Sunday, April 20, 2014

From parity to parody, and the inside joke

No matter which statistic you'd like to take as fact, the gender wage gap is shrinking. The only question is when, if ever, will it achieve parity?

The White House says for every dollar a man makes a woman makes 77 cents.

According to Pew Research Center, women earn about 84 percent of what their male counterparts make and younger women are expected to earn 93 percent.

If you can believe that.

For sure, it's a difficult concept to wrap one's head around. Since 1963, when President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act, which stipulates employers cannot discriminate between employees based on gender, folks have been trying to figure out what – exactly – parity should look like.

Some will argue that we're not really tabulating comparable jobs. How can we ever find fairness if we have to take into account that women suspend their careers an average of three years to tend to the business of life and family.

It has been estimated that women generally earn $400,000 less than their male counterparts during the course of their careers. But are we really comparing apples and apples or are we comparing astronauts and airline attendants?

That's so sexist, you say. I just shrug my shoulders.

I know what it's like to go to college, work for a few years, gain experience, earn a couple of dollars in raises and then find out, over after-work drinks that newly hired male coworker, without any experience or college education earned .50 less per hour than I did, and $2 more than the college-educated, non-experienced woman I had recommended for hire three months earlier.

And the kicker? When I asked my boss about the disparity, It was I who had broken the sacred trust of wage secrecy.

Which, in my opinion, was the kiss of death to any hope of equal pay for equal work.
“The world is crazy,” my mom would say. “People talk about sex until they're blue in the face, but money? It's taboo.”

In the late 1960s, when my parents were starting down their separate career paths – mom a registered nurse, and dad a craftsman for AT&T Long Lines – they made the exact same salary. For a time their wages even stayed in lock-step.

Before they married, my mom had bought her mother a house, her brother a car, and she had helped her sister pay for college. She was a genius at finance. She could save a fortune without seeming to have pinched a penny.

My dad's money, on the other hand, burned a hole in his pocket.

By the time they married, she had paid his (minor) debts, taken over the family finances and everyone was happy.

By the late 1970s, her wages had stagnated while his had risen steadily. She ended up staying home with the kids, working only sporadically and always part-time.

Yet, if someone were analyzing how mom's stewardship of the bank accounts contributed to the family's overall wealth, they'd likely find she was the engine that not only could, but did.

My mom was always more of a Suze Ormon type than a Gloria Steinem, though.

She didn't see herself as the victim of a gender gap, certainly not in the same way my generation views this divide.

She made wage parity. We've made wage parodies.

Without being able to talk about money, what we end up with is an inside joke.

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