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What Wage Gap?!?
Posted 02/14/2012 03:57PM

"What Wage Gap?!?!”
One Alumna's Fight For Equality

By Stephanie Chamberlin '88

Imagine that you have a twin brother. The two of you are alike in every way. You even decide to attend the same college and to pursue the same major – let’s say, Accounting. After graduation, you’re both thrilled when he lands his first job at a public accounting firm, earning an annual salary of $45,000. Instead of starting a job right away, you have decided to travel for 6 months. Upon your return, you get serious about looking for a job. Unfortunately, it’s now November, a notoriously difficult time of the year to find employment. You’ve gone on several interviews and while everyone provides positive feedback, no offers are forthcoming.

Panic sets in, your parents are pressuring you, your student loan payments are due, and you’re contemplating a waitressing job to earn some spending money. Just before Christmas, a public accounting firm you met earlier in the month calls with an employment offer. Your breath catches and you’re flooded with relief as you wait to hear the starting salary, but your stomach plummets when you hear $35,550. For a moment, you think about negotiating, but decide you shouldn’t push your luck because you really need this job. Quickly you recover as you justify the reasons for the pay differential between you and your brother. You tell yourself, it’s not prime hiring season, the firm is smaller than your brother’s employer, the economy has dipped since spring, and anyway, what’s $9,450?

This scenario assumes that you are a female college graduate of any race. If you were to assume that you are a Hispanic female college graduate, the salaries would be $45,000 for your male twin and $28,800 for you. If you are an African American female college graduate, the differential widens to $45,000 for your brother and $23,400 for you. The wage gap in Rhode Island is 21 cents – nationally, it is 23 cents – down from 44 cents in 1963 when the Equal Pay Act was passed. That accounts for a minimum gap in lifetime earnings of $1.2 million for college graduates!

Young women are not the only ones impacted. Recent research on the motherhood penalty suggests that mothers are offered $11,000 less in starting salaries, raises, and bonuses. The wage gap is highest for those with doctorates and professional degrees. It starts within one year of college graduation, after which time women earn 20 cents less than a man and continues to where the gap is largest, when women are in what should be their prime earning years of 45 to 65 years of age.  

Faced with the prospect of not seeing wage equality achieved for another 40 years, I was thrilled to hear about a project designed to address this issue. “Vision 2020 is a national initiative developed by the Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership at Drexel University College of Medicine to make equality a national priority through shared leadership among women and men.” (http://drexel.edu/vision2020/). Their goal is to move the US to equality by 2020, the centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment.

Rhode Island has two delegates, Marcia Cone, Executive Director of The Women’s Fund (www.wfri.org) and Susan Colantuono, CEO and Founder of Leading Women (www.leadingwomen.biz).  Together with a team of nearly 50 local businesswomen, they’ve set goals relative to economic participation, women’s health and safety, and political participation.

As an HR professional, I work with the subcommittee focused on economic participation. We are researching and establishing baselines around wage equity audits, diverse slate requirements in recruiting and succession planning, and numbers of women in C-suite positions and on corporate boards in Rhode Island.  We are also investigating ways to increase access to capital for female entrepreneurs.

The women’s health and safety subcommittee is working to secure the family planning waiver to ensure access to family planning services.

The goal in the area of political participation is to increase the numbers of women appointed to cabinet, commission and board positions in state government. This segment is run in collaboration with the Women’s Fund’s RI-GAP project. Women represented 15% in 2010, increased to 30% in 2011, and have a goal to be at 50% by 2014.

As a student at Lincoln, I remember our Ethics class held in Miss Boerner’s living room. We engaged in lively debates on societal and community problems and inequities. We were challenged to come up with creative solutions and plans to tackle these injustices. It is with this same spirit and Lincoln School zest that I approach the Vision 2020 initiative. There are programs underway in all 50 states – I encourage you to learn more and to volunteer in your home state! http://drexel.edu/vision2020/


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