One Woman’s Advice for Women Being Paid Less Than Their Male Counterparts

First, you’re going to be angry when you discover the new guy (or maybe it’s the old one) is making more than you for the same job. Maybe, if you’re a bit naive like me, you’ll be shocked — shocked! —  that gender-based pay disparity still exists.

It does. Nationally, women earn 80 percent of what similarly situated men do, and the gap is even wider for women of color, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. In Oklahoma, where I worked, the ratio is 77 percent. In Texas, it’s 81 percent.

Discovering pay inequity is easy if you work for a public institution, as I did, because salaries are a matter of public record. Even so, my boss once angrily forbade me to discuss pay with my colleagues — a tactic common at private companies, where sharing information is the only way workers can uncover inequity. Not knowing about wage inequities can perpetuate them, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity, a broad coalition working to end wage discrimination against women and minorities. So talk.

Having discovered you’re earning less, you’ll probably begin comparing yourself to the man on every conceivable measure: Education? Experience? Workload? Talent? Dedication? You’ll wrack your brain to come up with a reason (other than gender) that he’s taking home thousands of dollars more than you.

This step — comparing — is important because the federal Equal Pay Act prohibits wage discrimination between male and female colleagues “who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions.”

Let’s say you decide your jobs are substantially equal. You may want to go straight to the boss to point out the discrepancy, sure that he (she?) is simply unaware and will want to correct it immediately. Don’t count on it. I speak from experience.

I worked for a large public university that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion. Job postings routinely include language that women and minorities are particularly urged to apply. I even participated in an administration-sponsored group to help women employees “thrive.” But after I sought pay equity with a male counterpart, those in charge ignored me, isolated me, denied me preferred assignments and ultimately rejected my request.

So before taking this on, do your homework. Do you know what others in your field and at your institution earn? Ideally, learn this before you accept a job, even if the salary offered sounds generous. What seems generous now may seem less so if you discover a male colleague doing the same for more.

You can be proactive and still be thwarted. Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s China editor, accepted that job in 2013 on the condition that she be paid the same as her male counterparts, The New Yorker reported. She found out four years later that she and another woman had been earning about 50 percent less than the British media giant’s two male international editors, the magazine said. The BBC later apologized and paid up.

Lower starting pay now could even lock you into lower pay at your next job. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule on the merits of a case aimed at ending the common business practice of compensating new hires based on their previous salaries. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says this practice can perpetuate a cycle where women make less than men. A few states and cities have already outlawed it. Texas and Oklahoma are not among them.

Despite your best efforts, you may have to suck it up and start from behind. I won’t judge you. A friend remembers when, as a newly minted Ph.D., she accepted her first faculty job, only to be told by her department chair — without apology — that all the similarly situated men made more than she did. That’s how she began her academic career at this institution that encourages women to apply.

Perhaps you’ll have the grace of Nancy Mergler, the longest-serving provost at the University of Oklahoma before her retirement in 2014.

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SOURCE: Dallas Morning News – Judy Gibbs Robinson
Judy Gibbs Robinson is the former editorial adviser to the OU Daily student newspaper at the University of Oklahoma, where she also taught journalism classes. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.