Pay Equality For Women A Long, Slow Climb

By Daveen Rae Kurutz Beaver County Times, Pa.

Kathy Bingle always has felt like she was on a level playing field with her male colleagues.

But the business manager at Hancock Architecture in Rochester remembers stories from when her aunt worked at Westinghouse and fought for similar wages to her male counterparts.

"Regardless of what you're doing, there should be a fair wage across the board, male or female," said Bingle, of Beaver, who serves as chairwoman of the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce. "Sometimes, there's a perceived response to a woman in leadership -- whether it's real or not -- you feel there's a different attitude than if there's a man running it."

A Times analysis of 2012 Census data shows that Beaver County women have a larger wage gap in median salaries when compared with Allegheny County and statewide salaries.

Here, women earn as low as 64 cents for every dollar a man earns.

In Allegheny County, women earn about 71 cents for each dollar a man earns.

Statewide, women are as low as 76 cents for each dollar a man earns. Nationally, women earn as low as 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns, according to Census data.

In Lawrence County, Census data shows that the median salary for women is 38.3 percent lower than it is for men.

A recent study from the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Women's Policy Research gave Pennsylvania a C+ for women's status on employment and earnings. The state ranked 16 in percent of women in managerial or professional positions and 18 in median annual earnings for women employed full time.

However, Pennsylvania fell toward the bottom of the stack in earning ratios between men and women and in percentage of women in the workforce, being ranked 35 and 32 respectively. Overall, the state ranks number 23 out of 51, which includes the District of Columbia.

Washington, D.C., took the women's issues think tank's top spot, while West Virginia was ranked 51. Pennsylvania has seen some improvement over prior annual reports, said Jessica Milli, senior research associate for the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

"Key industries in the state are male dominated -- technology, energy, advanced manufacturing -- those are all dominant in Pennsylvania and are all typically male-dominated industries and have higher salaries," Milli said. "But this is a bit of an improvement over where women were in previous studies. I think we're seeing a general trend in women's progress across the United States, at least in employment and earnings."

But the wage gap won't disappear any time soon. Milli said think tank projections show that women and men won't earn the same wage until 2058.

The gap varies based on industry. Estimates from the Census' American Community Survey show that a woman working in production, transportation and material moving occupations earn as low as 59 cents for each dollar their male counterparts earn.

Conversely, women in health care support roles can earn as much as almost 88 cents per dollar that a man earns in the same field.

"It's great that we're leveling the playing field, but it's leveled really low," said Allyson Lowe, interim dean of the college of leadership and social change at Carlow University in Pittsburgh. "We need to close the gap and then raise the bar, not just have everyone close the gap at the lowest possible point."

PROBLEMS FROM THE START

Part of the problem is that women don't negotiate the same way as men from the beginning, Lowe said. Women and men with similar credentials might be offered the same entry salary, but a man is more likely to ask for more money.

"Young women who receive an offer say 'great' and are thankful for a job," Lowe said. "They don't see themselves in a position to ask for more. Women assume they can't and shouldn't ask for more. Men are more conditioned and ask, 'How can we negotiate from here?'"

The gap continues to grow from there. Each subsequent raise opportunity then is based on a lower base salary -- and the male employee is more likely to continue negotiating than a female if he has been received positively, Lowe said.

"If women are received negatively, even if they're reinforced by their peers, they will either stop asking or be told no," she said. "As we strive for change, we need to change the way we educate boys and girls and how we advocate for each other."

That is happening at Westminster College in New Wilmington. Last week, the college was named to Her Campus' list of "The Most #GirlBoss Colleges," a ranking of 10 campuses where females are empowered and supported.

An online community for college women, Her Campus cited a Forbes study that showed that 36 percent of 2008 graduates were science, engineering, technology and mathematics majors, with the majority of grads being female.

The college also boasts that its math and computer science department comprises of more than 50 percent women.

Terri Lenox, chairwoman of the department of math and computer science, said the school tries to provide strong female mentors to its students, encouraging them to take career paths not traditionally sought after by women.

"They're looking at faculty and saying, 'I can do that, too,'" said Lenox of Brighton Township. "It used to be that women thought 'I can't do this.' Now, they know they can do it, and it's a matter of if they want to do it."

Lenox said stereotypes about traditionally male careers don't help assure women that there's a place for them. For example, on "The Big Bang Theory," neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler is portrayed by actress Mayim Bialik as frumpy and socially awkward.

"There's this impression that if you're in the sciences, you're not looking feminine or are odd," Lenox said. "They portray her as this total geek, who I love, but that's not the typical woman who has an undergraduate degree in computer science or math."

A DIVERSE STATE

Census data shows that computer, engineering and science jobs have the highest median earnings for women at nearly $46,000. That's still $20,000 less than the median male salary in the same field.

Over the border in Allegheny County, those numbers are drastically different. The median salary for a woman in a computer, engineering or science job is about $51,000, about $13,000 less than their male counterpart.

That means a woman in Allegheny County working as an engineer or scientist earns as low as 79 cents for every dollar a man earns -- higher than both national and state overall figures.

Lowe chalks those differences up to the urban nature of Pittsburgh.

"In many ways, Allegheny County and the very developed areas of Beaver, Butler and Westmoreland counties look so categorically different than Greene, Fayette and the less developed areas," she said. "Women are doing much better in urban centers than they are in rural areas."

Areas that are more industrialized or rural are likely to reflect West Virginia's rankings, Lowe said, where data indicates less than 50 percent of women are in the workforce full time, women earn a median salary of $30,000 and less than 67 cents per dollar compared to men in a full-time position.

Milli said research strongly supports that idea.

"(Urban) areas attract a lot more educated people, which drives salaries up," she said. "But in some of those urban centers, you also get more diversity from those surrounding areas that are more rural. That can change the nature of the work that men and women are doing."

The urban centers of Pennsylvania have grown their education and medical systems, which typically employ more women, Lowe said.

That contributes to why Pennsylvania has a higher percentage of women employed in managerial or professional occupations, Lowe said.

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