today are caught in a perfect storm of male-dominated culture at work, traditional social norms at home, and outdated schedules in the school system.

When we start talking about what’s really going on inside the lives of female breadwinners – when we accept the housework gap is a contributing factor to the gender gap at work – we will find new choices that support women, their spouses, their families, employers, and our economy. After all, as President Obama said in his State of the Union address last week, “When women succeed, America succeeds.”

Liz O’Donnell is the author of Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman. She will be speaking and signing books at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord this Thursday at 7 p.m.

New book cover

Debora Spar is Coming to the Music Hall!

Coming soon from The Music Hall and The New Hampshire Women’s Initiative: Debora L. Spar and her book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection!

Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection

Click here for more information!