Life at Work

Now It's Time For Women To Get Even

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 23, 2006

Tuesday marks a very special day: It's Equal Pay Day. Why Tuesday, you ask? Because that's how far into the year the average woman must work to earn as much as a man earned by the end of the previous year.

This is yet another slap-the-hand-against-the-forehead-are-you-kidding-me episode in the saga of "Is This Really 2006?"

It is 2006, and as has been true for about a decade, women earn only 77 cents for every dollar men make.

When Evelyn Murphy, an economist and a former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, graduated "years and years ago," women were earning 59 cents for every male-earned dollar. But as she saw more women moving into the workforce in the 1960s, she assumed it was "just a matter of time till we caught up."

She heard the reasons why women weren't earning as much as men: They weren't as educated. They dropped out of the workforce as soon as they had children and rarely returned. They didn't need the money because they were married and could depend on their spouse for income. "Then I turned around in the '90s and realized we hadn't caught up," said Murphy, who also is author of "Getting Even: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men -- and What to Do About It." "And the reasons were pretty much gone."

So let's just get this straight right now, says Murphy: That 23-cent differential is not because some women take time off to give birth or raise children. The pay-gap figure measures only women and men who work full time, for a full year. It does not include women who took time off during the year or worked part time.

But don't women earn less over time because they might more often take time off to give birth or raise a child? According to Murphy, that's an incredibly lame argument. Most women who can take time off and go back to work full-time earn more in the first place. Any drop in salary they might experience would not pull the average down, she argues.

Okay, so women's' salaries have stalled. (You can get a better idea of what has happened to yours at Murphy's Web site, . Use the wage-gap calculator to find out what you make compared with men in your area who have the same job.)

The big question is what can be done about the gap. The solution lies within a company itself and with women.

"I know government can't solve this problem. We passed the laws that make discrimination illegal," Murphy said. "I've realized CEOs have the power to eliminate this problem."

Murphy argues that every chief executive or head of an organization needs to look at payroll and see if there is a systematic underpayment of women in various job categories.

The state of Minnesota is Murphy's favorite example of how it can be done. In the early 1980s, it was discovered that state employees in female-dominated jobs were paid less than those in male-dominated state jobs. The state adopted a system that gave points for skill, effort, working conditions and responsibility for each job. It was found that male and female jobs rated similarly on these points, but their salaries did not reflect that.

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