Apparently, I need to remind some of you to read this column in its entirety before you jump to conclusions about my opinions, principles, intent. I got some feedback over the last couple of weeks that made it clear conclusions were drawn almost immediately and the critic hadn’t either read the entire column or listened to the entire segment on the radio show.
I would also like to point out that I grew up in a household with 4 sisters and I have 2 daughters, all of whom were treated equally and had the same expectations as I did when it came to either doing chores or homework or taking on tasks that some in society might have deemed to be masculine in nature; like changing a car tire. My mother also succeeded in her career not only as a great teacher but became an administrator that saw her hired as the first female superintendent in a rural county in Utah. I grew up believing that women were equal in expectations and ability. Not all ability, of course, I’m still smarter than my sisters!
I was listening to a show on Fox Business in which 2 guests, both female, were discussing a recent study in which they had been involved that concerning not only the gender wage gap but also the gender wealth gap. One of the guests was an executive at Merrill Lynch, who funded the study; the other was the CEO of the research group that conducted the study. Of course, the conclusion was that women earn $.82 on average for every dollar that men earn. The study also found that women accumulate about $1 million less in assets over their lifetime than men. We’ve all heard numbers similar to these thrown around as proof that our society discriminates against women.
Then the host began digging into the numbers and the story changes a bit, quite a lot actually. The study found that women, on average, spend 44% less time in the workforce than men do. Doesn’t it stand to reason that women would accumulate less wealth over their lifetime than men who work almost twice as much over their lifetime? I don’t care if you are female or male, if you work less than someone else, it’s much more likely that you aren’t going to save as much or acquire as much wealth.
The guests pointed out that women make the choice to leave the workforce a number of times over their careers. Maternity leave, raising a family, finding themselves were all common reasons women left the workforce. Women also tend to leave a job they don’t like more often than men, which results in two things; first, they are out of the workforce more often; secondly, when anyone switches jobs ‘involuntarily’ that is they are not hired away by another firm, they often take a pay cut even if they are working in a similar position. Men tend to stay in jobs they don’t like longer than women and often won’t leave until they find a comparably paying job.
Another factor in the conclusions drawn by the research team is that when anyone leaves the workforce for any reason, then re-enters the workforce, they take on average a 20% pay cut. So, they are in some sense starting over in their attempt to attain ‘equal pay’ or accumulate wealth.
Here is the little nugget that was almost left out of the conversation: Women who do stay in the workforce are being promoted at a faster rate than their male counterparts, who started their careers at the same time. The study found that people, both men and women, who rise quickly up the corporate ladder are regularly at the bottom end of the company’s pay scale for that position. Since women are being promoted at a quicker rate, they are making less than both men and women, who have been in that position for a longer period of time or who took longer to climb the corporate ladder.
In my experience, this happens quite often. When I worked in corporate America, it took a long time for me to get my first promotion. Because the pay scales overlapped, the raise associated with my promotion put me about mid-range for my new position. My next two promotions came quickly, so I was at the bottom of the pay scale for both of those positions. I had people working for me that actually made a lot more money than I did. That’s the way it works in larger companies, whether you are a man or a woman.
One of the undeniable facts of life is that discrimination exists in all societies and all aspects of those societies, but it is not necessarily pervasive or systemic. The guests admitted that when they took into consideration the factors I’ve outlined in this column, that women actually don’t make less money for similar work and they are accumulating wealth at about the same rate as their male counterparts; e.g. if women didn’t work 44% less over their career than men, they would have accumulated a similar amount of wealth as men did.
At the end of the interview, the women still stuck to their point, that there is a gender wage and wealth gap. These days there has to be a victim, there has to be a villain.
I’m not saying ignore the problem, but when numbers are manipulated to reach a conclusion, not only do we not accurately identify the cause of a problem but too often we create a problem where one doesn’t exist. Then the ‘cure’ tends to hurt everyone involved, even the ones the ‘cure’ is designed to help. And when there is a legitimate problem, it never gets solved because the cause is not accurately identified.
One final thought: why don’t we celebrate the women who have succeeded more often? Isn’t it better for young girls to see successful women and creating a belief in them that they can succeed? We’ve spent the last 30 + years creating a victim mentality in our society. Where has that gotten us?