20th April 2012
Equal Pay Day was signed into law by then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963, at a time when women were earning 59 cents to every dollar compared to men. The Equal Pay Act works to ensure that men and women performing the same work for the same number of hours receive equal financial compensation for that work. There is still some way to go; the U.S. Department of Labor reports that women earn 80 cents for every dollar that men earn-a discrepancy that results in a loss of about $380,000 over the course of a woman's career, and one that is higher for minority women.
Equal Pay Day is observed to demonstrate the amount of time from January to April 17 that women must work beyond men in order to earn the same salaries-and it comes at a time when discussing the role of women in the workforce has never been more tense. Earlier this month, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker repealed the state's 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which allowed victims of workplace discrimination to seek damages in state courts. He did so on the basis of false lawsuits, despite the fact that not one equal-pay lawsuit was filed in the two years the bill stood in effect and the state rose to 24th place in national gender-parity rankings in 2010, up from 36th in 2009. And when asked about his support of the repeal, Republican state Senator Glenn Grothman argued that, due to different goals in life, women don't need-or even want-more pay anyway.
"You could argue that money is more important for men," Grothman told Michelle Goldberg of The Daily Beast. "I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious. To attribute everything to a so-called bias in the workplace is just not true."
Regardless of one's stance in the equal pay debate, it calls into question the gender inequity present at the top of the employment hierarchy. In all aspects of the public sphere, women are underrepresented. Women and girls are the subjects of less than 20 percent of all news stories. As of 2003, women comprised 15 percent of top executives in the U.S. and 12 percent of board members amongst Fortune 500 companies . And with politicians such as Congresswoman Jackie Speier attributing discrimination in the financial sector to a "male-dominated financial meltdown," the question must be asked: can the public-and investors-handle the idea of a woman in power?
Research yields a resounding yes. Last month, Lauren Maffeo reported for the Polis Institute that "The 2009 White House Project Report: Benchmarking Women's Leadership found that despite these low numbers, public comfort with female leaders has reached a fortunate high. 96% of those surveyed are comfortable with a woman as the head of a newspaper, and 95% as the head of a major film/entertainment studio. Similarly, a 2008 Pew Research Center study found that the public rated women above men in five of the right character traits they value in leaders (honesty, intelligence, creativity, outgoingness, and compassion). These figures reveal a vast discrepancy between public support of women in positions of power and the numbers of women who occupy these positions, suggesting not an absence of female ability or public support, but rather a lack of widespread knowledge regarding these unequal numbers. If the public is unaware of the progress that must be made, no further action can be taken.
The blame game of why women get strapped with lower salaries and lesser status rivals that of what caused the market to combust; indeed, the two have been, and will continue to be, explicitly connected. Former bond trader Michael Lewis has argued that reckless behavior on the trading floors-and what he calls the "purging" of women from executive roles on Wall Street-supported by 2001 research showing that while men were comfortable making investments, their annual returns were a percentage point below those of women who invested the family finances.
A more recent study, showing that men were far more likely than women to sell any shares at stock market lows, also plays on ideas regarding stereotyped attributes of men and women, proving how the same, stereotypically "domesticised" attributes of women that have been used to explain, and even justify, their absence from boardrooms actually function as viable assets-and make the case that if the financial sector is to improve, it must do so with more women at the helm.
In his discussion with a dozen women working in finance published last November Joris Luyendijk found a range of responses to the highs and lows of their career choices. Many, he reported, earned more negative reaction for their work from those outside the financial sector than from those inside it. Most employees, male or female, don't rake in the exorbitant salaries the public vilifies all of them for. And many, while acknowledging how times have changed, blame the Mad Men sexism of older colleagues for influencing the attitudes of younger men. All of which suggests that in spite of continuous pay gaps, times are changing for the better. Because stereotypes of "aggressive" men and "cautious" females are a root cause of gender equality, any discussion of such attributes must acknowledge their potentially harmful affects.
For investors looking to place their trust in companies, those who not only employ women, but value them and their contributions are the ideal place to start.
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