Sunday, January 11, 2009

Money, Sex, and the Value of Letting it all Hang Out

I've worked. Pulled in a salary. Worried about whether or not I accepted jobs for too little money. You can't underestimate the problem of accepting a job at too low a salary. If the rest of your raises are based on your entry salary, that is one decision that can haunt you for a long time. After that, I've wondered if my raises were consistent with others in my field and even within my own company. But in every position I have ever taken, I have been bound by a "salary secrecy" clause that prevented me from discussing my pay with anyone. I had no way of learning whether or not I was being paid what I was worth relative to my peers. Figured there wasn't much I could do about it--short of quitting--if I wasn't earning what I should be.

In 2008, women still make only 77 cents on the dollar compared to men, but this is a somewhat misleading figure. That 77 cents is averaged over all jobs, not equal jobs. It should surprise no student of biology that men and women have physical differences and that some jobs have physical requirements that effectively eliminate the majority of women from the ranks of that profession, particularly highly paid manual labor positions. Not all women, but most. It should also come as no surprise that biology dictates that women have children, and society dictates that women rear children, both of which have a negative impact upon lifetime earning for women. And once on the mommy track, it is difficult to get back on the power track (ask Caroline Kennedy) without your motivations and qualifications being severely criticized. Let's face facts:
A Cornell study found that mothers with kids are less likely to be hired, and, even if they are, the moms are paid a lower annual salary than males and females without kids.
So should women be expected to accept the fact that low-skill jobs that can accommodate these physcial and biological realities involve low-paying careers--particularly those involving child care and maid services? This might be understandable if it were only true of low-skill jobs or jobs with high physical demands on workers, but it isn't. We are also talking about equal jobs for which women and men are equally qualified, both physically and mentally.
Some years ago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that female scientists were paid less than men are.
I've worked. Pulled in a salary. And I know the politics of paychecks. You don't talk to your co-workers about what you make. It just isn't done. And I admit, I'm a bit reluctant to tell others what I am making. I lived in fear of learning that others make more than me. It is one of the reasons that I sort of like being part of a union. The union ensures that everyone who is at my level is making the same amount. And I like that. Because honestly, if someone was going to be paid less, it isn't going to be my white, male counterparts. It's going to be me and the minorities. Could I do a better job negotiating on my own? Hard to say. Depends on how badly they wanted me. I don't think I've ever been at a job where I had them over a barrel because they wanted me so badly. I've tried negotiating for better perks, benefits and salary. I didn't want to push too hard and have them call the whole thing off, nor did I want to cave in and walk in feeling I had been gotten for a steal. I very seldom got any concessions for which I fought. In the end, my negotiation attempts left me unsatisfied and feeling powerless. But maybe it was a good thing I didn't push that too far.
A Carnegie Mellon study found that female job applicants were less likely to be hired by male managers, if they tried to negotiate a higher salary, unlike men.
If you watched the Democratic National Convention in any depth, you saw Lilly Ledbetter tell her story about the 19 years she spent working as a supervisor at the Goodyear Tire Plant, where she learned just prior to retirement that she had received less money than any of the male supervisors. She sued, based on gender discrimination, and lost in a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that said she should have filed her claim within the first 180 days of the "first decision to pay that worker less, even if the person was unaware of the pay disparity." That means that the SCOTUS, in its infinite wisdom, decreed that Lilly should have filed her claim of discrimination, which they acknowledge that she had no knowledge of at that time, within 180 days of the receipt of her first paycheck. Short of hiring a psychic, I'm not sure how Lilly was expected to meet the demands of this ruling. The Supreme Court has enabled companies to hide wage discrimination for 180 days and then just get away with it. And how do they hide wage discrimination? By having policies that demand workers keep their salaries secret under threat of firing.
The liberal Alliance for Justice said the Supreme Court decision already had seriously impacted worker rights: It said that since the 2007 ruling, federal and other courts had cited Ledbetter in 347 cases involving pay discrimination and other issues such as fair housing and the availability of sports programs for women.
That's the problem with these broad rulings, they seep like water into every crack in the system. Fuck over women in the workplace and others see it as an opportunity to fuck over women everywhere they occur. But this sort of gnawing fear may soon be a thing of the past. The House has passed the Lilly Ledbetter Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act and have sent the bills to the Senate. The AP has a nice overview article here.
The House bill would clarify that each paycheck resulting from discrimination would constitute a new violation, extending the 180-day statute of limitations.
I guess I may have to get over myself. May just have to let it all hang out. My salary is not my dirty little secret anymore. Because information is power. Luckily, now we have some protection from our employers for defying their "salary secrecy" clauses or we soon may have. The Paycheck Fairness Act would close loopholes that allowed companies to justify paying men more for equal work (primarily the idea that women haven't had the same "qualifications" as men--a fact that might also have to do with previous discrimination in the workplace) . And this is one time when I can very clearly see that prior discrimination has a lasting imprint on the lives of people. Discrimination in those early dollars earned may mark a never-ending disparity in wages over the lifetime of the worker.

This isn't just one woman's problem. This is every woman's problem, from academia to the assembly line floor.
The Paycheck Fairness Act puts gender-based discrimination on an equal footing with other forms of discrimination in seeking compensatory and punitive damages. It also puts the burden on employers to prove that any disparities in wages are job-related and not sex-based, and bars employers from retaliating against workers who discuss or disclose salary information with their co-workers.
If this bill passes, Obama has said he'll sign it. The last time it came up for Senate vote, the Dems fell 3 votes short of ending the Republican filibuster. Let's hope that two of those three votes are in the persons of Roland Burris and Al Franken. I've already written Dick Durban. You might, just maybe, if you care about women's futures, write your senator as well.

The Ledbetter bill is H.R. 11. The Paycheck Fairness Act is H.R. 12.

Let's do this.

No comments:

Post a Comment