Women’s History Month – The Long, Long Road to Equal Pay – in 2152

“I do not demand equal pay for any women
save those who do equal work in value.
Scorn to be coddled by your employers;
make them understand that you are
in their service as workers, not as women.”
~ Susan B. Anthony, ca 1868 

We sought justice because equal pay
for equal work is an American value.
That fight took me ten years.
It took me all the way to the Supreme Court.
And, in a 5-4 decision, they stood on the side
of those who shortchanged my pay,
my overtime, and my retirement
just because I am a woman.
~ Lilly Ledbetter, 2012


More than a half-century ago, in 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act, which amended the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which in turn was signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

But currently languishing in Congress is the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was introduced in 2015 and would broaden the penalties to include full compensatory and punitive damages for gender-based pay discrimination by putting them on par with race-based pay discrimination. Congress so far has failed to bring it to a vote.

In 1963, white women earned 59 cents for every dollar a white man earned for doing the same work; after 53 years white women have bumped up their earnings only 21 cents, to 80 cents on the dollar! And the discrepancy is wider for women of color and mothers, and gets worse as women age. According to the American Association of University Women, at this rate and factoring in the economic setbacks that women frequently experience the gender pay gap will not close until 2152, another century plus! The World Economic Forum believes it will take 170 years for women to reach pay equity with men!

There are some, however, who believe that pay equity can be achieved by 2044. Is that acceptable to Millennial women, the oldest of which will be in their 60s? Is working into one’s 80s and 90s to make retirement ends meet acceptable because the gender pay gap cannot be closed?

Currently, women of all ages, backgrounds, marital and family status and education levels across all industries generally earn less than men. These include positions in which both women and men do equal work or take on equal responsibilities. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a member of a hotel’s housekeeping staff, a movie star, an athlete or corporate CEO. For example, even Yahoo’s golden girl CEO Marissa Mayer’s male successor has been offered twice as much in salary and benefits as she was making, and not even for doing the same work but for a much scaled-back position compared to the impossible job for which she was hired to do.

Not only that, but in industries in which women dominate they tend to make less than men do in male-dominated industries. And the kicker is that men in women-dominated industries still make more than women, and when women begin to dominate formerly male-dominated industries, their pay scale drops! This is a historical situation that has become entrenched in modern society, and it is another playing field that must be leveled. Women should not have to enter a field just to achieve higher pay; industries that historically been dominated by women should have the same pay range as those that have been dominated by men. It’s time to reassess our values as a society.

The Glass Cliff

But getting back to impossible jobs, I’m going to digress for a moment to address a related phenomenon that I believe sabotages women’s advancement and long-term earning potential, and that is the glass cliff, the concept and term created by Professor Michelle Ryan, University of Exeter, UK, and Professor Alex Haslam, University of Exeter and The University of Queensland, Australia. The term is used to describe a situation in which a woman is hired to fill a top position in times of crisis that might otherwise have gone to a man in times of stability — and then to add insult to injury pay her less than a man would be paid for the same post, and then dispose of her as a sacrificial lamb whether or not she has delivered. Some very high-profile women who assumed CEO and other senior positions at major companies at times when they were at various crossroads, only to be replaced include the aforementioned Marissa Mayer, Mary Barra (GM), Ellen Pao (Reddit) and Carly Fiorina (Hewlitt-Packard). This type of situation also appears to occur with some frequency with women at middle management levels.

To avoid crashing through one of those glass ceilings only to be knocked off a glass cliff on the other side, women must evaluate carefully and thoroughly when offered what seems to be the opportunity of a lifetime. To paraphrase the old adage, if an opportunity seems too good to be true, it is advisable to turn into a version of V.I. Warshawski to get to the bottom of said opportunity. To this end, here are a few examples of the observations and advice from the authors of Her Place At The Table:

P. 41: “Not all the i’s can be dotted and the t’s crossed up front when a new assignment is contemplated or a new role considered. A certain amount of confusion is natural. As a result, people often ignore these signals, figuring that they can take care of them once they are on board. That can be a dangerous approach. Not all confusion springs from superficial sources. Beyond a certain threshold, the confusion, if not confronted, can seriously reduce your effectiveness. Top management’s ambitious plans do not square with the organization’s capabilities. How can you perform without the basic systems in place? The CEO balks at putting you on the operating committee, but promises you free rein. How can you exercise that authority if you don’t have a voice at the table? Is this a setup?”

P. 45: “It is a good idea when taking on a new role, to remember that organizations are political places — and that the people in them are political players. They have interests to protect and agendas to advance. They also operate with mixed motives — concern for the organization’s health and their own career being the prime drivers. There will always be outliers whose ambition swamps all other considerations, but in the main, executives’ corporate and personal interests pull in the same direction. Or at least they almost always think they do.”

Page 50: “Drilling deep provides the information you need to make informed decisions. Greater understanding of the factors in play lessens the temptation to cast situations in black-and-white terms. Yes or no gives way to maybe and opens up the possibility of negotiating other options.”

As various headings in the book indicate, when accepting a new role, including the top spot, women should tap into their networks, confront confusion and anticipate blockers. Taking a top position under any circumstances and at all costs could cause you to slip off that glass cliff. On the other hand, doing your due diligence before accepting a position can open avenues for discussion and negotiation (salary negotiation being just the beginning), which can be the difference between staying above the glass ceiling and slipping off the glass cliff.

The Misleading Gender Pay (Very Small) Exception

On the other hand, deniers of the gender pay gap will point to a handful of top female CEOs who actually earn more than many male CEOs. But this is misleading. The women CEOs who earn more are paid a “diversity premium.” This is due to the perception that there just aren’t enough qualified women for the top spots and some large corporations want to fulfill their diversity goals, or at least appear to be doing so by appointing a woman to a highly visible top spot.

Of course, there are some corporations who are genuinely interested in hiring or promoting women who are considered to be “high potential.” Such companies genuinely believe in gender diversity or have come to understand that companies headed by women, have women in decision-making rolls or include women on their boards of directors generally tend to perform better financially than companies who do not have women filling the top spots. And there is some evidence that companies with women as well as men in charge at the top of the house fared better during the Great Recession than those run by only men at the top.

But the question is, with all the talented women in college and the workplace, why is there the perception that only a handful of women are qualified to hold a few top spots, and that they are singled out to be paid the same or better compensation as men are paid? Is it because there are so many obstacles and barriers in a woman’s path that only a few are able to break through to gain the experience needed for a top spot? If so, it’s time to remove those barriers.

National Equal Pay Day – Tuesday, April 4

National Equal Pay Day was established in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity, which was founded in 1979 by a partnership of organizations devoted to gender and race pay equality. This year the day and the cause will be observed in two weeks from today. Participants are asked to wear red, to indicate how women and people of color are in the red with their pay.

Wage earners, employers, students, professors and everyone who believes in equal pay for equal work are encouraged to join in and organize marches, lobbying events, speak-outs and meetings — both physical and of the mind — to end pay discrimination. But everyone can wear red to work and make the day high profile.

Let’s Make Equality a Reality Before 2152

It’s beyond absurd to think that women must wait another century plus to achieve equal pay for equal work with men. Or that we should have to wait another half-century or even a decade. There are as many or more women as men in the workplace and on college campuses; thus, it’s high time that women start to define the workplace and campus to accommodate both genders, not just one. That means taking definite actions to keep the changes and advances going that began so many years ago. Millennial women don’t want to represent just one more generation in which women were paid less than men.

Here are some of my suggestions to achieve gender pay equality now:

  • Vote: Don’t let another election go by in which you miss a vote. That includes voting in local (village, town, city and county), state and national elections. That means you must vote in interim elections, not just in Presidential years. That means you should vet and elect candidates whose track records and stated goals reflect their desire and ability to strengthen legislation on every level to ensure that labor laws are in place that promote and protect equal gender pay. And don’t forget to volunteer to help get your candidates of choice elected!
  • Negotiate: Don’t settle for the salary offered if there is room for negotiation. How will you know if there is room? By doing your homework on the industry and organization to which you are applying. In many cases there is room for negotiation, sometimes there is not. The key is to be sure that you are getting as much compensation in salary, benefits and bonuses as possible — in other words as much as a man would get for the same position. The formula for asking for the compensation you deserve is (a) the market salary range for the position, (b) your credentials (degree, experience, accomplishments, status in industry, excellent reputation, high-level references and endorsements, etc.), and (c) the particular demands of the job (for example, long hours, travel, size of staff to manage, other expectations). What is not part of the formula is your current or past compensation. Research negotiation techniques and polish your skills and approach (hint: it’s different from a man’s).
  • Network: Building a strong network of contacts will increase your knowledge, skills and confidence. Your network should include mentors, role models, teachers, professors, coaches, volunteer colleagues, managers and coworkers present and former with whom you have good relationships, family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, LinkedIn contacts and so on. Include in your network one or more women’s groups where you can acquire support and encouragement in your professional endeavors. Having that kind of structure will provide you with current intelligence and data, constructive feedback and strong support that will shape your negotiation expertise.

Women do not have to wait another 100 years for equal pay. We have the numbers and the motivation to close the gender pay gap starting now. So what are we waiting for?

Until next time,


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