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Chapter One: Introduction
Are you paid as much as a man would be if he had your job?
Most working women today, if they're over thirty, would probably blurt out, "No. A man would be getting more."
Their intuitive sense is borne out by the facts. Women working full-time -- not part-time, not on maternity leave, not as consultants -- still earn only 77 cents for every full-time male dollar. Very few individual women can ever find out exactly what their male counterparts would be making in the same job. But that yawning gap between the average male and average female paycheck is a pretty good clue that he'd be paid more.
If you're a woman, what would you do with that extra 23 cents -- an increase of nearly one third on top of your current 77-cent paycheck -- a raise that got you even with men?
The wage gap has been stalled for more than a decade. It exists between women and men working at every economic level, from waitresses to corporate lawyers, from nurse's aides to CEOs. Getting Even tackles the questions: Why are women's paychecks still so far behind? And what do we have to do to catch up?
Let me explain how I became interested in women's pay -- and why these questions are particularly urgent now. Back in the 1960s, when I started working full-time as a newly minted Ph.D. economist, women earned 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. At the time, I accepted the common explanation that the gender wage gap existed because of a "merit gap." Women, this theory went, were not as well educated as men, hadn't worked as long, or were working in low-skill, stopgap jobs until they got married while men were working at higher-end jobs as family breadwinners. But this "merit gap" was closing. Women were streaming into colleges and jobs. Like many observers, I was convinced that the wage gap would soon close.
Over my working life, I have kept my eye on that number. And for roughly the next two decades, my widely shared expectation seemed to be coming true. The gender wage gap narrowed slowly but steadily. By 1993, women were making 77 cents to a man's dollar.
Then came a shock. In 1994, despite the growing economy, the gender wage gap abruptly widened. A wider wage gap? That took my breath away. Worse, this reversal came at a time when the Dow Jones Industrial Average was starting its spectacular climb and the economy was chugging into a period of historically high employment, when every worker was needed, when highly qualified women had long been graduating at the same rates as men. How could that be?
Nor was this increased wage gap a statistical aberration. Over the next several years women continued to lose ground. This made no sense. More than 40 million American working women were educated, experienced, and holding full-time jobs comparable to men's. This was a fair comparison of full-time female workers to full-time male workers, apples to apples. It left out all women who worked part-time, who were on leave, or who had dropped out of the labor force to be stay-at-home moms or caretakers for elderly relatives. Like men, these women had families dependent on their earnings. Some, like some men, were furiously ambitious, working night and day to get ahead. Most, like most men, worked hard at their nine-to-five or swing-shift schedules to keep those badly needed paychecks coming in. Why, instead of catching up, were these hardworking women suddenly falling further behind? What had changed? And why weren't women alarmed by this?
Maybe it was because individual working women didn't necessarily notice that they were losing ground. In fact, many women were dumbstruck by how much more money they were making than they'd ever imagined possible. Women were comparing themselves with themselves, their income and achievements with their own expectations -- and by that measure, they were doing great.
But the wage gap is not about an individual's comparison with herself. It compares the average earnings of all women with the average earnings of all men. Over the course of the decade, many women's earnings rose. Yet as the economy steamed ahead in the mid-1990s, on average, women's earnings did not go up as much as men's did. For instance, women in their late fifties and early sixties saw their paychecks growing as they approached retirement -- but men of the same age saw their paychecks increase almost seven times more than women's did. And that signaled a major social injustice.
The real outrage was that precisely the opposite should have happened. The 1990s was the decade in which women should have closed the wage gap. Women had all but closed the "merit gap." But the wage gap had not only remained astonishingly wide but was going backward. The mid-1990s' widening in the wage gap was too large and too sustained to be explained by casual social theories such as time-outs for motherhood, new elder care demands, welfare moms forced to work, or a handful of high-achieving women who abandoned their careers. And the persistently wide size of the gap -- almost 25 cents -- required explanation. Why weren't women's earnings catching up to men's in these boom times, when the gap should have closed?
Having watched the wage gap all my working life, I couldn't get my mind off these questions. For me, the wage gap is a keenly personal issue. Neither of my parents went to college; I didn't start out aimed toward an intellectual or professional career. To put myself through college, I waited tables at an ice cream parlor, punched a desk calculator, and did general office work at a government job. I've always known I had to live on my paycheck -- and that many other women must as well.
And so I began asking everyone I came across -- nurses, businesspeople, politicians, journalists, academic researchers, transit authority workers, women and men, black and brown and white -- how they might explain this shift. Few had noticed. But after a pause, whomever I was speaking with almost invariably started to tell a story of unfair treatment in the workplace. For instance, a top-ranking physician at a Boston teaching hospital told me that of course female doctors didn't earn as much as the male doctors: while women did the grunt work in committees, men were awarded administrative appointments that boosted their income. A veteran clerical worker in California said that, despite her college degree and twenty-five years' experience, she earned less than the newly hired, unskilled men her government department hired to pick up "ratty old sofas" abandoned on curbsides. And a laid-off computer programmer, a strong and athletic woman who tried to get temporary "light industrial" work -- unskilled factory or construction labor -- was told to come back on a day when they had "women's work" such as filing or telemarketing. Consider the experience of a midwestern psychiatric case manager. When her unit had an opening, she suggested a man with whom she had previously worked. "He didn't have any more experience than I did," she recounts. "They offered him the job at, like, three thousand dollars more than what I had been offered." She knew that because he told her.
The details varied. But the theme was utterly consistent: Men's jobs paid more. Men advanced more easily. And that was costing women money -- real money that we needed in our everyday lives, to buy groceries or put a down payment on a house or save for retirement.
Most women harbor some such memory of unfair treatment, some irritating or infuriating moment that almost surely set back her wages: that job where colleagues treated her as incompetent, the position where the manager insisted on taking the team to Hooters each Friday until she finally left for a lower-paying spot, or the time her manager passed her over for promotion because, he said, now that she was a mom she had other responsibilities. Most women have such a story to tell.
Throughout Getting Even, stories will be told of women who volunteered to talk about their experiences at work. Some of these were solicited in a small-scale research project of the kind social scientists call "qualitative" rather than "quantitative." I recruited women through several public Web sites.1 Others found their way to me informally, as the word got out about what I was doing. Still others were found because they were named plaintiffs in discrimination lawsuits or because their EEOC attorneys asked them if they would be willing to speak with me. Many asked for anonymity, out of concern that their stories might be used to set back their paychecks. These women were by no means a "random sample," as that term is used in statistics or social science. Nevertheless, they come from very different walks of life. They live in a variety of regions and work in many kinds of jobs and industries: a secretary in Hollywood, a corporate executive at a Fortune 100 manufacturing firm, a manager in the U.S. Justice Department, a midwestern insurance analyst, an independent New Hampshire carpenter, and so on.
I tell these stories to illustrate and illuminate the stark data that is Getting Even's backbone. Women today are stuck making almost a quarter less than men. Why? Because of unfair treatment on the job -- unfair treatment that may not always be intentional, but is so deeply ingrained that it will continue unless we act.
Getting Even is written for every woman -- and for every man who cares about the women in his life. It's written for the woman who has seethed under such a moment of injustice -- and for the man who's been furious on hearing her tale. It's written for the woman who assumes she is getting paid fairly but who has not yet considered how unfair treatment might be crippling her paycheck -- and for the man who hasn't yet recognized how his wife's crimped wages are hurting their family finances. Most important, Getting Even is written for every woman who doesn't want to pass the wage gap on to her daughters -- and for every man who cares whether his wife, girlfriend, daughters, sisters, nieces, and granddaughters are being paid fairly.
Getting Even's premises are simple. The gender wage gap is unfair. It's still with us, and it's not going away on its own. It pinches the daily lives of women throughout the country, at every economic level. It is being passed along from one decade to the next, from one generation to the next. It measures discrimination against women on the job, which comes in many forms. The most blatant barriers to women in the workforce may be down, but that just makes eliminating the "hidden" barriers -- unspoken assumptions, unexamined attitudes, habitual ways of behaving -- that much more urgent. In 2000, two thirds of all U.S. working women were still crowded into twenty-one of the five hundred occupational categories. Legal changes have been helpful, but government can't do everything that's necessary to close the gap the rest of the way.
But there is a solution. Women (and sympathetic men) have to stop making excuses about why our wages are lower than men's. We have to look at the problem squarely, as this book will. And then we have to work together at the pragmatic solution laid out in Getting Even's final section. A few visionary employers, such as MIT's former president Charles Vest, have figured out how to treat women fairly. The solution is not rocket science. It involves paying close and sustained attention to how women and men are treated and measuring progress along the way. Working women (and the men who care about them) need to stand up for ourselves on the job. We need to work together to pressure every boss to follow MIT's lead and to get women even. If we all work at this together, steadily and attentively, women can -- and will! -- be paid just like men, in just one decade.
That's why I've titled this book Getting Even, which is meant to be simultaneously provocative, funny, and quite serious. You've heard the saying behind it: "Don't get mad; get even." I've always taken this to mean we should be smart about how we correct wrongdoings. Anger has its place, if it prompts you to respond with thoughtfulness and care. That's this book's goal: to get you angry enough to act; to offer up an overall strategy that will fix women's wages; and to give you constructive tools so that you, as an individual, can get financially even with men. Getting you angry should, unfortunately, be easy enough. Getting Even will do this simply by examining how much the wage gap is costing women, each and every day. It will show you what it means to be deprived of nearly one fourth of your rightful income. It will calculate how much you -- or your sisters, daughters, nieces, granddaughters -- are losing over a lifetime. The wage gap has a higher cost than most women will admit to themselves. Getting Even will look unflinchingly at that deprivation.
The subtitle tells you a little more: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men -- and What to Do About It. That word "why" is important. This book is full of stories, statistics, research, and facts -- about sex discrimination, about the wage gap, about lawsuits, about women's experiences on the job -- so that you can see that, when you face unfair treatment, you are not alone. We have to know why things are as they are before we can come up with an effective plan for what to do. (If you're interested in more scholarly detail about the whys and wherefores, follow the endnotes to academic studies and legal cases about how discrimination permeates workplaces' nooks and crannies.)
Until this book, you will not have read that the wage gap is all about discrimination. Since the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, academic and media analysts have theorized that the wage gap exists because something is wrong with women. Such theories have included these: women are less educated; women don't work as long or as hard as men; women haven't been in jobs for as many years; women aren't as committed to work.
Over time, as those more obvious differences between working women and men narrowed but the wage gap remained, analysts proposed finer-grained distinctions. For instance, you've probably heard these: Women are less skilled in negotiating; women are not strong leaders; women choose family over work. But note that the central theory remains the same: Women are deficient.
Here's the problem: economic and academic analysts are confined by their data's limitations. They're trying to draw conclusions based on the available nationwide statistics, which are provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and which describe working people by their age, race, gender, educational attainment, job earnings -- and nothing more. When social scientists try to draw conclusions about the wage gap based only on data about workers' demographic characteristics, they're drawing conclusions from only part of the picture. They're not looking at behavior in the workplace -- and so their theories are limited.
Alarm bells should go off when a forty-year-old theory no longer matches the facts. Working women's characteristics have essentially caught up with men's. The wage gap persists. So either the theory is inadequate or the data are inadequate, or -- as Getting Even will show -- both are inadequate. So let's try a new theory: Women are essentially equal workers, but employers are not treating them equally. That would explain the wage gap. But economic analysts will not be able to measure such a theory until they also look at data from behind employers' doors.
Such internal employment data can be hard to get. Sometimes lawyers can get such data when a woman sues her employer, and depositions and document searches bring forth comparative wage information and other important facts about that employer's pay schedules, policies, and practices. But government does not collect from all employers information about jobs and wages that's broken down by sex. Keep that in mind while you read this book. Today's conventional wisdom about what causes the gender wage gap ignores anything that happens behind employers' doors.
That's why Getting Even will spend six chapters looking at exactly that. I've assembled and examined records -- never before collected in one place -- of recent lawsuits in which sex discrimination was so obvious and so clearly documented that courts actually awarded women money to compensate for their losses, or that employers settled and paid women to avoid the risk and expense of a court finding against them. As you'll see, women have to be treated very badly before that happens. And yet employers are paying out millions upon millions of dollars, year after year, as a tax on their ongoing misbehavior toward women. As I write this preface, in the autumn of 2004, two of the biggest recent stories have been about sex discrimination at Wal-Mart and at Merrill Lynch. Clearly discrimination transcends both class and geography. You'll be shocked -- I certainly was -- to read just how bad, and how widespread, that misbehavior is.
In addition, Getting Even examines how the very same kinds of unfair treatment crimps the worklives of women who cannot afford a lawsuit's risks and costs. This kind of insidious sex discrimination rarely hits the headlines. It's what happens when a man is promoted on his potential while a woman has to prove herself first. Or when a man who has a child is given a raise on the assumption that he now must support a family (a bump up that's so common researchers call it the "daddy bonus"), while a woman who has a child is automatically shunted off the promotion track on the assumption that she's now unreliable. Many women shove such incidents aside so that they can get on with their lives. But it's still costing them, and their families, dearly.
So who decides which actions, policies, and behaviors are discriminatory? From campaigning for public office, I learned to trust the people who talked with me in their living rooms, their offices, and on factory floors. They were the ones who best understood the conditions they faced. Journalists would capture their stories in newspaper articles. Researchers would absorb and analyze their stories in academic studies. But the people on the front lines, in their own words and with their own ways of explaining their experiences, were the ones who taught me the most vivid lessons.
Most women go through their work lives doing the best they can at their jobs; they don't sit around totting up every slight or injustice if they feel there's nothing they can do about it. But when asked to step back and examine their employers' behavior, they -- and only they -- are in a position to consider whether or not their workplace is fair. Women are the experts on what unfairness they encounter at work every day -- whether it's as blatant as being told mothers can't be promoted or as subtle as a woman's good work being attributed to luck instead of effort. Experts all have important perspectives: lawyers, economists, sociologists, public policy analysts, social psychologists, organizational specialists, business schools, ethics experts, and all the rest. Each profession looks at wage discrimination through its own lens and adds different insights into how and why women are treated unfairly, many of which I have tried to include in this book. But in this book, working women get the last word on what happened to them on the job.
Decide for yourself, as you read these stories in combination with the rest of this book, whether this approach seems fair. Draw your own conclusions based on these lawsuits, studies, statistics, and stories. See whether other women's experiences resonate with your own. Decide for yourself whether the wage gap is women's own fault -- or is due to discrimination.
The second half of Getting Even's subtitle is just as important as the first: "what to do" so that women get paid fairly. Many women and men have worked on efforts to close the wage gap. And those efforts have had important results. Essential laws have been passed. Lawsuits have been, and continue to be, brought against outrageously unfair employers. Women's organizations, diversity consultants, and "work-family" specialists have pushed to make offices and factories more female-friendly. Economists have evaluated the statistical factors involved in pay equity. Social scientists have researched the mental mechanisms behind bias. And yet the wage gap persists.
It needn't persist any longer. We can get rid of the wage gap in ten years. Having academic, government, politics, and business experience gives me a rare 360-degree view of the wage problem -- and of how to solve it. I'm trained as an economist, so I can slice and dice statistics and data until I've squeezed out the juice. I've held top government posts, such as Massachusetts secretary of economic affairs, secretary of environmental affairs, and lieutenant governor -- where I learned intimately what government can and cannot do. Government can lead by setting out laws and mandates. It can punish those who flagrantly violate the American social consensus about what's just. But it cannot micromanage or even monitor how employers carry out their daily legal and moral responsibilities to be fair, whether that means paying women and men equally or ensuring a real shot at advancement for women and other historically disadvantaged groups.
Employers have to close the wage gap. I know they can. I've been a business executive and served as director on actively involved corporate boards, so I know how to see through an organizational chart and a balance sheet -- and how to manage and motivate folks on the line and in the boardroom. That's important. If women are to get even, businesses will have to change their policies and practices -- in ways that are not especially difficult or expensive. The boss can, and must, insist that women be paid fairly. Research, methodologies, and specialists are available to help.
So how can we persuade bosses to commit their organizations to paying women fairly? Pressure. Getting Even will ask every woman in this country to act on behalf of her own (and other women's) paychecks. Some of us will work individually to bring up our own wages. Some of us will work together, in a very loosely coordinated national campaign, which I will sketch out at the book's end. Whenever I speak about this subject in public, as I often do, women afterward ask what they can do to help. That's why I know it can be done. Together, we can push bosses to do the right thing.
To some, this plan may sound too ambitious; to others, it may sound too slow. But keep reading. I believe I can convince you not only that this must be done, but that it can be done.
What Exactly Is Discrimination?
What do I mean by discrimination? Each profession -- economists, social scientists, lawyers, politicians, businesspeople, and so on -- has a technical definition of the term. But Getting Even uses the broadest and most common understanding of "discrimination": treating women and men differently not because of merit but because of sex. That's the meaning in law. In Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress made it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sex as well as race, color, religion, and national origin. This sweeping law doesn't give employers latitude: an employer is discriminating when any woman at any time is treated unfairly based solely on her sex.
This book uses the phrases "sex discrimination" and "wage discrimination" interchangeably. While "sex discrimination" is the legal language in the 1964 Civil Rights Act's Title VII, "wage discrimination" is my phrase for reminding readers that this discrimination costs women money. Because Americans are committed to fairness, we may rail against discrimination in and of itself. But Getting Even focuses on the fact that discrimination is wrong morally and legally because of its financial consequences. When a boss denies a working mother a well-deserved promotion because he assumes she doesn't want more responsibilities and then gives a less qualified man the chance to move up in her place, she loses money. Her paycheck is less than what it could and should be. When a woman is so sexually intimidated she cannot do her best work in the office or on the plant floor, that costs her money, too.
Sex discrimination is not some abstract principle. Sex discrimination costs women money -- money we can ill afford to lose. One of this book's goals is to get you to think instinctively of that cost whenever you face, or hear about, unfair treatment. Sex discrimination, wage discrimination, sexual harassment discrimination, occupational segregation, being "mommy-tracked": that's money being taken out of your wallet.
Are women always right when they claim discrimination? Of course not. Sometimes human beings make mistakes, or distort, or even lie. But in my experience, most women step back and try to assess a situation impartially -- even when it's happening to them. Women will often bend over backward to be fair. For the purposes of this book, it doesn't matter whether that's because of nature, nurture, or culture. Here's what matters: few women make formal discrimination charges lightly. As you'll see, most women realize that charging or suing for discrimination is a daunting prospect, likely to permanently set back a career.
Who Is Affected by the Gender Wage Gap?
The wage gap does not affect all women equally. The appalling fact is that on average African-American and Hispanic women earn much less than Caucasian women. African-American women earn only 70 cents for every dollar an average man earns, whereas Hispanic women earn only 58 cents to the average male dollar.2 As a result, many of these women live even more dangerously close to, and in, poverty, simply because they are not men and not white.
Similarly, discrimination's knife cuts more painfully into the wallets of women at the economy's bottom than in its upper reaches. When a female marketing executive faces wage discrimination, she loses an important chunk of earning power. When a female janitor faces wage discrimination, she may lose the ability to keep a roof over her children's heads.
Getting Even focuses on how the wage gap bites into all these women's budgets. Women higher on the income scale lose more money. Women lower on the income scale teeter more dangerously toward disaster. All women lose. All women -- rich or poor, whatever their race, color, native language -- are being cheated by wage discrimination, which is far more entrenched in the American economy than most people realize. None of us will catch up unless, with the help of one another and sympathetic men, women act -- not only by turning to the government but also by proving to American employers that we will not accept the depth and breadth of wage discrimination within our own workplaces.
Working together, we can wipe out wage discrimination within the next ten years. But before I show you how, let me show you why.
Copyright © 2005 by Evelyn Murphy and E.J. Graff