By: Brenda J. Trainor
It has been 50 years since John Kennedy passed the Equal Pay Act as part of his New Frontier initiative. The law was designed to overcome the wage disparity clearly evident between men and women in the workforce in 1963. So one wonders, why is it that in 2013, we still have a gender wage gap... and why is the gap growing instead of shrinking?
A recent report by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), found that the gap between what men and what women earn has been increasing in recent years. That is clearly not the direction intended five decades ago.
As reported by ABC News, Dr. Carla Harris of WGEA says the wage gap has “been steadily increasing since about 2004, from about 15 percent...and now we’re looking at about 17.5 percent over last year.” That means that women earn about 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
So why is that we can’t seem to achieve equity in earnings between men and women? Part of the reason, evidently, is because of the kinds of jobs that women have. Robin McCarthy, director of Pasadena’s Women at Work (www.womenatwork.org), a Pasadena-based nonprofit career and job resource center, recently commented in her newspaper column about findings that the majority of workers in low-wage occupations are women; she made the following observation about the reasons for job choices given by clients of Women at Work:
“So many clients undersell themselves. “I don’t have the experience for that job.” “I don’t understand technology,” or I don’t use it.” “I don’t have a computer at home.” (emphasis added).
What is it about technology that scares off women? If women’s lack of technological acumen is to be blamed, perhaps we need to better understand the relationship women have to technology, and then figure out ways to get women plugged in to better wages and more equitable earnings in an economy that is clearly increasingly driven by technological advancements and innovations.
Women clearly have the talent, and the reported increase in numbers of women in colleges and graduate schools demonstrates that women have the training and skills, that frankly aren’t translating to the next level. The question arises -- how do we change the dialog and structure innovations that will work to achieve equality for women?
Sheryl Sandberg is one women who is proposing solutions. She is a stellar techno-exec, once an accomplished executive at Google, she now serves as the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, and her name has been tossed about as a possible successor CEO of Microsoft. She clearly can navigate the pinnacles of the business technology field.
Sandberg is the author of “Lean In: Women, Work and the WIll to Lead,” a book based on her 2010 TED lecture (available for viewing on the internet*). In her lecture then, Sandberg examined issues of pay equity and laid out her observations about the need for innovations in women’s leadership and discussed personal choices for women in business and technology.
After her TED lecture, she went on to deliver an address at Barnard College addressing the same issues, then put together the book (published in the spring of 2013) and with that foundation, she joined with others to found a new nonprofit organization, Lean In (www.leanin.org).
Lean In is an innovative nonprofit that seeks to encourage women to make changes -- to encourage new ideas, not dwell on where we have shortcomings. It is working in three areas: inspiration, education, and community. By encouraging women to share their stories, they help to define the narrative of how women “lean in” to make decisions and exercise leadership. It also is encouraging the formation of Lean In Circles, encouraging and empowering women to meet monthly and share ideas, support and encourage each other. The organization also encourages education by developing a series of online lectures to capture the state-of-the-art knowledge about the issues that impact equity in the workplace and balance in families and personal lives. These lectures are produced in cooperation with the Clayman Institute for Gender Studies at Stanford University. (The Clayman Institute began as the Center for Research on Women and one of its founders is the late Susan Heck of Pasadena).
To achieve the pay equity envisioned as part of the “New Frontier” of the Kennedy Administration 50 years ago, it seems clear that we need innovative ideas and new leadership, as what we’ve been doing clearly isn’t working. Perhaps a Lean In Circle is something you and your organization can start, and a result, you can take a role in leading the change.