Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Women's Equality Day

August 26, 2013 is the 93rd anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.  My grandmother was 29 years old at the time, and it was the issue of her generation.  Her dedication to voting lasted all her life. 

Today women serve in government and business leadership roles nationwide, however the numbers are troubling.  Women comprise 51% of the U.S population, yet according to a Rutgers University study Women Officeholders, women hold only 10% of the Governor seats, 20% of the US Senate, 18% of the US House of Representatives, and 24% of the seats in State Legislatures across the nation.  Is it any wonder that women’s viewpoints are ignored when policy issues regarding women are discussed?  I’m reminded of the 2012 photo of all men sitting before a US House committee meeting setting birth control policy. 

In 1985, I worked for a defense contractor. Employees were not allowed to discuss salary with other employees.  I supervised a group of about 10 production engineers, and shared an office with another supervisor of a similar group.  “John” and I were the same age (32), we both held engineering degrees, and we had equivalent work experience. Once I inadvertently saw John’s pay stub and learned that he was making more than 20% higher salary than I was.  When I asked my manager about the difference his response was “John has a family.” 

Well, I had a family too.  My husband was a post-doctoral fellow making very little money while he did heart research at a major university.   Today he is a well-know scientist in his field. My first child was born while I worked at that company. Not only could I not talk about or negotiate my salary, the system was rigged against me from the start.  Lower salary has meant lower retirement earnings.  John could accumulate much more from those years than I did. Whether John or I had a family should have had no bearing on our salary. Whether we were married or single shouldn’t matter, either.

A generation later the statistics aren’t much better.  Women in the same jobs make 77% as much on average, as men.  Source: Women's Pay Gap 1951-2011.  All families suffer for the inequity.  More single-parent families are led by women than by men, and most two income families rely on the income of a woman.  The antiquated idea that a woman’s income is “extra” hurts us all.

If employers paid women equivalent to men, billions of dollars would be added to the economy, by some estimates 3-4% annually. WageGap/Economic Stimulus.  That’s why, on Women’s Equality Day, I support Equal Pay for Equal Work.  It’s fair, it’s good for the economy, and it’s long overdue. For more information on the gender Wage Gap, visit AAUW-The Simple Truth.

Gwen Markham

Vice President, National Organization for Women Oakland-Macomb Chapter

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