Bar News - October 19, 2007
Speaker at NHWBA Meeting Says Wage Gap Persists
By: Kristin A. Mendoza
Dr. Evelyn Murphy, former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and current President of the WAGE (Women Are Getting Even) Project, spoke recently to the NH Women’s Bar Association (NHWBA) on wage discrimination. Dr. Murphy has been interested in the wage gap between male and female workers for a number of years and eight years ago began researching the problem in greater detail in preparation for writing her book, Getting Even: Why Women Don’t Get Paid Like Men and What To Do About It (October 2005).
Dr. Murphy cited the statistic that full-time working women on average earn 77 cents for every $1 that their full-time working male counterparts earn. (In New Hampshire, that number drops to 72 cents for every $1 that men earn—one of the lowest averages in the country.) Dr. Murphy stated that this discrepancy in wages amounts to:
- $700,000 less over the working life of a female high school graduate;
- $1.2 million less over the working life of a female college graduate; and,
- $2 million less over the working life of a female professional (such as a doctor or lawyer).
She also emphasized that the wage gap has been stuck at 77 cents for the past fifteen years. Given that this 15-year period includes the time in the mid-1990s when the U.S. economy was booming, Dr. Murphy concluded that the theory that the market would eventually close the wage gap on its own is more myth than reality. It is her opinion that affirmative action must be taken to close the wage gap.
Dr. Murphy discussed several high-profile lawsuits that have dealt with wage discrimination resulting from the more overt types of gender discrimination, but she acknowledged that litigation is not the real answer. “Everyday discrimination” based on gender stereotypes is pervasive in the workplace and needs to be addressed in a more fundamental way to bring about societal change.
Following the model adopted by the State of Minnesota, Dr. Murphy suggests, is one way to address the issue. As the result of a law passed by the Minnesota legislature, the state was required to develop a method for paying state workers by the job performed and not by which gender traditionally performed the job. The model now used by Minnesota analyzes job skills, education, work experience and other such factors in developing a pay scale for all state workers, male and female.
Consequently, full-time working women are now earning 97 cents to every $1 that full-time men are earning. Dr. Murphy believes that the method used by Minnesota could easily be adapted for use by private employers. Moreover, Minnesota’s method is freely available over the Internet for other employers to evaluate and use.
Dr. Murphy said that women should take a more direct approach with their employers regarding salary and unequal treatment. She suggested that finding allies within the workplace – both men and women – to bring inequities to the attention of executive management as a group can have positive results. The biggest challenge to this approach, however, is persuading women to overcome the notion that talking about money is vulgar or impolite. Reluctance to talk about salary only perpetuates the wage-gap problem and, says Dr. Murphy, will result in passing it on to the next generation of female workers.
To aid women in developing the tools that lead to greater awareness of salary inequity and to negotiate fair salaries for themselves, Dr. Murphy has begun developing a series of programs aimed at three different segments of the female working community.
“Start Smart” is an intensive half-day program Dr. Murphy will offer to juniors and seniors on college campuses this fall to teach young women how to benchmark salaries for the jobs they are interested in and to give them basics skills for salary negotiation. “Return Smart” will focus on the same issues for women returning to the workforce and “Working Smart” will address salary changes at times of promotion and when looking for future jobs.
For more information about Dr. Murphy and the WAGE Project, visit www.wageproject.org.
Kristin A. Mendoza is an attorney with Morrison Mahoney in Boston. She has been a member of the NH Bar since 2003.