Commentary

Women's Pay: Equal Or Is Answer Elusive?

When International Women's Day rolled around in March, I contemplated the topic of why men make more money doing the same job as women. In the PR industry. Was this the truth, or had I succumbed to a perpetual myth? Or was I dredging up ghosts à la Feminine Mystique? Undeniably, some discrimination within the greater marcomm industry still exists, but is it pervasive enough these days to warrant such a generalization? From my own experience, as employee and employer, I couldn't see the pay inequality.

Demystifying the pay divide

Statistics, however, skew the results in men's favor. Spread over all industries, men simply earn more than women because they occupy a higher percentage of the highest-paying jobs. This does not suggest that there's a blatant discrimination, just that women are still playing catch-up in earning advanced degrees and breaking into the traditional higher-paying fields such as engineering, medicine, and law.

Warren Farrell, author of Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap -- and What Women Can Do About It," asserts that women are still more comfortable moving into jobs that promise the more flexible hours required by the primary family caregiver. While this point makes me a bit squeamish, I can see the merit in such a position -- not that women are assuming their "traditional" (barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen) roles -- but because a good number of women I know do, in fact, plan for a future with children and move toward flexible careers. Which, unfortunately, can preclude them from those that are higher-paying.

Another possibility is simply a chicken versus egg scenario: maybe the more flexible jobs -- traditional jobs that women excel at and gravitate toward -- have undervalued or pay-discriminated against women for so long that low pay has become standard pay?

Regardless, the answer is elusive.

So what about the PR industry?

In 2010, the marcomm news source Ragan.com reported that women represent about 85% of the PR industry; however, 80% of upper management is still male. Therefore, men make up 80% of the highest-paying positions within the industry. Stay with me...

In 2007, the Public Relations Society of America's (PRSA) study on the men-to-women pay rate found that men made an average annual salary of $93,494. Women's average annual salary was reported to be $66,467. In my opinion, given that men make up 80% of the top positions, these numbers (a difference of some $27,000) represent a relative standard difference between upper management and lower-level positions.

So the appropriate "discrimination" question here should not be about the difference in pay between women and men, but about why men command such a huge percentage of upper-level management.

Well, why do they?

For every reason I can think of, I also have a counter-reason. Here are a few that I've discussed with colleagues and peers:

Women don't assert themselves enough when negotiating initial salaries and raises.

While it may sound acceptable at first read, I haven't found any supporting evidence. This isn't Betty Friedan's era and I know a lot of women who are just as, or even more assertive than men. This seems more like a personality bias than a gender bias and there are too many situational factors that can affect salary negotiations. For example, desperation knows no gender: maybe this man or that woman simply cannot afford to negotiate a higher salary, consequently risking being passed over for the job.

And not asserting themselves enough to ask for a raise? That's just nonsense. Successful women in PR have no problems asserting themselves on a weekly, daily, hourly, minutely basis. Just ask anyone in my office. And just as successful men do, these women know their value to employers and aren't afraid to ask for a raise if they feel they are being paid below market rate. Notice I used the term "successful" and "value?" If you're mediocre in performance, you shouldn't feel assertive in asking for a raise, regardless of gender, in any position or industry.

Sexism

Okay -- so I don't have empirical evidence on this one, either, but I have seen sexism in practice within this industry. And in others. That being said, it has been extremely rare (like two or three times). All powerful, successful women understand that initial barrier: the judgment that exists when you walk into a room, before you utter a word. And let's not forget that women can be just as hard and critical of each other. So I think we need to steer the conversation from sexism (which seems to be a fallback anyway) to value-creation. Show your worth and value, and you can command your price and your position regardless of gender.

The irony in all this is that in my 15-person PR agency, I have only three male workers. But we'll save that for another column...

I've started working on my own survey of women and men in the communications industry, and would love to include your opinion on pay inequality -- does it really exist? If you would like to take part (it will only take a couple of mins, I promise), click here.

Tags: commentary, pr, women
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