It is absolutely ridiculous that the White House recently announced an initiative to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to help women during this lousy economy. First of all, it's already illegal to pay people based on gender criteria. Second, during this downturn women are doing much better than men in terms of job loss. And third, there simply is no longer a salary gap between men and women.
Yes, you read that correctly. This is not a controversial statement. Or at least it shouldn't be. It was just on the cover of the Economist in an article that asserted at least 15 times that a salary gap in America is gone. And many major U.S. news outlets have reported that women in their 20s are out-earning their male counterparts in large cities, which is not surprising because women are doing better in school than men are.
Here's where the income gap does exist: Among holders of MBAs from the likes of Harvard and the University of Chicago. And when women have kids. In fact, the reason top-tier female MBAs make less then the men is because of the choice they make, not because of any gender bias. Women chose to stay at home with their children. They tend to work fewer hours per week, and they move in an out of the workforce more frequently then men do.
Even among those not so lucky to have a Harvard MBA, the salary gap is by choice: The Christian Science Monitor reported that 86% of women who left the workforce or downshifted did so because the workplace does not accommodate parenting. Men, of course, have the same problem - they are parents also - but they do not make that choice. That the workforce is not good for parenting just is not a gender issue.
Also, the statistics people throw around about the salary gap are terrible. Take the one about how women earn 77 cents on the dollar compared with men, which then-Sen. Hillary Clinton tossed about a few years ago. The Washington Post took issue with that statistic because it ignores all the factors - such as hours worked - that make up how much someone earns. This stat, then, is not about gender bias.
Plus, that 77 cents statistic is a median wage. It lumps 25 year-olds with 65-year-olds. And here's the problem with that: Of course older women make less money than older men - their wage history is mired in genuine discrimination.
What makes most statistics about this issue useless is that women today do not face wage discrimination. We have solved the problem. (Baby boomers: please do not distract us with your bitching about your lives. We don't care. We are dealing with our own lives now, and we do not want to dedicate ourselves to solving your wage problems. Social security, urban sprawl, and the swelling debt are enough, thank you very much.)
Now, don't get me wrong. All is not equal and women need to understand what's what, how to behave, and what's worth fighting over. Some thoughts:
1. Stop looking paranoid. The world is not out to get you. Men are not against you. In fact, all the women I know who have top-tier careers are most thankful to the men, rather than the women, who helped them get there. Instead of focusing on the bad apples, find the men who respect women, and prove yourself to them.
2. Admit that feminism is not dead. That's right. It's not dead. It's alive and well with bitchy, outdated ranters who say things like "young women are so ungrateful for what we did for them." (And where do baby boomers get off complaining about this, anyway? It's not as if Woodstock was a festival of gratitude to older generations.)
3. Don't assume you're being out-negotiated. Yes, women negotiate less, but it doesn't mean they earn less. It's just a different style. And, for those of you who want to get great at negotiating salary, here is the best advice I ever got.
4. Don't pretend to be a guy at work. Don't dress like a guy by wearing boring suits. Show some cleavage - yup, you read that right - because guys like working with women they are attracted to. And show some leg because it's fun - legs are the easiest thing to flaunt and the last thing to go. Women who dress like women move up the ladder faster because men think those women are smarter.
5. Be kind to everyone. The people who have it hard in the workplace today are the people you don't want to hire. They are the people who are a different socioeconomic class that you are. They are the people who don't have the education or the worldliness that you do. You don't hang out with these people in your neighborhood, so you don't want to hang out with them at work. This is not a woman thing. This is a tolerance thing. And tolerance of the new millennium should focus on socioeconomic diversity rather than race or gender.