Saturday, April 2, 2016

Equal Pay for Women: Still a Controversial Idea

I never realized until about 1979 that throughout my radio career, I was paid less than my male colleagues for doing the same job-- and not just paid a few dollars less, but paid substantially less.  When I first started out, I didn't know that; I assumed that my low salary was because I was inexperienced. I had no way of knowing that inexperienced guys were offered a higher starting salary than I was.  And then I found out.

I don't remember the exact circumstances, but I do recall the way it unfolded. I was a music director (and assistant program director) at a very powerful AM station, back when AM radio was still influential.  I was having a casual conversation with my FM counterpart one day, and he mentioned he was asking his boss for a raise.  Somehow, his weekly salary came up in conversation and I was shocked to learn he was making more than $200 a week above what I was being paid.  We both had the same amount of experience (in fact, I had a little bit more), we both did the same work, our stations were both owned by the same company.  And yet, he got a bigger weekly paycheck than I did.  Needless to say, I was not amused.

So, I went to the station's general manager and asked why I was making less than Bob was.  He looked at me as if I had said something utterly ridiculous.  "But Donna," he replied, "you're making excellent money for a woman."  I reminded him that I didn't get a discount on my rent for being a woman, nor a discount on any of my other bills, so why would I want a discount on my pay?  He seemed unconvinced that this could be an issue. "Don't forget," he went on, "that Bob has a family to support, and you don't." And as if that weren't enough, he added, "I know your boyfriend, and he makes a good salary; so I'm sure you don't really need as much money as Bob does."

There are few things in life that render me speechless-- I am, after all, a former d.j. and an experienced public speaker; but at that point, I didn't know what to say. And when I had some conversations with other women in broadcasting, I found many had similar stories to mine.  But as I said, this was back in the 1970s and 1980s.  So, surely things must have dramatically improved since then, am I right?  Well, as it turns out, not exactly.

As New York Times reporter Claire Cain Miller noted several weeks ago, "Women... are now better educated than men, have nearly as much work experience and are equally likely to pursue many high-paying careers... [but] women's median annual earnings stubbornly remain about 20 percent below men’s."  And her article was not based on opinion--she found plenty of data to support her assertions.  For example, researchers who analyzed census data and wages have found a troubling phenomenon:  whenever women enter a previously all-male field in increasing numbers, the pay in that field soon declines; conversely, whenever a field that had previously been dominated by women begins to admit more men, the pay goes up.

At times it seems to me that society still believes what women do just isn't as important (or as valuable) as what men do. There's still a perception that if a woman can do it, it can't be all that difficult.  Okay fine, there are more women in science, more women in medicine, more women in law and politics than there were when I was growing up. That's a good thing.  But studies suggest that even though we talk a great game of equality, women in these fields are still being paid less than the men they work alongside, even when they are keeping the same hours and doing the same jobs. 

And then there's women's sports-- I've argued on social media that the way the mainstream press ignores even the best women's college teams (like the University of Connecticut's championship Lady Huskies basketball team) is unfair.  True, the men play a more "in your face" kind of game, with lots of slam-dunks and trash talking; but the way the women play the game is far from dull. The best of the women's teams display an impressive level of skill and athleticism; and believe me, the Lady Huskies could give some of the men's teams a run for their money.  Yet all the attention goes to the NCAA Men's Finals, and year after year, the women are treated as an afterthought.

Thus, I was not surprised when five members of the US Women's Soccer team decided to file a complaint against the US Soccer Federation, demanding equal pay with their male counterparts.
It's not a frivolous complaint:  the US women, who have won more games over all, won three World Cups, and attracted huge TV ratings, are paid an average of $99,000 annually; the US men, who have repeatedly been eliminated from the World Cup, earn $263,000.  The women's team received a $2 million bonus for winning the World Cup; the men's team, which made it to the round of 16 and were then eliminated, still earned a bonus of $9 million.

I don't know about you, but I find these numbers outrageous.  And the fact that we are still having this conversation in 2016 is equally outrageous to me.  I've heard all the reasons about why it's okay to pay women less than men under certain circumstances, but what about if the woman is doing exactly the same job (and in some cases doing it better)?  Could someone please explain why giving women equal pay for equal work is still such a controversial idea?    

No comments:

Post a Comment