Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 20, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE GENDER GAP....This will come as no surprise to my wife:

Women's income is lower on average than that of men in part because they generally work less, leave the labor force for longer periods and tend to hold jobs that pay less, a congressional study found.

But even after adjustments are made for those factors, women still earned an average of 20.3 percent less than men in 2000, investigators said Thursday.

Even in high tech, which is relatively merit driven compared to a lot of industries, men are too often viewed as simply being more competent and more senior than they really are usually by other men, of course. (Alternatively, women are viewed as less competent and less senior than they really are. Take your pick.) I think in most cases this is a genuine, unconscious belief, not a deliberate attempt to discriminate.

And it's hard to overcome even when it hits you in the face. I hired a guy many years ago, and based on his seniority and competence I offered him a pretty good salary. About a year later, as we expanded, I hired a woman to do the same job, but since she was less senior I offered her a salary about 20% less. After only a few months, however, I realized that her previous employer had obviously not recognized how good she was. If anything, she was actually better than the guy I had hired earlier.

But it was too late. Conventional thinking about compensation is too ingrained, and my boss was simply unwilling to give her a one-time pay increase to make things equal. It just wasn't done. We gave reviews once a year, and increases had to be between 0-8%. That was important and it just wasn't going to change.

So every year I would give her the maximum raise, and bit by bit she caught up. However, it took about seven or eight years. Today she's manager of her department.

Aside from unconscious discrimination, I suspect that much of the pay difference between the sexes is based on men being more willing to shop around for jobs and then use that as leverage to get counteroffers. This happened to me fairly frequently with men, but almost never with women, and if the offer was legitimate and it was someone I wanted to keep it often translated into a 10% salary increase or more. Two or three of these in a career and you're making a lot more than the women you work beside. (In fact, my first boss actually advised me to do this so that he could justify paying me more. It worked.)

So that's my advice to any women reading this: if you think you're being underpaid, don't be afraid to look for another job and then either take it or use it as leverage for a pay raise. We menfolk don't usually take this as a sign of disloyalty. Honest.

Kevin Drum 3:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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