Equal Pay for Less Work

I had brunch yesterday with some friends: D, C and C’s boyfriend CB.  There was much of talk of work and careers [and a little about movies], and C told us about a friend of hers who has been working in publishing for a number of years, the last 5 of which have been part-time so she could be home part-time with her 3 children.  She and her company have been discussing her possibly returning to full-time, their offer to her being a new title but with a salary only slightly higher than what would be commensurate with her current level.  Her friend didn’t feel the salary was high enough so her company is now looking outside to fill the full-time role, offering a higher salary than what they were willing to pay her.  

D suggested C’s friend negotiate with the company to start at the lower salary but be given goals to hit within a certain timeframe, and be bumped up accordingly if the goals are met.

C and CB thought the company was being completely unfair:  Didn’t she keep working, never removing herself completely from the marketplace?  Didn’t she maintain contacts, keep up with changes in the industry, and complete several projects successfully?  What was the point?  Why even bother?

I thought D’s suggestion was a good one, though we knew the company was under no obligation to go along with it.  Plus, 5 years part-time is not the same as 5 years full-time.

But why should that make a difference in salary?

The difference, I thought, was obvious: 5 years full-time is more than 5 years part-time.

It’s still 5 years, they protested!  Why should women be penalized for having children?

Frustrated, I set out myself as an example:

I have been with my company for 7 years.  Imagine and compare me to another person of similar background who went part-time 5 years ago.  That person would not have even been given the opportunity to switch from research to trading — earn 3 licenses, do annual continuing education, work toward earning additional licenses — going part-time 5 years ago.  That person would not have had all the experiences I have had: all the ad hoc responsibilities and miscellaneous issues and projects that have arisen and been thrown at me, that have added to my knowledge outside of the basic day-to-day.  If my company were to hire that person at the same salary as me, I would be pissed.  70¢ on the dollar for being capable of doing maybe half what I do — how is that fair?

The issue is often framed as women being punished for something beyond their control, but C’s friend made a choice, so why should she be rewarded for new contacts she did not make, projects she did not even start, let alone complete?

D agreed with me, perhaps due to his being in a somewhat similar environment as I am, and CB seemed to at least consider my argument.  I don’t think I swayed C, but I told her I couldn’t keep having the same conversation with her.  C has worked mainly in publishing, social media and marketing, areas I know little about beyond that they tend to be dominated by women and pay less in general than other areas.  It is possible that in her friend’s field, 5 years of part-time work yields the same experience as 5 years of full-time work, so she is right that there should be no discrepancy in salary in her friend’s case.  But accepting “70¢ on the dollar” as dogma for all women in all situations is overly simplistic and probably damaging to the legitimacy of “equal pay for equal work” in the long run.


UPDATE:

I just saw this on yesterday’s Dear Prudence:

Q. Pay Discrimination: A couple of weeks ago, I went out to happy hour with some of my co-workers. We work for a smaller engineering company. When I took the job three years ago, I had been working for a year for a larger chemical company, so I wasn’t surprised that the offer with the new company wasn’t that high. I just assumed that it was due to cost of living differences and the fact that it was a smaller company. At this happy hour there was a mix of men and women, and the topic of salary came up. I overheard this discussion from people at the company who both just graduated last spring with the same engineering degree. Turns out, one of them makes about 75 percent of what the other one makes, even though they had the same credentials when they were offered the job, except that one is a man and the other is the woman. The woman is the one who makes less. As the conversation went on, I realized that this gentleman only makes about $2,000 a year less than me, a woman with a master’s degree that he doesn’t have. Do you have any advice on how to bring this up with superiors at my company?

A: This could be a function of pure sexism. It could also be function of the well-noted tendency for women to take the offer (as you did, even though you found it inadequate) and for men to consider it a starting point for negotiation. Maybe the guy with fewer credentials than you, instead of saying to himself, “Well, the cost of living isn’t that high here,” said to the bosses that he needed several thousand more than the offer, and he got it. What you don’t do is go to the bosses and say that happy hour turned into unhappy hour when you learned women were being underpaid. Use this information to go in, describe what you’ve accomplished for the company, your skills, and what you would like to do for them in the future. Then you ask for more compensation. If you get it, keep doing it at regular intervals. Let’s hope you can close that gap. I know readers will suggest lawsuits or say that women get punished for asking for more money. But first, you have to ask for more money. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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