Women climbing for top-dollar jobs can feel like the mythological king Sisyphus, damned by the gods to push a boulder up a hill only to have it escape each time he reaches the top.
Though the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was enacted to ensure equal pay for equal work, fulltime New Jersey working women only earned 78 cents per every dollar a man made in 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average is 81 cents to the dollar.
Exit asked the experts what barriers exist for working women today, and how they can clear those hurdles.
Barrier: Sometimes they ask for it
Oftentimes, women have themselves to blame when it comes to pay disparity.
“Women in situations that involve negotiations either don’t ask for anything or ask for less than men in the same situation,” said Gretchen Marx, associate professor of management services at Saint Joseph College in Connecticut.
Besides failing to speak up for themselves, women often use vocabulary that downgrades their accomplishments.
“Because of their competitive nature, when guys talk they talk about things big time and their role in it,” said Mary Cantando, author and nationally-recognized expert on women business owners. “Those are the kinds of things that get you advancement in corporate America. A woman may downplay her personal involvement and talk about her team.”
Because women make up only 5 percent of the top earners, competition is cutthroat, said Cathi Rendfrey, director of the Women’s Opportunity Center at the YMCA in Burlington County.
“Women can be their own worst enemies,” Rendfrey added. “There are not enough of those top jobs for females so they are holding onto them. They become very territorial. Instead of mentoring and helping each other, they’re afraid of losing their jobs and careers. So a lot of backbiting goes on.”
Solution: Be a leader, not a bitch
“Great women mentor,” Rendfry said. “They help teach other women as much as they know and bring them along for the ride.”
Cantando said that women also sell themselves short by the verbiage they use.
“Many women have a limited mindset,” she said. “They use the world ‘little’ a lot like, ‘Oh yeah, I have a nice little business.’ Little is a word I challenge my clients to cross out of their vocabulary entirely, especially in describing themselves.”
Barrier: His and her careers
Americans tend to view many careers as gender-specific, according to Dr. Terri Boyer, director of education and career development research at the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.
“When you think ‘nurse’ you automatically think woman,” she said. “When you think ‘construction worker’ you automatically think man.”
Occupations like nursing or teaching are traditionally labeled “women’s work” and are often lower paying than positions often associated with men, said Boyer.
Carolyn D’Anna, head of human resources at the public accounting firm of J.H. Cohn, said that while 65 percent of her college recruits were women, she said they didn’t make up a large percent of the partners in the accounting firm.
“There are a lot of hours that are expected and tax season is very demanding on people’s schedules,” she said. “Employees were thinking this was a job they couldn’t work with and have other alternatives like flexible schedules … [But] women can be in management roles and be leaders within the firm. Everyone just looks at this as a profession more for men; women [were] thinking it was just not possible for them. But it is possible, and that communication is being given to them.”
Similarly, while women make up half of the law graduates for over 15 years, they only represent about 16 percent of the partners in the nation’s major law firms, according to a survey by the National Association of Women Lawyers.
“We often find unwritten rules and society’s vision running rampant in this career sector,” said Danice Kowalczyk, managing director of BCG Attorney Search, which recruits for law firms in NJ, NY and CT. “What are these rules or vision? Well, some clients only want male lawyers. Some law firms focus on promoting men before women.”
Solution: Realize your true strengths
J.H. Cohn has developed a program aimed at helping women view what they consider weaknesses (such as sensitivity) as strengths. The program aims these attributes into leadership skills by discussing the art of conflict management and teaching how to network effectively.
Barrier: Double standards for time off
Today, discriminatory practices are trickier to identify and more difficult to overcome.
“It’s hard to define visible barriers that were in place say 30 years ago,” said Boyer. “Things like outright refusals of individuals [for a job] based on their sex or gender are almost non-existent.”
However, a woman taking leave from work to care for children, the sick, or elderly can be looked down upon in the workplace.
“When a man in a high-powered job takes time off to go to his kid’s soccer game he’s often praised for being a good engaged dad,” said Boyer. “But when a woman does the same thing … she’s just being a mom and not focused on her career.”
Flex time policies, which allow employees to determine the hours they work to meet familial needs, are meant to create a proper work/life balance. However, female employees vying for top positions don’t take advantage of the option for fear of being perceived as slackers.
“We tell women on interviews not to bring up childcare,” said Rendfrey. “You want employers to think that you just work, work, work and don’t take too much time off.”
Solution: Do your homework
It’s often difficult for a female to determine if an employer is actually paying her less than a male co-worker at the same job due to excessive time off.
“The only way some people find out is if someone else knows it,” said Rendfrey, “or if there’s a bookkeeper that chit-chats.”
Mark Tabakam, principal and partner in the law firm of Fox Rothschild’s Labor and Employment Group, suggests employees take summaries of job descriptions or duties and make side-by-side comparisons to see whether wage differences are justified based on the type of position.
If you’ve done your research, documented your daily duties and still have reason to be pissed, take it up with your boss to negotiate.
Barrier: Higher education than men required
“We know that men who don’t have bachelor’s degrees do earn more than women who are in the same situation,” said Boyer. “In order to kind of equal that out, women do try to get more credentials.”
More female high school grads are likely to go to college than males (72 percent and 61 percent in 2004), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also in 2004, 58 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in the United States were obtained by women, according to Ohio State University.
Regardless, working men with advanced degrees still average at least $793 more per week than their female counterparts, as noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But women who take time off work, either for education or for other reasons, may sometimes put themselves at a disadvantage.
Senior business executives say it would take females two to four years to have equal footing in the workplace after having left for at least two years, according to a Pepperdine University survey.
The Harvard Business review found that women lose an average of 34 percent of their earnings when they off-ramp for more than three years. To stay competitive in the business arena, the executive respondents suggested that women obtain an MBA prior to returning to work.
Some experts say women workers don’t need additional credentials to stay competitive. Others said having a few extra titles at the end of your name may provide greater leverage against men. Perhaps it’s better to err on the side of caution and grab a college catalogue of courses.
Going it alone
Who: Felicia Palmer, entrepreneur
Where: Jersey City
What: Co-CEO of the new media production company 4Control Media, and Sohh.com (Support Online Hip-Hop), a Web blog dedicated to news and gossip in the hip-hop industry. She formerly served as the new media manager at Essence magazine, where she launched Essence online. “I grew up in the Bronx, the birthplace of hip-hop. You can take the girl out of the Bronx, but you can’t take the Bronx out of the girl … I wanted to embrace urban music and culture.”
Success: Sohh.com claims to be the longest and largest standing online portal in the music industry receiving 1.5 million visitors monthly. A merger with The Urban Box Office enabled the creation of the annual Hip-Hop Awards in 2000. The award show was named “The Online Grammys of Hip-Hop” by Entertainment Weekly magazine.
Inspiration: After graduating from Cornell University, she landed a job at Momentum Partners, a licensing firm run by Susan Miller. “She was a good example for me to see women in the workplace and women being successful and creating their own opportunities.”
Challenges: “I have a son that’s two-years old,” she said. “I have a husband and although he’s equally involved in working and raising our son – to me, I’m his mother. I have to be there, that’s my role. It’s the challenges of trying to meet the responsibilities that are traditionally ours, and that we traditionally embrace, and at the same time, still finding a way in this world.”
Insights: “Make your own lane. You have to figure out what you can do and only you can do and you’ve got to hold fast to that.”
“It’s not an overnight situation. You must commit 10 years to see the fruits of your labor.”
“The race is not given to the swift, but to he who endures to the end.”
Photo/ Anne Caruso
Just 10 years ago businesses operated by women weren’t considered “serious” ventures, according to Mary Cantando, a
nationally recognized expert on women business owners. Banks didn’t give women the needed loans. But today, loans to women-owned businesses are up 48 percent from the past five years, according to Star Ledger. In New Jersey, 28 percent of small businesses are run by women, according to the Office of the Governor. Women employ 25 percent of all the workers in the U.S., said Cantando.
Highest paid business women
Safra Catz, Oracle, $26.1 million
Susan Decker, Yahoo, $24.3 million
Suzanne Nora Johnson, Goldman Sachs, $23.1 million
Carly Fiorina, (formerly of) Hewlett-Packard, $22.3 million
Zoe Cruz, Morgan Stanley, $21.1 million
Susan Desmond-Hellmann, Genentech, $17.1 million
Meg Whitman, eBay, $16.2 million
Patricia Russo, Lucent, $15 million
Kay Krill, Ann Taylor, $11.9 million
Andrea Jung, Avon, $11.6 million
From Fortune Magazine, October 2006
Where women reign supreme
Warren Farrell in his book “Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gay – and What Women Can Do About It” named 80 occupations where women get paid more than men. Here is a surprising list of the top 10 from CNNMoney.com. Auto mechanic? WTF?
Automotive service technicians and mechanics
Library assistants, clerical
Motion picture projectionists
Helpers, construction trades
Funeral service workers
Where the gaps are
-Full-time working women have median salaries of $599 per week (80 percent of men’s earning at $749 a week).
-Per week, the highest earning male workers with advanced degrees made $2,882 or more compared to $2,089 averaged by their female counterparts.
-Black women earned 84 percent of their white equivalent’s earnings in 2006.
-Real earnings for women increased by 26 percent from 1979 to 2005, although they’re merely catching up to men’s salaries.
From Bureau of Labor Statistics