Wage equality good for everyone

To the editor:

Data show that women earn less than men. This gender wage gap is 21 percent (2014), on average, across all workers. The gap is even larger for women of color. The gap remains 7 percent, even when all the reasonable explanations (college major, occupation, GPA, economic sector, etc.) are accounted for.

The gap appears right away: one year from graduation, women engineers’ salaries are only 88 percent of men engineers (see “Graduating to a Pay Gap, by the AAUW; online).

Perhaps you think 7 percent is not so much of a difference? To see the effect, let’s imagine a man who makes $100,000 and a woman with the same qualifications who makes $93,000. If the man saves the gap money, and both receive 2.5 percent raises, and if the man earns 5 percent on his savings, after 25 years the man will be $400,000 ahead. That is a significant difference.

What is the cause of the gap? Research shows that we hold ideas about male and female performance that affects how we rate the work of men and women. These ideas, or non-conscious biases, tilt ever so slightly towards men and away from women and make a difference in how women are evaluated and paid. This disadvantage accumulates over hundreds of interactions every day and millions of interactions in a career-mountains are made from molehills. The combination of non-conscious biases and the accumulation of disadvantage explain the gender wage gap (see “Why So Slow: The Advancement of Women, MIT Press).

What can we do about the gender wage gap? The first step to solving any problem is to recognize that there is a problem. Once we are aware of our nonconscious biases, we can work to eliminate them. We can advocate for our colleagues when we see bias in action. We can support events like Equal Pay Day, which highlights the gender wage gap-an Equal Pay Day event will take place on Michigan Tech’s Campus on April 12 (11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.) sponsored by the Michigan Tech chapter of the Society of Women Engineers and the League of Women Voters of the Copper Country. Finally, we can support legislative solutions to strengthen legal protections of wage equality and to provide redress when one is found to have been discriminated against.

Solving this problem is good for everyone, since everyone has women in their lives.

Faith Morrison