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Gains by women in workforce not enough


Michelle Hicks

Michelle Hicks

A recent report by the White House shows women are making great strides in the workforce, yet they still have a long way to go before their salaries and leadership roles are equal to that of their male counterparts. The report released last month is called, “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being.”

Some of the metrics show women are moving forward in business. For example, the proportion of women working in management, business and finance jobs is up from 1983. Back then, only 9 percent of women were in those positions and in 2009, it was up to 14 percent. Other gains include salary – in 1979 the earnings gap between men and women was 62 percent. In 2009, it narrowed to 80 percent. So, even though the situation has improved for women over the past 30 years, there is still a long way to go before wage and income inequity is resolved.

Experts list a number of reasons women generally earn less. Women tend to work in lower paying fields than men. Professional women tend to be employed in greater numbers in education and health care instead of more lucrative professions like engineering and computer science. Another reason contributing to pay inequity is that women are far more likely to take time off to start a family or work part-time while rearing one.

American women are, however, becoming better educated than American men. Not only are women attending college in greater numbers, the White House report shows women are also more likely to actually acquire a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Experts say this growth in education is likely contributing to the wage gap narrowing, but they also stress there are reasons it is important for this country to pay attention to this issue and find solutions. Nearly 40 percent of American mothers are the primary breadwinner in their households. That means if these women are not earning as much as men, not only do they suffer, but so do their children.

But there is another reason businesses should take a serious look at whether or not there are wage gaps in their organization by gender – you could be at risk for a costly lawsuit. A simple analysis of how pay rates differ will inform you if rates vary by valid reasons like performance or not. If the reasons are not valid, you can take steps to equalize pay and reduce differences.

Besides taking steps to equalize pay differences, employers can take proactive measures to help all of their employees better understand compensation and career development (which can result in greater pay). Develop a communication strategy that tells employees how their pay rates are determined as well as your organization’s pay philosophy. Do you strive to be the highest paying employer in your region or industry or is pay balanced with other rewards? Tell employees what they can do to increase their level of responsibility and grow within the organization.

Transparent communication about pay can increase employee satisfaction, reduce questions and build trust and loyalty. This is true for all employees – women as well as men.

Michelle Hicks is a communications consultant with Buck Consultants. Contact her at michelle.hicks@buckconsultants.com.

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