“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.
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.
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
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
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.