Gender equality: Equal pay Is problematic, but not in the way you think

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The pay discrepancy between men and women may be a hot topic these days, but the issue is rarely discussed openly and honestly without a torrent of angry naysayers from both sides.

However, it’s not the apparent gender gap that needs attention; it’s the jobs.

We look at the industries that primarily attract or hire women, and the ones dominated by men, and we find more men in the science, tech and engineering fields while women make up the majority of teachers, social workers and nurses.

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This isn’t news to anyone. I don’t really need to tell you 2015 articles from Forbes, Business Insider, and various career websites list the top careers for women as being in nursing, childcare, teaching, administration, social work and human resources, but I will. And I needn’t mention that men in “pink collar” jobs have been found to make more than women, as demonstrated by the fact that male registered nurses make an average of $5,100 more annually despite holding the same or similar work hours and occupation as women, according to a recent report by the Journal of the American Medical Association, but I will.

You’re likely well aware that suspected reasons for this phenomenon range from childcare duties/pregnancy leave, societal bias regarding the abilities of men versus women, female employees’ tendencies not to negotiate pay raises, and theories that women in male-dominated fields pose a threat, whereas men in female-dominated fields present an asset, as reported in an article by Fast Company writer Lydia Dishman, but I’ll throw that in too.

But the issue that demands our attention is a seemingly benign lurking variable. The reason people cite most often — and arguably, most accurately — for the overall discrepancy in pay between men and women is that women really do tend to occupy less lucrative fields.

With that in mind, let’s do some fact checking.

First of all, that gap is finally lessening, perhaps due to STEM programs and the college graduation rates. Bloomberg Business reported a decrease in the pay gap when looking at wage data of recent college graduates between the ages of 22-27 years. Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York actually reported that female college grads are earning equal or more than their male colleagues in 29 industries investigated.

The most notable industries reporting higher wages for women were in the social services, where they earned an average of 16 percent more than men, and in industrial engineering jobs, where they earned roughly 10 percent more.

The study, which can be reviewed more comprehensively on the Liberty Street Economics website, was compiled using data reports from nearly 500 jobs and almost 20 fields, applying regression analysis to compare yearly wages for men and women in comparable roles and educational backgrounds, and using several controls for relevant demographics (such as location, ethnicity and income). They found that men still earn around three percent more overall, but that recent female grads can expect to be paid on par with men in the same or similar vocational positions.

But hold on to your bras, human rights activists with mammary glands (even the word “feminist” is a trigger for folks, these days …), because that doesn’t solve the problem.

If there’s equal pay for equal work, but women still make up the majority of employees in elementary and middle school education, social work, psychology, medical and health service administration, and various other lower-income jobs, that’s a bit unfair. And many of those jobs require at least a Bachelor’s degree.

So between potential childcare costs, student loans and the regularly incurred expenses of daily life, the people who need the money most are not getting it.

The solution for this in recent years has been a vehement push for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields, especially for girls, and yet it doesn’t seem to cover the bases. For one thing, according to, a career site for young professionals, many careers that fall under that umbrella already have a high number of women. 91 percent of registered nurses are female, along with nearly half (46 percent) of biological scientists, 78 percent of clinical laboratory technologists, and 60 percent of accountants and auditors.

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For women hoping to make it in the STEM fields, they’re in good company, and fellow scientists and engineers are welcoming them to the fold. For those who aren’t, the wages as a teacher or social worker are low, and it remains difficult to compete with men even in very (supposedly) gender neutral careers … like the arts.

  • Have you looked at the statistics for film school graduates lately? If you’re hoping to be a director, you’re still better off with a penis.

With that in mind, while we’re working on establishing that women are of equal worth in the workplace — assuming they’re putting in equal hours with the same educational background and abilities, we might want to look at the flawed system that values teachers less than lawyers and social workers less than Microsoft engineers.

Is it that lawyers put in more work? No, it can’t be that. For example, if we looked at every career for the number of hours someone put in, all writers and artists would get paid based on the hours they put into research and labor, rather than a simple quote for the finished product.

In the case of teachers, they spend a great deal of their time preparing materials and curriculum, ensuring that everything is up to date, preparing for and attending afterschool activities for parents and kids, going to meetings, grading papers, keeping their qualifications remain current and relevant, dealing with the personal issues of children and parents, etc. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The same goes for social workers.

Furthermore, these careers often require advanced degrees, which cost money and time. But a case manager’s time and money is apparently less valuable than that of a business executive or a computer programmer.

Why is that? It’s strange that we continue to allow the people who protect and fight for the most vulnerable members of our population (children, the poor, the disadvantaged, the mentally and physically ill) to be overworked and underpaid, but we reward those who had the means to attend law school and medical school with the continued ability to pass on that blessing to those also able to afford their services. It’s almost like our system was built to get rid of inconvenient people, ignore the actual needs of children, and deem parenthood less important than corporate interest.

It’s not just a matter of women and men in the workforce — we’ve got the basic foundation of the workforce all wrong.

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Top photo is a screen grab from the new film, Suffragette. How far have we come with gender equality in the 95 years since women won the right to vote?