Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Grab that Brass Ring Already!

I’ve been thinking about why so many women are underearners. Most of the answers are obvious: cultural conditions, economic trends, the fact that women have only been in highly paid professions for such a relatively short time, etc.

A few statistics from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research: For full time workers, women made 77.8% of what men made in 2007. Translated into real salaries, this means that that average salary for a full time female worker in the U.S. that year was $35,102;for a full-time male worker it was $45,113 (before taxes). I wonder if these average salaries have eroded in the last year, what with the poor economy.

As an artist and writer, a recent article in the journal of the National Museum of Women in the Arts caught my eye. Women artists between the ages of 45 and 54 (years when we should be at the top of our professions) earned only 67% of what male artists in this age group made. And by the way, women artists are less likely to have children, according to this report. I can just imagine the thinking, because once those were my thoughts, too: “How can I have a family? I want to devote myself to my [art, writing, singing, acting, etc.]. So not only do many creative women forego having a family, they give up on making money, too. Not exactly a win-win.

Sorry to say, but even in a higher-paying profession like medicine, female physicians make 15 to 25% less than their male counterparts in nearly every area of specialty. Female attorneys salaries recently slipped to 70% of their male counterparts, as compared to 77% in 2005.

I’m reading an interesting and helpful book titled Secrets of Six-Figure Women by Barbara Stanny. She quotes Betty Friedan: “The enemy isn’t men. The real enemy is women’s denigration of themselves.” The underlying theme of the book is that until we learn to value ourselves, we can’t fully realize our potential. Of course money isn’t the answer to everything. But it’s symbolic, often, of self-worth. As Stanny points out, it’s not that underearners don’t work hard. Some of the hardest working women she interviewed were the most chronic underearners.

I love this quote from the book: “What scares us most about financial success is not that we may fall short but that we may actually take flight and discover that we are, indeed, ‘powerful beyond measure’ (this alludes to a quote by Nelson Mandella). For many of us, that’s the very thing we’re trying to avoid.”

Certainly, cultural forces, conditioning, and real discrimination shape the wage gap. But I do believe that it's also a product of women’s perception of self-worth and self-esteem, or lack thereof. To close that gap, we’ve got to feel we’re worthy, and deserving. I’m working on it, how about you?