For all the moron politicians, the people who are convinced that the gender pay gap is a myth, there’s Kerri Sleeman to bust those notions.
Factors that may impact a woman’s salary such as education, career choice, hours worked, failing to negotiate starting salary and raises, taking time off during the childbearing years don’t apply to Sleeman, 44, of Houghton.
She has a bachelor’s of science degree in engineering and chose a male-dominated, higher-paying career field, mechanical engineering. She tried to negotiate her starting salary but her employer refused. She didn’t have children, and she worked 50 hours a week. Yet she discovered after her company went bankrupt that she was paid thousands less than the men she supervised, most of whom were right out of college with less experience.
On this day, Equal Pay Day, a date symbolic of the amount of time it takes women’s pay to catch up with men’s from the year before, Sleeman wants people to hear her story, and to know it’s real. She wants people to understand that it’s not acceptable that, decades after the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy, women are still not paid the same as men in this country.
“It’s good to keep these stories on the forefront because it’s so asinine to say that it doesn’t happen, or that it happens to uneducated women, or it happens only to the highly educated women, or whatever it is to make that excuse,” Sleeman said. “But it happens at all levels, to all women, in all types of jobs.”
Nationally, full-time, year-round female workers are paid 79 cents for every dollar full-time, year-round male employees are paid, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s2014 Current Population Survey of workers ages 15 and older. In Michigan, the gap is larger: Women are paid 75 cents for every dollar men are paid, according to the American Association of University Women’s study, The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap.
“Every study that has tried to control for every factor — and there are legitimate reasons for differences like education, experience and productivity — but even factoring in all of those, there’s always a certain percentage of the pay gap that can’t be explained, said Michele Leber, chairwoman of the National Committee on Pay Equity, which started Equal Pay Day 20 years ago.
She noted that the argument many make to discredit women’s efforts at negotiation is a prickly one.
I would question that women don’t work as hard. They may value flexibility as they’re trying to raise families as they continue to work outside the home, but I question that they don’t work as hard in their same fields.
The issue of negotiation is a tricky one for women. “Women may be regarded as aggressive while men are seen as assertive in the same situations,” Leber said. “There have been studies that show that women who negotiate are less likely to be hired. So they have to negotiate carefully. And obviously, If they start out earning less than men, the gap widens over the years.”
Advocacy groups around the country are rallying today to draw attention to the issue. In Lansing, a rally on the steps of the state capitol is planned for 12:30 today. And they’re urging people in support of pay equity to wear red, and to seek out lawmakers and talk to them about the issue.
“We are fighting for pay equity all year round, but this is the day when we encourage women particularly to get involved,” said Mickey Edell, cochair for the Michigan Equal Pay Day Coalition and president of the Plymouth-Canton branch of the AAUW. “The gender pay gap is not only a women’s issue, it’s a family issue. It’s an economic issue and it impacts not only women but their families, their long-term savings, their social security and what they can do for their families.”
There are almost a dozen bills introduced in the state House and Senate to address the gender wage gap by making wages more transparent, to establish a pay equity commission in Michigan, to require equity compliance in state contracting, and to increase the penalties for pay discrimination based on gender.
Cheryl Hughes, an engineer for an auto supplier, makes a little more than $47,000 a year with a master’s degree in engineering and 19 years of experience. Yet for her experience level and education, most engineers are paid about double that, she said.
“As an African-American woman over 40 years of age, I face three-fold discrimination — age, race, and gender,” said Hughes, who lives in Detroit.
Black, Latina and native American women working full-time, year-round jobs do face an even wider divide when it comes to the pay gap, according to the AAUW study. African-American women take home 63% of the income of white men; the disparity is larger among Latinas, who are paid just 54% of that of white men. For native American or Alaska native women, the pay is 59% of white men’s pay.
“Some would have you believe that women earn less because of career choices, not negotiating their salaries and leaving the industry to have children. I chose a lucrative field of study, tried to negotiate my salary without success and stayed in the workforce with children,” Hughes wrote on her blog post for the AAUW.
“Women, we must stand together and demand pay equity. If not, this issue will still be discussed when the 50-year-old Equal Pay Act turns 100.”
Sleeman hopes it doesn’t come to that.
Now as the first female executive director of facilities management at Michigan Technological University, Sleeman’s salary is public, as are the wages of all the other employees.
“Our salaries are published, which I think is a great thing,” she said. “When people can talk about their salaries, that’s the first step to knowing whether or not they’re being paid equally. And by being paid equally, I mean equal value for equal work for equal talent that people bring. You can’t bring somebody right out of college and somebody with 20 years’ experience and say they should be paid the same. You have to think about those things, and a lot of times we’re not. Unfortunately, gender bias is one of the first things that gets thrown into the mix instead of qualifications, and what they can bring to the table.”
Fair isn’t fair, after all. Isn’t it past time we demand better?