On average, women earn 77 cents per every dollar their male counterparts earn. Does that mean that women are only 77 percent as competent as men, or that their education is only 77 percent as thorough? Or perhaps it indicates that women only work 77 percent as hard, or sacrifice 77 percent as much as men do in order to excel in their careers.
The facts say otherwise. According to a 2007 U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the college enrollment rate of young women and men was about the same. At some colleges—take Georgetown, for example—the gender gap actually favors women: 55 percent of first year students are female. Since 1982, women have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men, with women earning 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, “the majority of associate’s and master’s degrees, and about half of first professional and doctoral degrees—50 percent and 49 percent, respectively.” According to the numbers, today’s young female professionals are just as, and in some cases, more, qualified than their male counterparts. So why is there still such a noticeable wage gap?
It is true that part of the problem is that it is still a “man’s world:” according to the March 2011 report compiled for the White House Council on Women and Girls, the labor force participation rate of adult women was still significantly lower than that of adult men, 61 percent versus 75 percent. But, as Nicholas Kristof mentioned in his recent blog post “Do Women Leaders Matter?” for The New York Times, simply hiring more women or electing more women to leadership positions is not the answer and will not improve the wage gap.
The solution is to change society’s perception of women in the workplace. Although wage discrimination based on sex was outlawed by the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women still continue to be paid less than men. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 allows any individual subjected to unlawful pay discrimination to challenge their paycheck in court. But are these laws effective? In order for such legislation to actually make a difference, society needs to embrace the unique challenges women face—such as balancing certain familial obligations with a career—and support women, rather than continue to allow inequality to persist. Society needs to encourage women to question and challenge wage disparities, because that is the only way these incidents will be brought to light and resolved.
The issue of equal pay is not just a women’s issue, and it is certainly not an issue of men versus women. Naturally, competent and skilled women pose competition for their male counterparts; but, paying them less is not an effective way to eliminate them as a threat. In fact, discouraging women from working to their full potential is likely to simply damage a firm. By only paying women 77 percent of a man’s salary, are employers actually suggesting they should only work 77 percent as hard?
This year, April 12th is Equal Pay Day. This date symbolizes how far into 2011 women would have to work in order to catch up to their male counterpart’s salary in 2010. Georgetown University Women in Politics would like to encourage the Georgetown community to help us change the perception of women in the workplace by showing your support for income equality by wearing red, and by stopping by our table in Red Square (we will be there from 11:30am-2:00pm) to pick up a red ribbon.