Workplace Discrimination Against Women Largely a Myth


This morning someone sent me a link to this article on the mythical discrimination against women via corporate pay, thinking I’d be outraged. Except I agree with Steve Chapman: There’s no evidence supporting that claim, but it sure sounds great to say women are paid less for the same jobs.

I ticked off some of my female colleagues at AOL’s WalletPop in May, writing that the glass ceiling for women is merely a myth. While I think there are some instances of discrimination in the workplace, that’s not the reason women are paid less in corporate America. It’s because of their chioices.

Here’s what Steve Chapman had to say:

The implication is that when you look at men and women with similar jobs and similar qualifications, women get one-fifth less pay. But even according the best-known study lamenting the pay gap, that’s not true.

The American Association of University Women’s report found that three-fourths of the difference is attributable to differences in the work history and job choices of men and women. Men, for example, are much more likely to work in excess of 50 hours a week; women are more likely to work part time.

What about the one-quarter of the gap that can’t be explained by such factors? AAUW admits this “remains unexplained and may be attributed to discrimination.” In other words, we don’t know if that’s the reason or not.

When the report came out last year, I asked Harvard economist Claudia Goldin if there was enough evidence to show that women suffer systematic pay discrimination, and she had a succinct answer: “No.”

Stories in publications like CFO Magazine lament the fate of women in the highest finance positions, reporting that only 38 of the Fortune 500 have women as their CFOs. But the magazine reports something else that’s easy to gloss over or mischaracterize: That the pipeline for CFOs, who typically move from a corporate controller position to CFO, is only about 21% female.

The problem here is clear, and it’s not a case of discrimination. It’s that women make choices which put them behind on the career path. I don’t begrudge any woman her right or her choice to have children. However, if she’s going to leave the workforce or reduce her role at work after having children, she can’t expect to keep up with her peer group.

Many say the choices women must make are difficult, as most don’t have a husband who is willing to stay home and perform the traditional role that a “housewife” used to in order that his wife may focus completely on her career. I don’t doubt that’s the case, but women still must be accountable for their own choices in partners, careers, and family life.

These false cries of “discrimination” upset me because when there are legitimate cases of discrimination, I think they are likely to be viewed more skeptically. Let’s use the word discrimination only when it’s really appropriate.

And for women in corporate America, let’s just acknowledge that not being paid as much as men or not attaining as many high-level positions as many is really related to career and family choices. I think our market is effecient, and works well to award pay at a level that is earned by the employee, regardless of gender.

Believe me, companies are heavily competing for talent, and if a woman is really worth the “number” that she has in her head, companies will fight for the chance to employ her and capture her skills and experience. They’re not going to turn their noses up and say, “Ewwww….. not a girl.”

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