76 Cents to the Dollar?


There’s a piece in the NYT today, labor day, called Exploiting the Gender Gap by Warren Farrell, author of Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap – and What Women Can Do About It. In it, Farrell explore the facts behind the statistic that women earn on average, 76 cents for every dollar a man earns in this country. I’m delighted by this article as it shows that there is much more to this one particular statistic than meets the eye.

Perhaps, I thought, male bosses undervalue women. But I discovered that in 2000, women without bosses – who own their own businesses – earned only 49 percent of male business owners. Why? When the Rochester Institute of Technology surveyed business owners with M.B.A.’s from one top business school, they found that money was the primary motivator for only 29 percent of the women, versus 76 percent of the men. Women put a premium on autonomy, flexibility (25- to 35-hour weeks and proximity to home), fulfillment and safety.

After years of research, I discovered 25 differences in the work-life choices of men and women. All 25 lead to men earning more money, but to women having better lives.

High pay, as it turns out, is about tradeoffs. Men’s tradeoffs include working more hours (women work more around the home); taking more dangerous, dirtier and outdoor jobs (garbage collecting, construction, trucking); relocating and traveling; and training for technical jobs with less people contact (like engineering).

My experience in the working world has shown me that women often have a very hard time asking for what they are worth. I remember a few years ago asking a smart and talented young woman I was interviewing for a position in my start-up company how much salary she wanted. Her reply, “Well, I’m making $28,000 a year now, and if I move to LA to start this job, I’ll need a car, so I’ll need to make $35,000.” I nearly fell off my chair. I motioned a time-out and gave her some woman-to-woman coaching. I explained that what I was about to tell her, no one ever was going to tell her again in a job interview. It is the employers job to hire an employee at the lowest possible salary. It is the potential employee’s job to get the highest salary they can. So if she asks for only what she thinks she “needs” and it happens to be lower than what I am willing to pay, much lower in this case, that’s what I’ll give her. “Women tend to sell themselves short. Don’t ever ever do that again. You are clearly smart, talented, capable, and completely qualified for this job. When I ask of your salary requirements, give me what you want, what you think you are worth, not what you need, and error on the high side. Okay, end of time out. I’m going to ask that question again. What is the salary you want?”

She replied, “$60,000”. “That’s better,” I replied. “I’m not going to give you $60,000 because that is too much a leap from where you are now, given your level of experience. But I will offer you $42,000.”

I learned early on in my self-employmed consulting career that men earn more because they ask for more. When I found out that men who were less experience, less smart, and less capable than I were charging more for comparable work, I was livid, at myself. I vowed not to let that happen again.

But don’t female executives also make less than male executives? Yes. Discrimination? Let’s look. The men are more frequently executives of national and international firms with more personnel and revenues, and responsible for bottom-line sales, marketing and finances, not human resources or public relations. They have more experience, relocate and travel overseas more, and so on.

Comparing men and women with the “same jobs,” then, is to compare apples and oranges. However, when all 25 choices are the same, the great news for women is that then the women make more than the men. Is there discrimination against women? Yes, like the old boys’ network. And sometimes discrimination against women becomes discrimination against men: in hazardous fields, women suffer fewer hazards. For example, more than 500 marines have died in the war in Iraq. All but two were men. In other fields, men are virtually excluded – try getting hired as a male dental hygienist, nursery school teacher, cocktail waiter.

There are 80 jobs in which women earn more than men – positions like financial analyst, speech-language pathologist, radiation therapist, library worker, biological technician, motion picture projectionist. Female sales engineers make 143 percent of their male counterparts; female statisticians earn 135 percent.

During the furor over Larry Summers (Harvard president) I asked a girlfriend of mine, classmate from Stanford Business School and a partner of an executive search firm, what she thought. She explained that it was difficult to find women to place as CEOs because most women who have the ability and experience to be CEOs don’t want the job. They want more time with their families. Just what I thought. People forget, or they really don’t know to begin with, the level of commitment (read time and devotion) needed to perform at an executive level at companies. Most C-level (CEO, COO, CFO, etc) and VP executives I know make huge sacrifices with their personal lives to perform at the level that satisfies them in an executive job. This is why most of these folks have stay-at-home wives or husbands to take care all of the things that need to be taken care of when running a family household.

This is not to say that discrimination doesn’t take place. It sure as hell does. There is an old-boys network. But at least from this gal’s view, there appears to be less of it than 20 years ago when I was starting out my career. And that famous 76 percentage statistic points to a lot more variables than discrimination.

3 thoughts on “76 Cents to the Dollar?

  1. Excellent observation.

    I myself am a fairly successful career woman. As an in-house attorney, I negotiate contracts for my company frequently. Yet I still have difficulties asking for what I want. I thought I was undervaluing myself. Fact is, I do look for other alternatives in my work life such as flexibility. If I wanted to make the really big bucks, I would have gone to work for a large firm and put in the 60-80 hours per week required.

    Like many women, I need to better evaluate their worth and learn to negotiate for themselves. I am glad to know that the pay inequality is not solely based on the male predominance of the work force.

    My husband is always reminding me: Your paycheck may come from your current employer, but your allegience belongs to Susanna, Inc. An excellent example of the male mindset towards career. If we want to play in that game, we are going to need to know their rules – not always follow them, but know them.

  2. Totally, totally agree. I own a company and some of the women are such amazing team players they never demand what they’re worth and I find myself having to coach them on how to stick up for themselves. I can’t say I’ve ever done that for an intervee but I could easily picture the scenerio you described.

  3. I am glad to know that there are more variables than just discrimination into the equation. I would like to think that my own career choices are not strictly ruled by “more money, more money…” but rather a better quality of life: 76 cents to the dollar is great! My family well-being is worth a lot more.

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