You’ve probably heard it your whole life. Women earn less than men and men have harder jobs. In a report published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the authors found that “women are more likely than men to work in middle-skill occupations, and they are more likely than men to invest in formal education and training. Yet, women are much more likely than men to work in middle-skill occupations with lower median earnings-in spite of equal or higher educational requirements. Tackling women’s underrepresentation in good middle-skill jobs will improve women’s earnings and the economic security of their families.” (Hegewisch, et al 33)
We argue in this case study that it will take more that awareness of the issue, or even including more diverse voices in the decisions making process, to fix this pay gap problem.
There has been some debate recently on if gender pay gap is a myth because it doesn’t take into account the type of work being done, education levels or if the work is part-time versus full-time. But no matter how you manipulate the numbers, time and time again, the wage gap exists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),”…women who worked full time in wage and salary jobs had median usual weekly earnings of $719, which was 83 percent of men’s median weekly earnings ($871).” A study found that women aren’t scared of negotiating their salary (Leibbrandt and List, 12), so that rules that theory out. Yet critics still like to believe the gender pay gap a myth of the liberal agenda.
The BLS also reports a variation in the pay gap percentage based on occupation. Women in construction earn 91 percent of men’s income while women women in the legal field only earn 57 percent. Are there jobs where women get paid to do the work as men, regardless of race, gender or education level? Yes, and they’re brought to you by none other than your good, old-fashioned union.
Unions level the playing field when it comes to hourly rates and benefits, so that should abolish the gender pay gap, right? At the 2016 Women Build Nations conference, a national conference for the building trades unions, a speaker brought light to the fact that while women were paid the same as men, they weren’t always given as many hours as the men. Elly Spicer, a carpenter who is quoted in a USA Today article, also stated that women get less access to hours than men.
Theory inflected analysis
So why is this all still happening in 2017? Why is equal pay such a hard concept for businesses to grasp? Even unions are set in place in order to keep gender discrimination non existent. From business to professional sports, women seem to be the forgotten ones and are the marginalized group. Now we see this particular group fighting back and wanting what is theirs because they worked hard for it and deserve it.
Standpoint theory may be able to help us connect the dots and offer reasoning as to why this is happening as well as helping the marginalized group have a voice. Standpoint of women is privileged because it provides a vantage point that reveals the truth of social reality (Heckman, 1997). This meaning allows them express their concerns from their perspective, not anyone else that is above them and may not see the same problem. They are using their own perspective and experiences to show what social reality is for them. We see gender pay gaps happening because women are not looked at as being first or needed. Corporate leaders initiate pay gaps are not sharing a common environment with the workforce and a person from a higher position in society will usually see the issue as one-sided. The marginalized group, women in this case, take this issue seriously and practically. Groups are creating awareness among these marginalized societies and understanding more about themselves as a whole. Women are (still) fighting for equal rights and pay so that they can contribute to society just as much as their male counterparts. Now more than ever, women are forming bonds and groups and marching, protesting, and educating the population on what is actually going on. These woman are a collective, marginalized group that advocates for themselves and others like them in their own standpoint and perspective.
Another theory that could shed some light on gender pay gap is deliberative democracy and how women more than ever are uniting and advocating for their rights. Deliberative democracy (DD) is a form of governance in which equal citizens and their representatives give public reasons that are accessible and comprehensible to support collective decision making (Julie L. Ozanne, Canan Corus, and Bige Saatcioglu, 2009). Women need to have their voices and opinions represented and keeping these groups involved and included to the fullest can lead to policy changes that will make the gender pay gap a thing of the past. Deliberative democracy can build public participation in civic life, like women’s advocacy groups, showing that democracy can be used through these gatherings and forums to express their viewpoints. Ozanne, Corus, and Saatcioglu also state that , “to increase the legitimacy of decisions by carefully considering the demands of conflicting groups.” This brings understanding to the issues at hand and will increase respect for the differences that are based on value and to develop a better policy that would fit. Diverse citizens will have an opportunity to have their policies examined.
In the job market, our secondary and tertiary dimensions of diversity define us. Employers evaluate our education, experience, thinking styles, perceptions, and values when making hiring and salary decisions. We have some modicum of control over these identities. We do not have control over our primary dimensions of diversity (race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability); this is where the injustice of the wage gap resides (Mazur, 2010). Why should women of equal education and experience earn less than their male counterparts for something they have no control over: their sex?
Standpoint theory asks that we consider the standpoint of marginalized and/or oppressed groups when creating policy, the challenge of doing so is that even the marginalized and/or oppressed live in many different standpoints. Regardless, reviewing decisions from this lens, however flawed, can generate empathy that can provide a truer sense of how the policy in question will affect those who are most vulnerable to change. Standpoint is right but is it good…for business? Mazur writes that “…out group members were more likely to leave the organization” and that studies have “found women and other minorities to be consistently higher on absenteeism and turnover than their majority-member counterparts” (Mazur, 2010). Turnover and employee retention occupy the thoughts of most employers as “78% of business leaders rank employee retention as important or urgent” (Hogan, eremedia.com). How might this concern correlate to the wage gap? Studies indicate the 35% of employees start the job hunt if they don’t receive a pay raise in twelve months. Imagine how much that number might jump when those same employees realize they are already receiving less pay for equal work. A report released by PayScale Inc. concluded that employees, including men, were more likely to remain with an employer who seeks to address gender inequity. Lydia Frank of PayScale Inc. explains, “Equitable pay and promotion practices are not just good for employees, they can also have a serious impact on talent retention for both genders” (payscale.com). In this instance, the standpoint of women aligns with that of men and equal pay can be good for business.
Deliberative democracy could provide a useful rhetorical model to advocate for change. It “attempts to increase the legitimacy of decisions by carefully considering the demands of conflicting groups, to broaden participants’ understanding on issues of common interest, to increase respect for differences based on values, and to develop policy positions that can endure sustained critical examination” (Ozanne, et al, 2009). All must be open to discussion/dialogue; in this case, “all” moves beyond policy makers and check signers to include male coworkers. One industry where men joining in the dialogue have proved fruitful is the entertainment industry. In October of 2015, actress Jennifer Lawrence penned an editorial asking why her make costars in American Hustle made more money than she did. Her costar, Bradley Cooper, has pledged to partner with female costars at the negotiating table to ensure a more equitable contract. Bill Macy supported his Shameless costar, Emmy Rosum, in her fight for equal pay with Showtime and she won. In March of 2017, the five original Big Bang Theory stars (four of which are male) agreed to a pay cut so that costars, Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch could receive more money per episode. It seems that a domino effect is occurring. As often as celebrities are mocked for their advocacy in other arenas, male actors’ willingness to speak out in favor of their female co-stars could lend the issue the legitimacy Yang and Konrad discuss. Organizations that adopt diversity policies late do so because they “see the social benefits of appearing to be legitimate” (Yang and Konrad, 2011). It may seem silly to argue over millions of dollars to live most people’s dreams but their struggle is important. Americans love to look to the stars and model what they see. One can only hope that they will look beyond handbags and vacation destinations to model some social justice too.
However, Deliberative Democracy is not without its flaws. The Representation Paradox gives “the opposition the illusion of voice without the voice itself, and so stifles opposition without having to alter policy in the least” (Stohl, Cheney, 2001). Publicity surrounding calls for equality within the entertainment industry and the successful contract negotiations creates the illusion that the industry is making progress when actual statistics prove otherwise. Even if Jennifer Lawrence commands as much as her male costars after sounding her battle cry, “Age, Gender, and Compensation: A Study of Hollywood Movie Stars concluded that pay for female movie stars increases until they reach 34, then rapidly decreases (as does the number of roles for women of a certain age). For men, the peak earning year is 51, and there is no noticeable decline in wages after that” (Adamczyk, time.com). Studio heads can promote their progressive pay policies with one show/movie while maintaining the status quo throughout their other, numerous projects or they can give and pay JLaw as an equal, knowing that her star will tarnish in time. Could the raises and pay cuts be a case of tokenism, the practice of making a small effort to look like you care? Tokenism applies because by throwing a bone to really high profile cases (JLaw and BBT), the industry can look like they are addressing the issue when really all they’re doing is giving it lip service, thus making JLaw, the girls of BBT, and even Emmy Rossum tokens. One step forward, two steps back. Unions also fall victim to the Representation Paradox. By design, unions are supposed to work as a deliberative democracy. In theory, union representatives/presidents give workers equal footing in negotiations with their business leaders. This has allowed unions to help address the wage gap but lack of female leadership in unions has made other gender related pay concerns less visible. Few union leaders are women, even though nearly 46% of unionists are women (Gruenberg, workdayminnesota.org). David Crary from USA today found that “about 7.1 million Americans were employed in construction-related occupations last year — and only 2.6% were women.” While wages may be equal women endure sexual harassment and denigration in such jobs. With so few women in leadership roles, voicing such complaints can be just as awkward and uncomfortable as having to work in such conditions. Another issue not addressed by unions pertains to hours assigned. Crary spoke with Elly Spicer, a carpenter for 11 years, who discussed a disparity in schedules: “You’ll find, unquestionably, that women get access to less hours than men, even though they get same wages and benefits. You can’t do this working six months of the year.” Even with these concerns, unions have be an important factor in closing the wage gap. The decline in unions has “generated about a fifth (20.4 percent) of the growth of overall wage inequality among women” (Mishel, epi.org). Though not perfect, unions clearly help to narrow the divide.
While it may appear that more of us than not wish for equal pay for equal work, making that wish a reality is another story. Texas folk music legend, Nanci Griffith once sang “If wishes were changes there’d be no goodbyes…” In this instance, if wishes were changes, there’d be no divide.
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