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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.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 14th, 2013 02:37 am (UTC)
I know that part of the problem for me is that I'm a craptastic negotiator. I took a pay cut of $5K for my last job and found that some of my male counterparts negotiated much higher salaries with less experience.

Is it because they felt I was worth less or that they knew I would accept less? Not sure...</p>

One of the women who reported to me and transferred to my department was making $20K less than less experienced men who came right out of university. She felt that the pay she had negotiated was fair for the work. I slowly worked her up to a salary comparable to her peers but she still lags behind them even today although she was my best worker bar none.

I make $50K less than some of the men who I manage. I feel that I receive an acceptable rate of compensation for the work that I do but apparently I should probably be making more?

Mar. 14th, 2013 09:46 am (UTC)
I think that we should *both* be encouraging more girls into engineering *and* encouraging society to reward people who take up more traditionally "feminine" careers (like nursing and teaching). They don't really seem like goals that get in each others way to me.
Mar. 14th, 2013 11:56 am (UTC)
The problem is that nothing gets done without a priority. I mean yes, it's nice to do both those things, also make sure we're encouraging men enough, also save the whales and feed the hungry and make more fuel efficient vehicles, etc. But without individuals focusing on those things one at a time they don't happen. That's why we're "feminists", not just "good-ists", even though we all want good things to happen in lots of different areas.

So it comes up whenever you talk about women in STEM, someone will ask "why is STEM such a big deal to get into anyway? We're telling everyone it's this magic answer, but maybe it's just overvalued." and you have to deal with that. I see it a lot.
Mar. 14th, 2013 01:28 pm (UTC)
I think teaching and nursing are already pretty well compensated fields (I am a second-career nurse myself). We recently had discussions in the Russian part of my LJ - looked up the officially publicized teacher salaries, and the compensation is fine. An average teacher retires with more than 90K in the Boston area, for example, and they have a pension to boot. High school math and science teachers make more. It's similar for nurses.

I think the problem is that women slow down a lot when they have kids - spacefem has been a trooper so far, but not everyone is. I ended up quitting graduate school in chemistry and staying home for 4 years when my daughter was diagnosed with nasty stuff at 2 years of age. She is now doing much better than most people would ever expect, but my career path is quite different (even if I chose to return to chemistry instead of switching fields, my earning potential is forever lower).
Mar. 14th, 2013 03:54 pm (UTC)
I was making just a little ($2k) less than my husband when I left the same big Fortune 500 employer we worked at 3 years ago despite him having been hired on at well under my starting salary. Some of it was due to me having a crappy manager, but really we were right about on par with each other when I left. I took a pay cut (same salary but no more bonus) to work at a small company and my salary has essentially stagnated while he has gotten a promotion and several raises in the past 3 years. He now makes 30% more than me (including his bonus). My manager is awesome now but there just aren't as many bells and whistles at a small company as there are at a large one, and as I'm sure you know the aircraft industry was hit pretty hard in the recession. Of course there's no way for me to tell what others here are making, and I enjoy this job far more than what I was doing at the big companies, but that 30% number is kind of ridiculous to me.

Interestingly enough, right before I left the big company I chose not to opt out of a class action lawsuit concerning unequal pay for women and some older employees. I got a slight retroactive pay bump but it was only to about a year and a half in the past and not back to when I was hired 5 years prior. It ended up being a piddly amount but I thought it was interesting that any of that even happened. Also no one seems to believe that I'm really NOT having children and I think that's not helped my career in the past, being of child bearing age and all. /sigh Very frustrating indeed.
Mar. 14th, 2013 08:15 pm (UTC)
I think its really important here to look at jobs that don't require a degree, not nursing and teaching but nursing assistants and daycare workers, both of which are jobs done primarily by women. A nursing assistant where I live makes 9.00/hr, but a logger or quarry worker or manufacturing worker makes up to 18/hr, more for logging. Some of the jobs might be because of a physical strength difference, but you know, I can move a 250 lb paraplegic, its not so much a brute strength difference as a perceived strength difference.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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