March 13th, 2013

planet

equal pay and wichita a "worst city for women"

Apparently Wichita, Kansas is 7th worst paying city for women, according to a study by the National Review who adds that the average man here makes $47,000 a year, and the average woman less than $34,000. That's a bigger difference than, well, most places (but hey we beat Colorado Springs!) What caught my attention was that they specifically mentioned the aviation industry as being the culprit of the disparity, since most of the high-paying jobs in aviation are held by men... how can we fix this? Urge women into those jobs? See what they are doing, and ask if those positions are undervalued?

Here are my thoughts in no particular order:

1) From what I've seen, everyone in engineering where I work does just fine. Our salaries are all comparable, I've gotten promotions about when I felt like I deserved them, I've liked my opportunities and they've even been cool to me during my baby-having years when it's obvious I can't be putting in gobs of overtime just right now... I've proven I can work overtime! But just like guys who start families, or my coworker who just got a knee replacement, there are years where overtime works and years where it doesn't and we all take turns. Aside from the six week maternity leave, which is really nothing on the timeline of a ten year career, I don't need anything that the fathers don't need, too.

2) I have worked jobs where I've seen pay disparity though, like at the shoestore I was at in high school where the female manager learned she made $3 less an hour than two men who were less experienced than she was. She felt stuck, she was a great manager and good at sales and there was no reason for it, I only learned about it way later but it was definitely there.

3) And the "underground" nature of pay disparity is a huge part of the issue. It's illegal to discriminate, so if we can see it, we get lawyers and fix it. But it's not always so easy to see. It's like so many feminist issues... there's an undercurrent, something we suspect, but the problem is subversive and we have to convince others it's real. If it was out there like a flashing light, we'd be able to take it down.

4) In addition to the unequal pay for equal work, there's a running theme of unequal work, too. Plenty of people look at equal pay stories and say "Well the women are working part time, or not shoveling heavy stuff for 8 hours a day, or not doing the same jobs! Sure they deserve equal pay... for equal WORK. Step up ladies!" But what if the same opportunities aren't being offered to us? What if we randomly decide that to be a cop, you have to be able to lift 300 pounds, even though 98% of your time is spent negotiating or doing paperwork? Or what if we're still raising girls in a world where they can't see themselves as engineers, it's not seen as "girly" so they grow up, hit the age of 18, shrug their shoulders and by some odd cultural default choose the lower-paying jobs? Is that really a giant coincidence? Feminists think there are questions to be asked here.

5) But at the same time, feminists are asking why traditional women's jobs also tend to be the ones that don't earn the higher salaries. What's more of a problem... that we urge women towards a small sub-set of careers, or that we don't reward those careers fairly based on what they give back to society? It's a debate I've seen for years... obviously as an engineer, I think the answer is to get engineering into more girls' heads. But not all feminists agree with me. And honestly, I think that's part of why we haven't made great strides in increasing our technical field numbers like we have in the worlds of business or law... there's a divide between "bachelor of science" engineers and "bachelor of arts" feminists and we can't admit that we need each other.

We're stuck in a chicken and egg cycle when it comes to equal pay. It's a complicated problem with a million questions that have us stumped. In the meantime, women continue to support themselves and their families, just like men do, just like women have always had to do, but with less. I feel like I've broken out of the issue personally, but can't figure out how to fix it on a major scale for everyone involved, and it frustrates me.