Unbundling the Pay Gap

Headlines proclaim that a woman earns 79 cents—give or take a cent or two—to every dollar earned by a man. This number is generally not disputed. However, the reason for the 21 cent discrepancy is.

In her article “Why the Gender Gap Won’t Go Away. Ever,” Kay Hymowitz asserts that we should not take these statistics at face value—we need to dig deeper. Who can argue with that? But Hymowitz and I do our digging very differently—and come to very different conclusions. She believes that those who publish these numbers are part of a conspiracy (my word not hers) to “use misleading statistics to confirm what you already believe.” (Her words not mine).

According to Hymowitz, the vast majority of the pay gap is due to women’s choosing the “mommy track.” She contends that women who work full-time put in fewer hours than men—because they are on the mommy track–and pick their jobs accordingly.

Says Hymowitz, “The full-time category embrace[s] everyone from a law clerk who arrives at her desk at 9am and leaves promptly at 4pm to a trial lawyer who eats dinner four nights a week—and lunch on weekends—at his desk. I assume, in this case, that the clerk is a woman and the lawyer is a man for the simple reason that—and here is an average proofers rarely mention—full-time men work more hours than full-time women do.”

Oh Kay! You are not digging thoughtfully. The important piece of data here isn’t that we’re working fewer hours (I know a lot of female professionals who would dispute that), it’s that we’re garnering fewer high-level, high-paying jobs. If you have ever heard Gail Evans, author of Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman, speak, you would know that she doesn’t believe that those at the top of organizations work harder—or longer hours. Many women would gladly take those loftier, higher-paying positions—if they could get them.

Recently, Catalyst, The New York Times and others have published thought-provoking articles about unintended discrimination in the workplace and the consequences on women, salaries and promotions that perhaps Hymowitz should read.

It seems irresponsible to continually blame women’s lack of advancement in the workplace on family/work-life balance issues. So the next time you read statistics “proving” that it’s the choices we make that keep our pay at the fraction of men’s, go the extra step. Ask what’s behind those statistics. You may not want to believe everything you read.

By Erin Wolf

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