I was listening to the President’s “State of the Union” address last night and something struck me to the core. He said, and I’m paraphrasing a bit, in 2014, unequal pay for women is an embarrassment. The President said women earn 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. That’s true when comparing all jobs as though they’re equal. But, let’s break down the apples and oranges. Doing so gives us women something we can work with.
Why doesn’t it really bother us?
The President was right on that we should be embarrassed that women are still earning less than men. It’s ridiculous on all levels. But, not too many people in my everyday life seem deeply disturbed by this. Not even the women. Myself included for the most part. What’s wrong with us?
I think part of it has to do with the fact that we aren’t always thinking about the pay because, in most cases, we’re just happy to have a job. If you take a glance through the job postings out there and compare the number of jobs to the number of graduates, it’s scary (as many graduates on the job market can attest to). Especially knowing that, currently, women are the majority of graduates, landing a job is a bit like striking gold. I know that I’m grateful each day that I have the job I do. Am I upset to think that a man doing the same job with the same qualifications earns more because he’s got a biological advantage? Of course. But, really, what am I going to do about it? Make a stink and potentially risk the amazing and wonderful job that I have? Not likely. Instead, I will grouse on my own time and suck it up.
And, sometimes, it just seems plain unbelievable. When I’m in a meeting or class in my humanities area, I’m totally in the majority. Men? There was one or two in my classes most of the time. But, that’s the humanities, right? Those majors like Literature, Art and Philosophy where women outnumber men. But, it’s true for higher education overall, too. Women now account for nearly 60% of enrollment at colleges and universities across the country. It’s not that we’re uneducated or unworthy. We’re damn good and outpacing men in education overall. Except in the areas that pay.
So, why do women still make less?
Here’s where we start talking apples and oranges. I walked in to my Technical Writing course this term, a course that is required of engineering majors. 22 total students in the course, one of them female. This is not an anomaly. Last spring, two. The summer before that, again two. The fields where the money is made (those pesky STEM fields [science, technology, engineering and math] that make us liberal arts folks shudder) are overwhelming dominated by men. And, it’s not like we can blame men for going after the money. Why wouldn’t they? I started out on that path, and if the idea of spending hours a day pouring over machinery and numbers hadn’t made me want to lay down and curl into a little ball, I’d still be there. I love tinkering and fixing (which sometimes means breaking), but I didn’t stay. Why?
Instead, I went down the path many women do. A nurturing one—teaching. Teaching and nursing are the most prominent fields for female college students. That’s not to say these fields are bad or wrong choices. We should all be happy in our fields and careers. But, what draws women there? There are surely many reasons, scheduling, courses, time, the list goes on. But, I think more importantly here, we need to ask ourselves if we are supporting each other enough to encourage women to seek the money? I don’t remember one woman in a leadership role during my time exploring engineering. The classes I walked in to, filled with men. The companies I had contact with, men. Women in my family who were engineers? Zero. Had there been a woman I could have identified with, seen myself as down the road, perhaps I’d have stuck it out.
Here are some majors numbers from the Payscale.com blog:
- Construction Management: 93% male
- Mechanical Engineering: 92% male
- Electrical Engineering: 91% male
- Physics: 89% male
- Aerospace Engineering: 87% male
- Civil Engineering and Computer Science: 85% male
Here’s a list of the majors that women dominate:
- Fashion Design: 95% female
- Interior Design: 90% female
- Elementary Education: 88% female
- Social Work and Nursing: 88% female
- Occupational Therapy: 86% female
What do we do about it?
I’m not arguing for women to degree in a field they have no interest in simply because the pay is good. Not at all. I took a pay cut to do a job I love, so money is not the answer. But, support and encouragement are. Right now, my daughter wants to be a fairy. Am I supportive? I let her wear fairy wings, what do you think? But, down the road, I also intend to show her that women can do and be anything. Work with computers? Why not? Build machines? Do it. Be an inventor? Of course. And, it’s not just telling her. It’s showing her. Giving her successful models of women who have made it in all fields. The sky isn’t the limit we have to worry about. Our own lack of female support and networking opportunities is.
So, successful ladies in those higher earning fields, get out there! Mentor young women. Show them they can do the job just as well and then some. Show them they can ask for the raise or the promotion or the opportunity. We can help each other become better and stronger, and ultimately better paid, and it’s not the fault of men if we don’t.