There are few frontiers anymore. Women are CEOs, brain surgeons, law partners and astronauts. Little girls have role models in nearly any occupation they want to pursue.
Yet the gender pay gap persists, even for women in high-paying professions. In fact, the pay gap is wider at the top than it is for “working class” women. And the gulf is growing. Did someone cancel the Equal Pay Act?
The gender gap is a canyon in top-earning professions
It’s not that some HR person decides to pay X amount to Joe and a lesser salary to Jane. The wage gap accrues over time in different and sometimes subtle ways. Gender bias in job postings, salary negotiations and performance reviews. The “father bonus” and “mommy penalty” for working parents. A lack of mentoring opportunities for women. And the Catch-22 of salary history.
Both anecdotally and statistically, the gender gap persists in nearly every field. But it is especially pronounced at the highest levels. Top male corporate executives reap millions more in pay and perks. Male doctors earn substantially more than female counterparts in the same specialty. Likewise scientists, lawyers, engineers, computer programmers and financial advisers.
This is counter to the overall trend. In wage earner jobs, the pay gap still exists but it has steadily shrunk. Women of color have made the biggest gains. But at the top, the playing field remains uneven and apparently is getting worse.
Is there really a pay gap?
Back in the 1960s, before the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women in American earned 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. The pay gap has shrunk considerably; women now earn 77 cents against the male dollar. In fact, detractors claim there is no wage gap at all. They contend women earn less because they choose lower-paying jobs, have less education or experience, work fewer hours, or voluntarily drop out of the workforce.
Some of those arguments have validity, but numerous studies show that a gender gap remains after accounting for all those variables. In other words, there is still a disparity that cannot be explained by non-discriminatory factors.
What about women in the federal workforce?
According to the General Accounting Office, the federal employee gender pay gap has also shrunk over the decades. Much of that decline is a shift in the federal workforce from low-paying clerical jobs that were dominated by women to more sophisticated jobs requiring higher education and experience. But after controlling for other factors, the GAO says there is still an unexplained gender gap of about 7 percent. There is less gender disparity in lower end General Schedule jobs where starting pay scales are more rigid.
But, as with the private sector, there is still a notable gap at the top levels of federal employment. For example, women in GS 14, GS 15 and SES positions may earn less than male counterparts or predecessors even though they hold Ph.D.’s and the requisite experience. Those old biases that favor men pervade even the federal government.
What if you think you are being paid less in your government job?
Making a case for a raise or promotion is one thing. Proving gender discrimination is another. Have there been other indications of unequal treatment, such as derogatory comments, different assignments, or being pulled from certain accounts or assignments? Are male counterparts with lesser credentials paid more or advanced more quickly? Are there patterns in how men versus women in the department are treated? Does your manager consider salary history (a system that perpetuates the gender gap) in determining what you should be paid?
The employment law attorneys of Passman & Kaplan, P.C., focus almost exclusively on the rights of federal sector employees. We represented government workers up and down the strata and in every federal agency.