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The truth about women's pay

Commentary:

(MoneyWatch) The data says that women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. The differential is even worse for black women -- 69 cents -- and worse still for Latina: 57 cents. It's shocking and what's infuriating is that these numbers have stayed roughly the same for the last ten years, despite an army of smart, brave women campaigning to get it changed. No one should believe any more that this has anything to do with capability. More women than men in OECD countries are graduating with degrees -- but still get paid less.

What should women do? Well the first thing to understand is that the numbers are averages which have, within them, the gigantic costs that women pay for taking maternity leave, losing some of their pension and 401(K) rights and for taking part time jobs which pay less well and offer less in the way of career advancement. Women are paid less well because we get worse jobs with fewer opportunities and worse benefits.

But we are also underpaid because we don't demand more. Often this is because we are too trusting -- or too ignorant. I remember the abject horror I felt when I discovered that I was being paid exactly 50 percent what my male peers were earning. My first instinct was to quit. Then I remembered I loved my jobs and my co-workers. I sat down and wrote about a 2,000 word email to my boss which, slowly but surely, got reduced to just a few words:

Dear ***, I am deeply disappointed to discover that I am being paid half the amount earned by XYZ and other counterparts.

The next day my pay was doubled.

Was I thrilled? No. I was relieved that I could stay in a job I loved. I was happy not to take (or pay for) legal advice. But I was still mad. In fact, now I'm writing about it, I'm am -- 12 years later -- still very angry. On reflection, I recognize that this pay discrepancy was known about and tolerated. The company hoped to get away with it.

The way I found out about my pay differential was through another woman, in HR, who not only told me the numbers but pointed me to the public documents I could cite in order not to reveal my source. That kind of solidarity is something every woman should look for in HR departments until the pay gap is firmly shut forever. HR is mostly run by women: Why don't they use that power?

I'm sure there are plenty of companies like that still: Counting on women's ignorance, sentiment, passivity or fear to stay put. They should not count on it for long.