The Gender Pay Gap: One Way To Solve The Issue

Last Updated Sep 15, 2011 9:51 AM EDT

No doubt you've heard the 2010 Census data isn't very pretty. Poverty rates are at a 52-year high, with 46.2 million Americans living below the poverty line (up from 43.6 in 2009). And one scary stat hasn't changed at all -- women are still making only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

This comes on the heels of news reports that the "Mancession" -- the way the recession was disproportionately affecting men -- is over. While working women are becoming more educated than men, they continue to lag behind men in salaries -- something that sociologists and women's studies experts attribute to balancing having children while trying to maintain a focused presence in the workplace.

To help working moms (and dads), an increasing amount of companies are creating flexible work schedule options. I spoke with Working Mother Magazine Editorial Director Jennifer Owens about this type of employee policy, the new census figures, and her magazine's newly released annual 100 Best Companies issue.
The latest census data shows women are still making 77 percent of what men do. Is this surprising?

Owens: This is not surprising for a number of factors -- not the least of which is the fact that it's been occurring since the beginning of time. Pay levels are, in general, equal for men and women until about the age that women begin to have children. Once the pressures of family appear, women's comparative pay shrinks, in part, because too many women are forced to either leave the workforce or dial back their careers to take over childcare duties. Once they return to work, women find their pay rate diminished. In fact, studies find the pay gap is actually worse between working mothers and women without children, than between women and men.

How do flexible work schedules help women stay in the workforce and avoid diminished pay rates?
Owens: Flexible work arrangements give employees the power to choose where and when they get the work done. The results are powerful: higher productivity, increased engagement, lower turnover, and better health (and thus, reduced absenteeism).

Your magazine just published its annual list of the 100 best companies for working mothers. What are some of the reasons companies make the grade?
Owens: First, flexibility. Every Best Company offers flextime and telecommuting, while only 53 percent and 45 percent of the nation's employers do, respectively. Second, paid parental leave. Every Best Company offers paid maternity leave, and most offer paid paternity and adoptive leave as well. Nationwide, I'm sad to say that the rate of employers offering paid maternity leave still hovers at only 16 percent. And third, employee resource groups. The Best Companies see the power and advantage of these networking groups. From offering support to encouraging engagement to even creating new business opportunities, ERGs are a real advantage for Best Companies.

Clearly, flexible work programs are good for women. But are they good for businesses overall?
Yes. Flexibility has a direct connection to the bottom line in terms of reduced turnover and thus, lower costs for recruitment and training of replacement employees. But it also ties directly to lower absenteeism. Employees with flexible schedules are healthier -- they have more time to take care of themselves and thus, get sick less often. Also, giving an employee the flexibility to, say, take a few hours off one day to make a doctor appointment versus taking off a whole day means that work doesn't have to come to a full stop.

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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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