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President's Message - April 2017
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“Debunking Equal Pay Denial”

Jamie Quient, Lawyers Club President 2016-2017

I’m not a big football fan and am generally indifferent to the Super Bowl. I typically get together with friends, eat a week’s worth of calories in chips and dip and catch up on social media until the halftime show. This year’s Super Bowl was a different story. I was actually excited for the big game, not that I had any idea who was playing. As much as I love Lady Gaga, her halftime show was not what had me glued to the television. No, the week before the game, a friend sent me a link to an Audi commercial that would air during the game and I was eager to watch the commercial air on national television.

The commercial starts with a male voice. “What do I tell my daughter? Do I tell her grandpa is worth more than her grandma? That her dad is worth more than her mom? Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?” As the narrator talks, a young girl is racing in a homemade gocart. Just as she crosses the finish line, winning the race, he says, “Or maybe, I’ll be able to tell her something different. Then, they walk together towards a beautiful Audi. The screen goes black and then it reads “Audi of America is Commited to Equal Pay for Equal Work. Progress is for everyone.”

The 2017 Super Bowl drew 111.9 million viewers, making it the third mostwatched broadcast in U.S. TV history. I was thrilled to see a commercial on equal pay air to such a massive audience. I’m told the rest of the Super Bowl was pretty exciting.

To my dismay, when I went online and googled “Audi Equal Pay Commercial” to gauge the public’s reaction, I found more articles denying the existence of gender pay inequality than articles praising Audi for using this expensive and precious airtime to highlight the persistent and well-documented gender wage gap in America. There were also a number of articles criticizing Audi as hypocritical for the fact that it has no women on the Audi AG Board of Management and only two women on Audi USA’s 14-member executive team. Certainly, this is a valid criticism worth highlighting.

While the statistics on the gender pay gap vary depending on the source, the existence of a gap between men and women’s pay can hardly be questioned, or so I thought. Equal pay deniers do not necessarily question the existence of a “gender pay gap.” Rather, they challenge the reasons for that gap, placing the blame on women due to their career and life choices and deny that the gender pay gap is a form of gender discrimination. As women’s rights advocates, we need to understand these arguments so we are equipped to address them.

Career Choices

One article entitled, “Audi Accidentally Disproves Its Entire Gender Wage Gap Commercial,” claimed that gender pay gap is “bogus” because women choose jobs that pay less. The article criticized the Audi commercial saying, “Tell her that if she pursues a career in art history, she’s probably going to make less than a male heart surgeon.”

This claim that women’s career choices explain the gender pay gap is challenged by statistics showing a gender wage gap within individual industries. It is true, however, that the wage gap varies considerably across occupations. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women in computer and mathematical professions make 82 cents to every dollar earned by men in these professions, whereas, women police, sheriffs and patrol officers make 71 cents for every dollar made by their male colleagues.

This gender wage gap within professions also reveals that the gap tends to be wider in male-dominated professions. For example, the wage gap in natural resources, construction and maintenance – an industry with only 4 percent women – is 67 cents on the dollar; whereas, there is almost no gender wage gap among maids, housekeepers and cleaners – an industry with 89 percent women.

Certainly, these career differences contribute to the gender wage gap, but to claim that the gender pay gap is simply a reflection of women’s career choices is a vast oversimplification of a deeper societal issue. We need to ask why do women and men continue to work in different professions – is it really career choices, or are there other forces at play? Claims that women choose lower paying professions ignores the forces at play that keep women from entering these male-dominated professions in the first place.

The reality is that, while women have made significant gains across the workforce, many careers are still unwelcoming or even hostile to women. Take computer science, for example. Only 26 percent of computer and mathematical workers are women. According to a study by the The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), high school girls who score high on math and science tests report low levels of confidence and perceived proficiency in math and science. Moreover, among women who begin a science-related career, more than half leave by mid-career, often citing a hostile or “macho” culture as the primary reason.

Life Choices

Other articles denying gender pay inequality point to women’s life choices as the cause of the gender pay gap. They point to the fact that women are more likely to take career interruptions to care for their family and these types of interruptions can have an impact on long-term earnings. This is true. Women are more likely than men to reduce their hours and/or leave the workforce due to family responsibilities.

Just as with the occupational differences, saying this is a choice women make ignores the societal forces at play and prevents a dialogue on solutions that support women in the workforce. For example, when women have access to paid maternity leave, a year after giving birth they work more and have higher earnings. Likewise, lack of access to family leave or affordable, quality child care prevents some women who would like to work from doing so. We also live in a society where women still bear the majority of family responsibilities, regardless of whether or not they work. Rather than point the finger at women, we need to work to create workplaces across industries and professions that support women and working families.

Lawyers Club is building upon its work to raise awareness of gender pay inequality with its inaugural Equal Pay Day Rally on April 4, 2017 at 6:00 p.m. in front of the James M. Carter & Judith N. Keep Federal Courthouse, 333 West Broadway, San Diego. Equal Pay Day marks the day in the year that women have to work to reach men's pay in the previous year. In other words, women have to work until April 4, 2017, to reach the pay their male counterparts made in 2016.

As we focus on the issue as an organization and as individuals, it is important to remember that we have a long way to go in the fight for gender equality, and it will take all of us working together to make progress and raise awareness.

Jamie Quient, President of Lawyers Club practices insurance coverage and intellectual property litigation at Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP.

 


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