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What’s the deal with the wage gap?

Have you seen the video from Sarah Silverman about the latest project to close the gender wage gap? If not, it’s engaging and entertaining, so take a few minutes to watch it. I’ll wait…

Note: There is some vulgar language, but I think it’s worth watching.

To date, I’ve mostly discussed professional style around here, but as I grow and continue to build this platform, I enjoy discussing and hearing from all of you about work-related issued beyond the clothes we put on each morning (though I do think that’s more important than it gets credit for sometimes). So today, let’s discuss a well-known and frequently discussed but not entirely clear issue, that of the gender wage gap.

On average, women make approximately $0.78 for every $1 that men make (and according to some sources, this might be a bit generous).

In many cases, just about every set of statistics about everything under the sun can be sliced and diced in a million different ways to support just about any viewpoint one might be hoping to convey. And we know full well that most people use statistics in whatever way makes that statistic support their perspective. So what about this gender wage gap statement?

I’d argue that this “fact” is probably pretty true. Too many sources from too many different angles agree, generally, that men make more than women in similar positions. As often as I’ve heard people discuss this, I can’t help but wonder why this is the case.

Of course, there’s the obvious argument of gender discrimination. But might there be more to it? Many of my peers, and me included, say things like “I just can’t believe that’s true in my organization. It seems more fair than that.” or “Aren’t we getting beyond such obvious gender inequalities?” Clearly not, but I don’t believe it’s an overall conscious decision that women deserve less than men for the exact same work. I’m sure that viewpoint exists, but I don’t expect it’s the prevailing problem. The issue runs far deeper.

M showed me this video, asked the question I mentioned earlier about how it doesn’t “feel” like this is really an issue, at least at his company or mine. And I proceeded to share with him my thoughts on the subconscious or underlying triggers that I think might be root causes of this issue.

It’s A Boys Club – Most companies are run by men. I’d offer some links as proof, but is that even necessary? It’s typically easier to have stronger, more personal and meaningful relationships with others of the same gender. So if the management team is primarily men, other men will have an easier time becoming ‘buddies’ with management and be top of mind for special projects, promotions, raises, and the like. They’re also more likely to be invited by members of management to intimate after hours social events like sports games and fantasy leagues, further developing their friendly, informal relationship. And even if I was invited to attend a baseball game or the like with a senior member of management (let’s presume it’s a male because that’s the highest likelihood), I don’t know that I’d really feel comfortable? How would it be perceived if others saw us together? You get my drift… Some industries, like the one in which I work, have more prevalent boys clubs than others. While at times I may be intentionally excluded because the event hosts want a “guys thing” type of event, it’s more often just that I’m overlooked in a search to find some guys they’d enjoy spending time with.

Defining Assertive vs. Aggressive – Research supports and numerous studies explain that the fine line between being assertive (a good thing) and aggressive (a bad thing) is deemed to be breached by women far earlier than by men under the exact same set of behaviors and circumstances. So while a female acting in a certain way might be a bull in a china closet, her male counterpart doing the exact same thing demonstrates assertive leadership skills and confidence and has become an advocate for himself. When discussion begins regarding raises, promotions, and advancement opportunities, guess who’s getting them and who’s not?

Men Need The Money More – This might not ring true as often, but I truly believe this happens on occasion. Suppose management has a piece of a discretionary bonus pool left with two candidates vying to receive it, a married man and a married woman. The man’s wife stays home and the woman’s husband works. (Before you get all up in a whirl about this situation, I know it’s not always true. But let’s be honest, it’s pretty darn common.) Human nature triggers emotional responses to everything. Guess who our emotional brain is more likely to think “needs the money more.” The answer is obvious. And while it may not be a single factor in a decision, it might be the only small last factor that can distinguish and determine who gets the extra dollars. I don’t fault the “compensation committee” for initially defaulting to this conclusion, but I propose it become more recognized and challenged after initial consideration by our emotional selves.

On the contrary, maybe women passively encourage and perpetuate this gap to some extent?

What if I take maternity leave and miss a big project or learning experience during my departure? Should that reduce my value (and inherently compensation) to the company?

What if I take a few years off to raise my kids? Shouldn’t my wages be lower when I come back? For the statistic above, does my $0.78 reflect a comparison to the guy in the same position with more experience or the guy five years my junior who has the same number of years of experience as me because I took a leave from the work force for a few years?

When comparing doctors or lawyers, are they women with the exact same type of job and set of responsibilities? For example, what if a female doctor chose a more family-friendly less demanding type of field while a man chose a more demanding field of medicine. Are these two compared as doctors? Or are they not compared because they don’t have essentially the exact same skill sets and responsibilities? If they are compared, isn’t it at least reasonable that the person (man or woman) working in the less demanding field receive lower compensation? I pose all these questions because I really don’t know the answers.

In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg talks about women “leaving before they leave.” By this, she means that women begin to scale back, not taking on challenging roles or projects, and prepare for having a family before they’re even pregnant or ready to have kids. If this is true, and men are more proactively seeking out challenging professional growth opportunities, shouldn’t they be rewarded for such actions?

As I thought through this some more, I just couldn’t believe that all these studies and surveys and comparisons and charts are ignoring all the aforementioned factors. Most of them have to be adjusting for at least some of these factors and circumstances right? Which would mean that women truly are paid less hour for hour in the exact same job under the same sets of circumstances. 

On a really basic level, we’re pretty familiar with many of the unwritten and underlying social assumptions and biases that disadvantage women, so it’s probably silly to believe these don’t spill over into the compensation discussions, at least in part, right?

To be clear, in no way am I suggesting the above prevails in every organization or under every set of circumstances. I don’t think that’s the case at all. But some of these things are probably happening everywhere, and it all add ups to $0.22 for every dollar. I think that’s where I’ve landed. That’s my belief, for now, on the reality of the situation.

Next question, and the big one, what to do about it?????? I’m going to brainstorm that one and leave it for another post for now.

Until then, what are your thoughts on the situation? Do you agree with Silverman’s video? Do you have relevant experience to suggest that Sarah Silverman’s campaign is either absolutely necessary or a bit of an overreaction? I’d love to hear in the comments!

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