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?


Eileen Williams said...

Boy, is this a great thought-provoking post! I've been an under earner all my life. As I like to say, "If it weren't for my husband putting food on the table, I'd never have to diet again!"
But, after reading your words, I can see how self-denigrating my humor is and how I've held myself back from considering myself worthy enough for real money. You're right, it isn't necessarily what the green stuff can buy, it's more of a reflection of how much I value my own gifts and talents. Got to chew on this one for a while--thanks for the great big eye-opener!

Linda - SE PA said...

This commentary, with a bit of a stretch, coincides with a topic that I've been thinking about. As I age on, I realize that, although we do it differently, we seemingly by osmosis do/act many ways as our parents did.

They say that if we trace back to when we were 9 years old and what "we wanted to be when we grow up" that would be a career choice. I had a few choices - nurse, teacher, writer. My mother said - secretary as I would always have a job.

When I started working I was a beautician and made decent money. Being young made me want to be free and not dedicate Fri nites or early Sat AM's to work, so I went and became a secretary with no more training than a typing course and Intro to Business in high school.

In those days, we didn't think too much about getting ahead. I earned decent money or so it stays in my memory. I lived at home. In other words, my money was really fun money more so than any responsible money.

In retrospect, those times for women working were those of not being taken too seriously. Stereotype silently seemed to rule the environments. Secretary - retail clerks - bank tellers - all were thought to be working until marriage and pregnancy. And it seemed to be true that when you "are that age" people did leave the workforce to raise families.

Traditional women fields such as teachers and nurses were often looked at with different eyes - spinsters or soon to be wives.

So, I floundered as I remained single in the world of office politics working my way up to a higher level for administrative support - not earning enough to go back to college - not having time as I made a mistake of thinking working long hours would be a merit badge. Salaries were increased every year along with a bonus so I more or less got by economically.

Had I to do over, I would go to college and be a teacher or lawyer or study both. Marriage and family can be postponed as we've learned from life experience or another life experience learned is that if we are not "cookie cutter folks" and want to stay at home - that is our choice.

Women still draw dividing lines and it remains the same for each generation of recent times. Choice is what it is about.

Once a choice is clear and a path clear, dedication will earn its payment.