Gender Wage Gap Rooted In Discrimination, WSU Panelist Says

By Becky Wright
Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah.


Anne Bialowas and Barry Gomberg say there’s no question that women earn less money than their male counterparts. What’s still up for debate is how much less they earn, and why.

Bialowas and Gomberg did their best to answer those questions on Wednesday at Weber State University. The two made up the panel for “Issues Trial on Gender Equity in Pay,” a discussion hosted by the university’s Center for Community Engaged Learning and the American Democracy Project.

Bialowas, a professor in the Department of Communication, made the case that there is a wage gap by pointing to a study that said female engineering majors earn an average of 88 percent of their male counterparts’ salaries after graduation.

Gomberg, director of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity at WSU, agrees that the wage gap is real — however, to create a greater marketplace of ideas he aired opinions that he said were voiced by opponents of legislation supporting pay equality.

“The question comes in as to the degree to which that gap shrinks when you properly control for variables that include things that may represent bias in a more distant sense — like the fact that women may choose to compromise their careers in favor of playing a more active role as a parent or homemaker,” he said.

That is a big problem in Utah, according to a couple of students in the audience.

“Utah is one of the worst places to live, if you want to have the same pay as a man, because of the community we live in,” said one female student. “If you want to get paid more, in comparison to men, you need to move.”

One male in the audience said he wasn’t sure he could buy into the idea that women doing exactly the same job, with the same amount of education and experience, and working the same hours, earned less in Utah — that didn’t seem to be the case at his place of employment. He wanted more proof.

“We don’t have a study that’s going to tell you that,” said Brenda Marsteller Kowalewski, a professor of sociology who was in the audience. “We’re still working on those, to be honest, but when you compare people with similar levels of experience, and similar levels of education — not exactly the same — and you look at occupational sex segregation, you’re only explaining 15 percent of this wage gap between men and women. That leaves 85 percent of the gap unexplained, which means discrimination is probably the explanation.”

Marsteller Kowalewski said some of the Utah pay gap may be because Utah is one of the most segregated markets, where women tend to work predominantly in jobs associated with females.

There is a “pink ghetto,” said Gomberg, referring to low-playing jobs in fields traditionally open to women.

Gomberg said the gender wage gap traces back to a time when explicit employment discrimination was permitted. When he was growing up in Ohio in the 1950s, newspaper job listings were different than they are today.

“What you would see was categories of jobs that were listed by both race and gender, so ‘Help wanted, white male,’ ‘Help wanted, white female,’ ‘Help wanted, colored male’ or ‘colored female,’ ” he said.

When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened up more fields to women, they were new on the job and paid less.

“Most of the disparities we currently have today are still reflections of at least the lingering affects of that discrimination,” he said.

The double discrimination against minority women is still in effect, the panelists said, noting an especially large gap between the earnings of Hispanic women and white men.

“I don’t think that’s brought up enough, and it needs to be,” said Ashlee Cawley, a student from Ogden. “When they talked about the huge disparity from Hispanic women to white men, and even from Hispanic women to white women, that was really surprising to me — but it did confirm what I suspected.”

Other forms of pay inequity for women include an unwillingness by some employers to hire women who have children, or many have children in the future, and not being willing to train or promote women when they return to the workforce after being home with children.

Gomberg referred to a 2012 opinion piece in US News & World Report, by Diana Furchtgott-Roth, about the Paycheck Fairness Act.
“The act is based on a misapplied statistic, that women earn 77 cents on a man’s dollar. This is true when comparing all women’s wages with all men’s wages, but not when comparing men and women with the same experience in the same job,” he quoted from the article. “When job, experience, and hours of work are taken into account, rigorous economic studies show women make about the same as men — 95 cents on a man’s dollar.”

He then looked at the WSU audience and asked, “Would you be willing to negotiate for a salary that you knew was 5 percent less than someone else with the same experience, doing the same job? … I would suggest not.”

But Bialowas explained why a woman may indeed negotiate for less.

“There are studies that say women are not as successful when negotiating for themselves,” she said. “Women were pretty successful when they were asked, in a mock situation, to negotiate for someone else.”

Part of the problem, Bialowas said, is that in a lot of organizational settings, cultural ideas make it uncomfortable for a women to ask for more money.

“Women asking for more in the workplace are perceived as more bossy people,” she said. “They’re not as well-liked, and people don’t want to work with them.”

Madeline Meyer, a student from Clinton, said a lot of people complain about women being paid less, but at the same time good points were made during the discussion.

“We haven’t really looked at occupational segregation, and we haven’t really looked at how much women want to stay home compared to the men — that was something that I did find rather interesting,” she said.

If people want to end the wage gap, Meyer said, they need to get involved.

“If we want something to change, we have to do it ourselves,” she said.

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