Don’t Pick My Pocket Just Because I’m Female

We’ve all read that women are making significant inroads into management. According to the raw numbers, women make up about 40% of management positions in the United States.[ref]National Wage Data, 2009. Bureau of Labor Statistics.[/ref]

But in those positions, women earn a median weekly income of $1,002.00, compared to $1,384.00 for men. That’s $19,864 less annually. What gives?

Some management occupations are clearly dominated by men. Construction managers are 94% male; general and operation managers are 72% male; computer and information systems managers are 73% male; engineering managers are 91% male; transportation, storage, and distribution managers are 86% male; and the top managers, the chief executives, are 75% male.

In those management positions men dominate and their average earnings are much higher than their female peers, much higher than the overall average disparity. Male CEOs, for example, earn annually an average of $27,612.00 more than their female peers, nearly 1.4 times the overall average disparity.

But what about management positions where women dominate? Is there even such a thing? Well, yes.

Financial managers, for example, are 55% women; education administrators are 60% female; medical and health services managers are 69% female; social and community services managers are 68% female; and human resources managers (you didn’t think I’d forget that, did you?) are 65% female.

So hooray for women, right? Not exactly…because here’s the kicker. Even in management positions where women dominate, men still earn more. For those management positions I just listed, women earn a median weekly income of $1,033.00. Their male peers earn a median weekly income of $1,403.00, or an average of $19,251.00 more per year. It doesn’t seem to matter if a management field is dominated by men or by women: men are paid more.

Why? Part of the reason is this: even if men don’t dominate a particular management field, they’ll dominate the higher salaries within that field.

And I mean dominate. In 2004, it was estimated that at higher levels of salary ($75,000 and above), men outnumbered women 20 to 1.[ref]“Three Levels of the Glass Ceiling: Sorcerer’s Apprentice to Through the Looking Glass.” 1991. 24 Apr. 2004; mapping/thethree;[/ref]

I find that statistic particularly amazing in the human resources field. After all, in most fields it’s difficult to get a handle on what your peers are making. A woman may work alongside a male peer and never guess that he earns $20,000.00 more per year than she does for the same work.

But we in human resources know what everybody makes. We can see the disparities. We can calculate the injustice down to the penny. And, by the way, of the five women-dominated management fields I used as examples, human resources was second in female/male pay disparity ($24,752.00 annually). Financial services management was the highest ($25,064.00 annually), and social and community service managers the lowest ($13,260.00 annually).

Over the years, the gender pay disparity has been litigated many times: Home Depot reached a settlement that totaled over $104 million in 1997. Rent-A-Center settled a $47 million sex bias lawsuit in 2002.  Morgan Stanley settled for $46 million in 2007. Novartis Pharmaceuticals just settled for $152.5 million. And Wal-Mart, the world’s largest employer, is currently fighting a sex bias class action suit that could amount to billions of dollars in damages should it lose the case.

You might think, with twenty years of sex bias suits behind us, it would no longer be a significant issue, but the message seems to be spreading slowly. After all, the numbers I used are from 2009 and they show we still have a long way to go. Perhaps if Wal-Mart loses, and is forced to pay billions, it will finally force some real action about the male/female pay disparity.

2 Comments on Don’t Pick My Pocket Just Because I’m Female

    • The data simply compares 200 occupations across the board, sorted by gender and median wage. In the majority of cases men earn more. Interestingly, it even holds true for professions like nursing, where women have dominated for many years. Male registered nurses, relatively new to the field, already earn more than female registered nurses. The usual answer about gender pay disparity is that women take a “mommy discount” on wages in return for more flexibility. I’ve yet to see hard data on that, however. But I think the take-away here is that as HR professionals we need to be always guarding against gender pay disparity in the companies we work for. If HR isn’t watching out for the employees in this regard, who will?

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