Reaction to President Obama’s State of the Union Address

pres_obama_state_of_the_union

Pres. Obama State of the Union

I haven’t used this blog to talk politics, and I still don’t have any plans to do so. But – I listened to President Obama’s State of the Union Address Tuesday night, and given my interest in the topic, I wanted to share and focus on a few things he said. 

The following is from the full State of the Union transcript, and was about 60-70% through the speech.

“You know, today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.

Women deserve equal pay for equal work. (Cheers, applause.)

You know, she deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. (Cheers, applause.) A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship. (Applause.) And you know what, a father does too. It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. (Laughter, cheers, applause.) This year let’s all come together, Congress, the White House, businesses from Wall Street to Main Street, to give every woman the opportunity she deserves, because I believe when women succeed, America succeeds. (Cheers, applause.)”

Some of my initial reactions, as I was watching President Obama speak:
  • Yes, it is embarrassing that women earn $0.77 for every $1.00 earned.
  • BUT – underlying, it’s not a problem of women being paid less for the same work. There are a few things going on. Men tend to work in industries and jobs that overall pay more than those that women tend to work in. And when women in the same industry / type of job as a man are being paid less on average, I think it can be attributed to a few things as well – women not being as assertive and not asking for as much when it comes to raises and promotions, and women having missed some time in the workforce when having/raising kids, which results in missed pay increases or going “backward” in a profession, which is hard to make-up for.
I looked for some raw data to back up the single “$0.77 for every $1.00” that gets quoted so often. A 2011 study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research on the Gender Wage Gap uses data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and shows the top 20 occupations for women and men, and what the weekly wage differences are. A few things that caught my eye:
  • Though women make up half the workforce, they only make up 44% of the full-time workforce (a source in income inequality by definition)
  • Women do relatively better in nursing and admin work (where men are very few in number)
  • Women do relatively poor in more technical/managerial fields, such as financial manager and CEO
When President Obama talks about everyone coming together to give every woman the opportunity she deserves, what does that actually mean in real life implementation? The Lilly Ledbetter Act was passed in 2009 to address wage discrimination, and there are other laws being proposed which would provide for guaranteed family leave at the federal level, no matter the size of the company. What are the things that I think we can do as individuals to make a difference?
  • Create ways for women to continue to be engaged professionally and in meaningful ways when they have their families, so that they don’t have a multi-year gap in earnings and experience. I’m passionate about this, and want to figure out a way to make this happen right now.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve when it comes to raises and promotion opportunities, especially for women. Go in expecting to negotiate, and be prepared to state why you deserve an opportunity and should be considered for it.
  • Encourage kids and young professionals to join whatever field or industry suits their interests, whether its historically male/female dominated. Part of this is a numbers and work environment game, which won’t change until men/women reach a critical mass in a particular field.
What else can we and should we be doing to address this?
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About Tamra Johnson

I’m an entrepreneur and a recent MBA graduate from UCLA Anderson. I have 10 years of experience in IT Management and Systems Engineering. I love learning, helping others, exploring the world around me, running at the beach, going to concerts, and visiting family and friends. I grew up in Helotes, Texas, went to undergrad in Cambridge, MA, and now live in Venice, CA.
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8 Responses to Reaction to President Obama’s State of the Union Address

  1. Tom Whitfield says:

    Actually, when you take equivalent jobs and equivalent experience into account, the wage gap all but disappears.

    The “77 cents per dollar” compares apples to oranges. That study made no comparisons between similar industries or similar jobs. It merely compared ALL women who work a minimum of 35 hours per week with ALL men who work a minimum of 35 hours per week. It basically made even comparisons between the hostess at Denny’s with a male neurosurgeon, or the receptionist at your local dentist with an airline pilot. It is not a fair comparison.

    Men also tend to gravitate toward the more dangerous, physically demanding, and time consuming jobs. The pay scale for these jobs reflects the danger and physical demands. For example, an offshore oil worker will make around $120,000 per year, but this is dangerous, physical work that takes a person away from their family for months at a time. It’s no surprise that men do these jobs.

    One thing to note is that females who own their own business also make about 50% less than males who own their own business. Is this because female entrepreneurs are misogynistic against themselves? No, it’s because women typically choose to work in areas that earn less than men. For example, a man is more likely to own a construction business. A woman is more likely to own a hair salon. The construction business tends to make more money than the hair salon. The men who own the construction business tend to work 70-90 hours per week, while the woman who owns the salon probably doesn’t work more than 40-50. Women tend to have different priorities than men do, and this plays into their employment decisions, and thus, their wages.

    I would venture to say that women are generally more satisfied with their family time than men are. That’s something that’s lost in all this.

  2. Tom Whitfield says:

    One other thing to note:

    Comparing single women with no children to single men with no children who work between 30-35 hours per week, women make more on average.

  3. Sue Loh says:

    I work in software (where engineers are ~88% male) and have been thinking on this subject for a long time. I think some of the bullets you capture here are right. Here is my own list, some overlapping and some new.
    – As you said, women are less aggressive about asking for raises and promotions
    – Not only do women lose “career time” as they have kids, but many women make choices even before they have kids, to put the brakes on their career in order to more easily (they think) have kids later. Instead of just working it out when it comes.
    – There are many high-paying fields (such as software) where stereotypes are against us. With fewer role models and an ingrained bias to think we don’t fit in, it’s a lot harder for women to be confident. Studies have shown that even when women are more *competent*, they are frequently less *confident.* This is an internalization of societal norms and very difficult to fight.
    – Decisions to slow down on the career while having kids are rarely based solely on family/career trade-off. For example that lack of confidence comes into play. “I’m not doing so well anyway so I’m not losing as much if I stop.” Meanwhile men are pushed to be breadwinners to the point that it’s harder for their ego to tolerate a career road bump.
    – The differences in preferences and priorities between men and women, as Tom mentioned, are real – but they are again based on societal norms. This comes down to bias built into us so early we aren’t even used to noticing it. Like the difference between “Lego Friends” for girls and “Lego Ninjago” for boys. As adults we have to fight these biases – those we push on boys just as much as those we push on girls – or we propagate the cycle.
    – Again Tom, “I would venture to say that women are generally more satisfied with their family time than men are.” I’m not actually so sure. Because the feminist movement pushed women to “have it all” without giving everything up. Now we beat ourselves up for not being super-awesome employees while at the same time we expect ourselves to still be just as perfect as a mom as a stay-at-home Betty Crocker super-mom. In other words, we might spend more time with our families but we also make ourselves miserable by trying to hold ourselves to a higher bar.

    I wish the problem was as simple as a few sexist pig men walking around. Because we could root those jerks out and get on with equality. The problem is really societal norms, bias and microinequalities we’ve inhaled our entire lives. We have to be thoughtful and fight those. The impact on girls is a little easier to quantify — different income, etc. The impact on boys is harder to quantify. In both cases there are very real emotional and psychological impacts on both genders.

  4. Sue Loh says:

    Another thing I forgot to mention. One way to combat the way women lose “career time” as they have kids is to make parental leave MANDATORY and give it to BOTH parents. That way, women don’t feel pressure to AVOID taking the time off when their male colleagues are not, and career impact is more balanced between men and women. I don’t know what to do about people who don’t have kids, though. 🙂

  5. Sue Loh says:

    Sorry for all the spam, clearly this pushed some of my buttons. 🙂
    Other ways to combat these inequalities for women:
    – Work to put good role models in front of both girls in school and women in the work force
    – Extra emphasis on mentoring and social/group support for women in the work force
    – Extra effort on advocacy: Teach women to advocate for themselves (e.g. ask for raises), but also advocate for them. Pay special attention to the women around you and advocate for them when they deserve opportunities.

    Oh and P.S. Tom, I hope it didn’t sound like I was mad at you or cutting down what you said. I liked your thoughts and like that you care about this topic.

  6. Sue Loh: Maybe we’d be better off as a society if we tried more understanding and less ‘fight’ and ‘combat’. Maybe we’d be better off realizing that there are natural differences between men and women that are at the base of why some of these differences in pay occur, and embrace them as they are what they are, rather than fighting them. IF a woman wants the total career path, great, Take it on any way you want it, and go after the best position , pay, and advancement regardless of the obstacles. If she wants the mommy path, that’s great too. If she wants to mix the paths, it’s just as good. Whatever you want is good. BUT, nobody should complain if they choose a life path that takes them out of the workplace for long periods of time for personal choices of children or family when they aren’t afforded the exact same opportunities as those who choose to be on the job the whole time, regardless of gender. If a man takes off the same amount of time for whatever the reason, he too should not expect that pay and advancement should be the same, again, regardless of gender.

    You get what you choose and what you earn. I don’t know anyone who is earning less pay for the same job performance because of gender, and I have never seen this in 30 years of working.

  7. Sue Loh says:

    The problem I fight — and I do fight it, sorry Richard — is that we’ve all inhaled ingrained bias to the point we don’t even REALIZE it. This article does a pretty good job of illustrating it. http://pgbovine.net/tech-privilege.htm An illustration of the problem is the gender (and race) bias in the latest Volkswagen ad (http://kinja.roadandtrack.com/where-are-the-female…/@dodai). I have no problem with people making choices, even imbalanced choices. The problem is that we are PUSHED toward our choices by subtle messages, biases, stereotypes we absorb throughout our lives. I’ve known people who decide they’re “not cut out” for math, science, engineering – when they are fully capable, just lacking confidence. When you look around the room and everyone is different from you, it is hard NOT to feel unsupported. Imagine a world where most engineers are women and TVs are constantly propagating stereotypes that women make awesome engineers. Wouldn’t you “fight” it?

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