Category Archives: Equal Pay

The Fight for LGBTQ Economic Equality

There is a lot to celebrate this LGBT Pride Month. The nation is waiting to hear the Supreme Court’s verdict on whether or not same-sex marriage is protected under the Constitution, which could potentially strike a decisive victory for equal rights and extend marriage equality across the US. Regardless of the outcome, the fight for marriage equality has already achieved significant wins at the state level: 37 states and DC have marriage equality laws, protecting 71% of the population. Considering that no state allowed marriage equality prior to 2004, this rapid progress is a testament to the power of the LGBTQ civil rights movement. Marriage can provide significant financial benefits to same-sex couples by giving them access to each other’s social security benefits, health insurance and pensions, and by allowing them to make joint decisions on financial planning and tax preparation.

However, there is still work to be done to ensure equality for LGBTQ individuals in areas such as employment, access to services, and judicial and police protections. Currently, only nineteen states and DC ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment (see map below), housing and public accommodations, with an additional three states banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. This leaves more than half the country without anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals. This discrimination can lead to harsh economic realities for LGBTQ communities. LGBTQ individuals are disproportionately likely to live in poverty: single LGBTQ adults with children are three times as likely to be near the poverty line as non-LGBTQ singles with children, while LGBTQ couples with children are twice as likely to be near the poverty line as their non-LGBTQ counterparts.  Around 15% of transgender individuals earn less than $10,000 per year, compared to only 4% of the general population.

Source: Movement Advancement Project

These economic struggles complicate the experience of domestic violence within LGBTQ relationships. If survivors are reliant on an abusive partner for shelter, transportation, food and other needs, it may be extremely challenging for them to leave and start over independently. In 74% of cases, economic insecurity contributes to a survivor staying with an abuser for longer. Studies have found that the rates of domestic violence in LGBTQ relationships are the same or higher than for non-LGBTQ couples. The National Violence Against Women survey found that 21.5% of men and 35.4% of women living with same-sex partners experienced physical domestic violence. This was higher than the rates for cohabitating opposite-sex partners, at 7.1% for men and 20.4% for women. Transgender survivors are almost twice as likely to experience physical violence in an IPV situation as other LGBTQ survivors.

In addition, LGBTQ survivors may face unique barriers towards accessing essential domestic violence services.  LGBTQ individuals may be wary of calling the police due to fear of discrimination or the possibility of dual arrest, in which both parties are arrested instead of a primary aggressor. A 2007 study found that dual arrest occurred in 27% of same-sex DV cases, compared to 0.8% of cases with a male offender and female victim, and 3% of cases with a female offender and male victim. In 2013, 20% of LGBTQ survivors were turned away from domestic violence shelters and 41.7% were denied access to a protection order.  These resources are particularly critical for economically insecure survivors, who may have few other options to protect themselves from abuse.

Clearly, while the LGBTQ community has made great progress, the fight for equality does not end there.  Policies should protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. There also needs to be an attitude shift towards LGBTQ survivors to recognize that they need the same protections from police, the courts and service providers. Wider Opportunities for Women offers more information about the unique relationship between violence and economic security for LGBTQ survivors as well as recommendations for how we can continue to make improvements.



Another Mother’s Day and So Little Has Changed: Isn’t It Time for Public Policies that Support Working Mothers?

On Mother’s Day in 2015, so many working mothers are struggling to support themselves and their families. And unfortunately they can find very little support in federal legislation.  Today there are only three federal laws that protect mothers in the workforce: the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which provides 12 weeks of unpaid job protected leave to new or expectant parents, and a provision of the 2010 health care reform that expands the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act to protect mothers who are breastfeeding in the workplace.

And these laws aren’t even protecting all working mothers. For instance, FMLA is job protected family leave that is only available to workers who met certain criteria.  Workers must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months; performed at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12 month period immediately preceding the leave; and worked at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles.  And, even more important, is this leave is UNPAID.  So if a worker cannot afford to take time off without pay, they simply cannot take FMLA without facing serious financial consequences.

The United States stands with only one other country in the world–  Papua New Guinea—that does not have a law that requires PAID family leave for new mothers and other caregivers.  In addition, the US lags behind most countries in regard to other workplace protections for parents.   The US does not have paid sick days law—forcing working mothers to work sick or come to work while their child is sick. In fact a mother can be fired for calling out of work if she or her child is sick. Working mothers also have no right to schedule control—meaning they are at the mercy of their employer to schedule their work shifts in ways that allow them to try to manage their family demands.  Childcare continues to be unaffordable and inaccessible to many mothers.  And of course, working mothers continue to face a pay gap in the workplace. Importantly since women are now breadwinners for 40% of US families with children under the age of 18, this is not just a working mother issue, this is a working families crisis.  While a handful of states have passed laws that provide paid leave, paid sick days and/or schedule control, the vast majority of working mothers are left without any protections.

Not surprisingly then, on this Mother’s Day, working mothers’ economic insecurity results, in part, from a lack of strong public policies that support working families. Working mothers are forced to address the conflicts of work and family labor on their own– often having to make hard and sometimes life-threatening choices.  And for single mothers, their situation is significantly worse. In 2013 the poverty rate for female-headed families with children was 39.6 percent, compared to 19.7 percent for male-headed families with children, and 7.6 percent for families with children headed by a married couple. In fact, nearly 522,000 single women with children (12.0 percent) who worked full time, year round in 2013 lived in poverty.  What is perhaps even more troubling is that years out of the recession single working mothers are actually MORE economically insecure. Between 2007 and 2012, the share of female-headed working families that are low-income increased from 54 percent to 58 percent, according to a Population Reference Bureau (PRB) analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.  Quite simply the individualistic approach to addressing work and family is just not working.

So on this Mother’s Day perhaps it is finally the time for “ Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves” for far too long to have to have workplace protections and public policies that can actually support the economic security of mothers and their families.

Photo Source:

Photo Source:



Part of the Solution to End the Wage Gap: Eliminate Occupational Segregation by Gender

I’ll be joining with my colleagues and tradeswomen friends at Chicago Women in Trades later today to meet with the Deputy Secretary of Labor to discuss Equal Pay Day. But please don’t wish me Happy Equal Pay Day! There is nothing to celebrate about the gender wage gap—it continues to be an unfortunate reality of our labor market. Nonetheless, I am grateful for a day that calls awareness to this unconscionable inequity. Moreover, I’m appreciative for the opportunity to urge the Department of Labor to pay more attention and commit resources to one significant way to eliminate the wage gap – by ending occupational segregation by gender. It is a solution/strategy embodied in the stories of the tradeswomen he’ll meet and it’s my own story too – and why it has been my passion and career for over thirty years.
When I made my first steps into the labor market thirty five years ago as an official college dropout, I didn’t have any specific data about the wage gap. However, I did know that it wasn’t going to be easy to support myself in either of the two jobs I had ever done- as a waitress or as a temporary census worker for the government. These traditionally female jobs offer low wages and no employment benefits. And I knew that men’s jobs (when I was growing up we knew there were men’s and women’s jobs because up until 1973 that’s how the help wanted ads were segregated), especially those that were union, might offer more promise for economic independence and security. It was in my search for one of those good union jobs, that I heard about the Chicago Urban League’s program to train women and men of color for jobs in the steel mills. I enrolled and one day the trainer invited me to consider applying to be an elevator constructor. This wasn’t just good fortune shining down on me – no, it was the result of a newly awarded federal contract that required the contractor to take affirmative action to truly open jobs for women and men of color – which then meant actually hiring someone – not just demonstrating good faith efforts to hire.
When that door opened to me (well it didn’t really open, I had to do some kicking – but that’s another story), I was immediately on equal footing – at least in terms of wages, with all my male colleagues. I didn’t know then how much that opportunity and choice could mean over the course of a lifetime. The difference between the wages I might have made if I stayed a waitress, versus the wages I earned as an elevator constructor could top one million dollars. And wage equality is only the first rung of the ladder – it doesn’t take into account the free on-the-job training I received, the health insurance benefits and the pension contributions that nearly doubled the total wage. Not to mention that all of that economic advantage set me up to be able to own my own home, live in the neighborhood of my choosing, help support family members, and build equity and assets that contribute to my economic security.
My experience working in the trades fixing, maintaining and building elevators and escalators, which for the most part I loved, eventually led to the work I do now – advocating and organizing so tradeswomen could get equal treatment beyond just the wages on the job and so more women would find the doors to these careers open to them. I never expected to make a career of this – nor did I think we’d still be fighting for wage equality all these years. The older I get the more ridiculous this seems, especially since the tradeswomen’s movement has been making some pretty good recommendations on how to end occupational segregation. So here is what I’ll be suggesting to the Assistant Secretary so we can speed up this process:
Women’s occupational segregation is built on sex stereotypes, lack of outreach and information, limited pre-vocational skill training, disparate impact of selection criteria, sex discrimination in hiring, and the challenge of being a pioneer in a male-dominated environment. These are pervasive and persistent issues, but they are not without solutions – so let’s tackle these head on by:
• Establishing and enforcing gender equity policy and practice in our job training and career and technical education systems,
• Allocating resources for preparing women and girls to be competitive candidates in jobs in traditionally male-dominated fields,
• Improving and enforcing equal employment opportunity and affirmative action policy and goals for federal contractors and for apprenticeship training,
• Offering technical assistance and training to help public institutions and industry partners make culture change to ensure gender equitable, neutral and sensitive training programs and workplaces
• We need public policy that allows all workers to have paid leave time to address family and medical needs
If you are a tradeswomen, ally or advocate, I hope you will join with me in sharing your own story and your ideas for ending occupational segregation by gender and closing the wage gap. I’ll be happy to forward to the Department of Labor and to our industry leaders. And I still hold out hope, that maybe next year I won’t have to write this blog all over again and instead I’ll be able to report on the dynamic changes the Department of Labor is implementing to end occupational segregation. But don’t just stay tuned, stand up, organize and demand women’s wage equality now.


Encourage your Senator to Support the Paycheck Fairness Act! In the Meantime, Join a Union.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill President Obama signed into law. Today, the Senate took a significant step towards building on the Fair Pay Act by voting (73-25) to open debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act. This vital legislation would work to fight pay discrimination and help women collect the pay they’ve earned.

The wage gap impacts women of every race, disproportionately impacting Black and Hispanic women who earn 64 and 53 cents for every dollar earned by black men. It impacts women in every occupation, from traditionally female jobs like teachers to those in nontraditional jobs (particularly non-unionized positions). It exists in every state, from Washington, DC where women earn on average 80% of what men make, to Louisiana and Wyoming where women earn just 67 and 64 cents, respectively, for each dollar earned by men in those states. The wage gap impacts women at every level of education and it compounds over women’s lifetimes to produce significant gaps in economic security between men and women in retirement.

According to WOW’s Basic Economic Security Tables, the wage gap leads to 60% of single adult women lacking basic economic security as compared to only 45% of single men. Recent analysis by WOW finds, however, that closing the gender wage gap between a full-time employed woman and man would increase that women’s economic security by 22%. A woman working full time at the current wage gap making median wages will make over $320,000 less over the course of her career. Persistently lower wages throughout a woman’s working years result in a diminished capacity for saving and increased economic insecurity.

Between the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and today’s Senate momentum around the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Administration has also continued helping to prevent wage inequity. President Obama signed Executive Action preventing federal contractors from retaliating against employees for their discussion of wages and pay. The President also signed an Order requiring federal contractors to track and release compensation data, broken out by sex and race.

These actions by the Legislature and the Administration are important steps in the right direction. We urge both branches to continue their push to help women earn the wages they deserve and move women and their families into more economic security.

While these efforts continue, one way to increase women’s economic security and pay equity is to expand high-wage, high-skill jobs to women – following the President’s vision to expand apprenticeship to different locations, sectors, and populations. A recent CEPR report details the ways in which women in Unions in nontraditional fields experience virtually universal pay equity. The report details that women in unions earn higher wages than those not in unions, more than five dollars more an hour on average. This is true particularly for low wage jobs, such as office cleaners – whose wages were 30% higher with union membership. The report explains that being part of a union positively impacts low- and mid-wage earners more than high wage earners. As women are generally concentrated in low wage jobs, this inequality means women’s wages more closely reflect men’s. Next, the report credits the collective bargaining process – with managers making fewer decisions on individual workers’ wage levels and required transparency – with removing the pay secrecy and bias or discrimination that may play into wage levels.

Now it’s time to continue the momentum – keep pressuring your Senator to support the Paycheck Fairness Act, help expand collective bargaining and unionization,  and open paths to high-wage, high-skill occupations for women.

For more information on the gender wage gap and the Paycheck Fairness Act, see WOW’s website.


Reflections on SCOTUS, Women’s Rights and Economic Security

The Supreme Court finished its 2013-14 term last week with rulings on labor unions, law enforcement searches and healthcare coverage, many of which carry larger, adverse implications for women than meets the eye. Among this term’s major decisions were McCullen v. Coakley, ruling against 35-foot protection zones around abortion clinics in favor of protestor’s freedom of speech, the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision regarding birth control and religious freedoms, and Riley v. California, which ruled that cell phones could not be searched without a warrant.

While taking steps to protect privacy, Riley v. California may be tough on survivors of domestic abuse or stalking in a subtle way. Previously, law enforcement has been able to use communication records between abusers and survivors to issue emergency protection orders, but now it cannot do so until it receives a warrant, which can potentially slow down the protection order process. Harris v. Quinn, the labor union ruling that stripped unions working in the partial public sector of their ability to collectively bargain in “fair share agreements”, disproportionately affects low-income women of color and immigrant women who work in domestic healthcare and other traditionally female jobs.

Two controversial split-court decisions were handed down in SCOTUS’s final week of the term, addressing the birth control mandate included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its implications for employers and their female employees. The first, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., dealt specifically with the ACA’s mandate that employers provide contraceptives through their employee healthcare plans. Hobby Lobby asserted that its religious freedoms were being violated by the mandate, specifically objecting to four types of birth control. Hobby Lobby won its case 5-4. Justice Alito’s majority opinion stated that under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, “closely held” companies whose owners had strong religious beliefs, such as Hobby Lobby, could legally opt out of the ACA mandate. Hobby Lobby is one of over one hundred similar companies seeking such an exemption and “closely held” corporations employ over 52% of American workers, so this ruling is expected to affect millions of women.

Wheaton College v. Burwell, a similar case decided just after Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, further demonstrated the Court’s willingness to make exceptions to the ACA’s birth control mandate on the grounds of deeply held religious beliefs. The case contested the federal exemption form that allows non-profits to hand the responsibility of covering staff and student contraceptives to insurers. However, the plaintiff argued that by filling out the form, it was still obligated to indirectly provide the contraception. The court ruled in favor of the Christian college in a 6-3 decision. Because of this ruling, women who work for such non-profits are left at the whims of their employer’s religious convictions.

These last two rulings are harmful to women everywhere, specifically working women, low-income women, and female survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. Birth control’s steadily increasing diffusion and accessibility since the 1970s has allowed women to avoid both risk and cost, leading to more investment in their careers and older marriage and childbearing ages. It is also correlated with the gradual convergence of the gender wage gap since the 1970s. And not only will women be denied a healthcare right, businesses may lose productivity and see absenteeism increase as secondary results. Research shows that the economy would be 25% smaller today if women had never entered the workforce in such great numbers thanks in part to birth control access.

These rulings affect access to contraceptives, especially for low-income women, because of the extra expense of birth control. Two of the forms of birth control that Hobby Lobby opposed were IUDs, which are upwards of twenty times more effective than other contraceptives but can cost $1,000 per year without healthcare coverage. As Justice Ginsberg noted in her dissenting opinion in Hobby Lobby, this can be the equivalent of a whole month’s worth of wages for a woman earning minimum wage. One dose of emergency contraception that Hobby Lobby also objected to, like Plan B, can cost around $60. Women may now incur extra doctor’s fees to get government-funded prescriptions separate from their employee insurance, and services like Planned Parenthood are harder to come by due to decreased federal and state funding.

Survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault are made particularly more vulnerable by these rulings as well. Many survivors of intimate partner violence report that their abuser tampered with or refused to use contraceptives. Additionally, intimate partner violence and financial abuse go hand in hand – abusers often restrict access to economic resources that would allow a survivor to obtain birth control. The most effective and subtle forms of contraception available, and therefore the most helpful for women experiencing IPV, could potentially be denied to survivors under the Hobby Lobby ruling. In addition, rape survivors need access to emergency contraception, but the facts that it is not covered for crime victims in 34 states and many survivors can’t afford to buy it and wait to be reimbursed make it much less accessible when it is really needed. These Supreme Court decisions stretch further and do more damage than employers like Hobby Lobby seem to realize, and the effects could be major not only for vulnerable women but also for a large part of the American workforce.


Women’s Top Five Occupations on Equal Pay Day

equal pay day 2014

In celebration of Equal Pay Day, I looked up some facts on the top women’s jobs for the last year and what women and men working full time in those jobs earned.

In 2013, the top five women’s occupations, in order, were secretary or administrative assistant, registered nurse, elementary and middle school teachers, cashiers, and nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides. These occupations account for slightly under 18% of all women working and slightly over 18% of women who work full time. The chart above shows the median annual earnings for men and women in each occupation- and men out-earn women in all five.

This is what the wage gap costs full time women workers in these occupations:

Secretaries and Administrative Assistants: Women make up 94% of secretaries and administrative assistants and earn 88% what men earn, a gap that costs women nearly $5,000 every year. If the wage gap were closed, women secretaries would be 14% more economically secure.

Registered Nurses: Ninety percent of registered nurses are women and women earn 88% of men’s wages. The gap costs women nurses approximately $7,800 annually. If women earned what men earned, it would increase their economic security 14%.

Elementary and Middle School Teachers: Women make up 81% of elementary and middle school teachers. The wage gap is smaller here- women earn 91% of what men make, but it still costs women over $4,500 per year. If the wage gap didn’t exist, women would be 9% more economically secure.

Cashiers: In 2011, women made up 74% of all cashiers, making this very close to becoming a “traditionally female” occupation (defined as those in which women make up 75% or more of the workforce), however the percentage has dropped since and is now 72%. Women cashiers make 89% of what their male counterparts earn, costing them over $2,400 annually. Without the wage gap, women cashiers would be 12% more economically secure.

Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aides: Eighty-nine percent of home health aides are women. Women earn 90% of what men earn, costing them over $2,500 every year. Women home health aides would be 11% more economically secure without the wage gap.

It is interesting to note that four of the five top women’s occupations are in traditionally female fields- nursing, teaching, etc. – and even then, women earn less than their male counterparts. The wage gap is a structural problem that requires a structural solution. Congress’s inexcusable foot dragging on this issue is costing American families their economic security and American women the pay they’ve earned.


On the Hill: UI, CCDBG, and PFA

A bipartisan group of senators announced yesterday a compromise to extend emergency jobless aid. The issue of paying for an extension of unemployment benefits had stalled several attempts at renewing the aid since it expired in late December. The proposed plan will extend benefits for five months, including retroactive payments to the unemployed Americans who saw their benefits expire since the end of 2013. The deal, struck by a group led by Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican Dean Heller of Nevada, would be offset by so-called “pension smoothing” provisions from the 2012 highway bill that were due to expire, and by extending customs user fees through 2024. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had said earlier that he expected any agreement to come to the floor immediately after the Senate returns from recess the week of March 24. The extension of expanded jobless aid continues to be opposed by some Republicans who contend it does not include sufficient requirements to streamline job training programs and encourage workers to find and take new jobs. Though the Senate deal announced Thursday has tentative bipartisan support, its prospects in the Republican controlled House of Representatives remain uncertain.

The Senate also made progress this week with federal Child Care Block Grant legislation, passing the measure by a 97-1 vote on Thursday. The measure would reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which has not been reauthorized since 1996. The program directs about $2.4 billion in discretionary funds and $2.9 billion in mandatory funds in the current fiscal year to the states to help low-income families pay for child care. The measure requires a report from the Health and Human Services and Education departments on how to streamline federal early childhood education programs. Senators adopted by voice vote several amendments, including one from Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) that would require child care providers’ training to include early language and literacy development, and another from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), that would allow funds under the bill to be used to connect child care staff with federal and state financial aid or other resources for training.

Finally, in their broader push to cast a spotlight on income inequality, Senate Democrats plan to link their efforts to raise the federal minimum wage with legislation aimed at ensuring equal pay for women. Leaders in the Senate are planning for floor action in early April on a proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over two years, with the plan showcasing the impact of the minimum wage on women. Supporters of the wage hike emphasize studies showing that well over 50 percent of minimum wage jobs are held by women and that a raise in minimum wage would help reduce the disparity in salaries paid to men and women. In addition to the minimum wage bill, other Senators are pushing for floor consideration of the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that would expand legal options for resolving complaints of salary bias.

Both the House and Senate will be in recess next week, returning on Monday, March 24.


Women in Nontraditional Jobs: When Women Succeed, America Succeeds

In this year’s State of the Union, President Obama emphasized the need for workplace policies to adequately reflect 21st century realities. These realities include the fact that women currently make up almost half of the workforce. As the president noted, however, women also hold a majority of low-wage jobs, and we are a long way from pay equity. According to a 2011 study by the Department of Labor, women made up 49% of the workforce, but represented 59% of low-wage workers. One reason for women’s overrepresentation among low-wage workers is the industries in which they work. In fact, half of all working women are employed in only 28 of the 534 U.S. Department of Labor job categories. With the exception of teaching and nursing, low-paying jobs dominate these categories.

Women do not, however, make up large portions of the burgeoning occupations the President drew attention to in his Address Tuesday night. The President stressed the importance of putting as many construction workers on the job as fast as possible. Currently, women are only 2.7% of all construction laborers. The president also highlighted the importance of beating out other countries in, “the race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs.” Women are only 2.9% of millwrights, 5.4% of all machinists, 12.3% of all metalworkers, 4% of welding, soldering, and brazing workers, and 3.5% of all industrial and refractory machinery mechanics – all roles vital to high-tech manufacturing. [i]

The small numbers of women who are in these nontraditional occupations typically earn 20-30% more than women in traditional occupations. Increasing women’s participation in nontraditional occupations means women’s increased economic security, and that means more economically secure children, families, and communities. And a diverse and equitable workforce means industry is more competitive as it benefits from the talents, experience and expertise of all its citizenry. To ensure a truly strong state of our union, programs and resources directed at ending occupational segregation by gender – a root cause of the gender wage gap – should go hand in hand with our evolving workforce development and workplace policies.

The transportation bill the President encouraged Congress to finish by this summer is one legislative avenue to increase women’s representation in nontraditional jobs. This bill, which provides federal funding for surface transportation programs, needs stronger provisions to ensure the utilization and success of the On-the-Job Training and Supportive Services Program (OJT/SS). OJT/SS was established to ensure the increased participation of minority groups and disadvantaged persons and women in all phases of the highway construction industry.

Other Federal legislation can also support the goal of increasing women’s employment in nontraditional occupations. WANTO, the Women in Apprenticeable and Non-Traditional Occupations Act, currently authorizes only a meager $1 million annually to fund competitive grants to community-based organizations for providing technical assistance to employers and labor unions to help them recruit, train and retain women for non-traditional, high-wage, high-demand jobs. WOW has partnered with congressmembers to introduce the Women WIN act, which authorizes up to $100 million for recruiting, training, placing and retaining women in high-demand, high-wage nontraditional occupations and providing funding for innovative partnerships in each and every state.

Women WIN also calls for a bipartisan National Commission on the Status of Women in High-demand, High-skill Nontraditional Occupations – this could function in the same way the Glass Ceiling Commission worked to highlight barriers to advancement and equity for women in white-collar professions.

As the President reported on the Vice-President’s reform of America’s training programs, he described a singular mission of the reform: to train Americans with the skills needed by employers that will allow individuals to get good jobs. It is imperative to the success of this mission that women are included in those skilled Americans, because “when women succeed, America succeeds.”



[i] US Department of Labor. Nontraditional Occupations for Women in 2009. 2010.


Boston the Best in the Nation? Maybe Not Just for Baseball

Less than a week ago, Boston claimed its title as the top city in baseball this year. However, that’s not the only top title Boston is aiming for. Mayor Thomas Menino announced that he plans for Boston to be the first city in the US to eliminate the gender wage gap. The 38 companies that have already signed the 100% Talent: The Boston Women’s Compact aspire to understand the root causes of the gender wage gap and to work to close the gap. The goal of this compact is for the community to invest in all of its human capital, especially given that Boston is home to the best educated female population in the nation. With a goal of at least 50 companies signing the compact by the end of the year, Mayor Menino is urging employers to make a commitment to closing the wage gap because employer interventions are among the most effective remedies to this problem.

Disparity in wage can partially be attributed to women going into higher-paid occupations at a lower rate than men or women taking time off when they have children. Right from the start women are behind, with 46% of men always negotiating salary following a job offer and just 30% of women doing the same. Further, new female college graduates are earning 17% less than their male counterparts. Yet even when factors such as tenure, education level, occupation and other characteristics are adjusted for, statistical analysis finds that women are not making as much as men. According to Victoria Budson, director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Kennedy School, that difference is due to an implicit gender bias. While many major cities battled Boston on the baseball field this year, it is disheartening that Boston doesn’t have much competition in this fight to be the first to close the gender wage gap. Hopefully other cities will be inspired by this leadership and will strive to eliminate the gender wage gap in their communities. 


Sexism in the SAT

September is here and students are headed back to school- and the Hogwarts Express has left without me again. High school students will shortly be taking their SATs as a part of the college admission process. Even as tuition costs rise, experts still say that going to college is a good investment in your future, assuming you finish your degree, of course. So shelling out that $50 for the test, plus the $20 plus for a preparation book, plus the $300 or more for a preparation course seems like a small price to pay.

The SAT is billed as a good, standardized way to measure how well students will do in college. And it does do that, so long as the student in question is male. If the student is female, it usually woefully underestimates her abilities. Female students consistently do better on their grade cards in high school and in college, and make up the majority of university enrollees and degree earners, yet also consistently do worse on the SATs than their male counterparts. has an interesting rundown of possible reasons for this disparity, including the format and timed nature of the test. This paragraph in particular caught my eye:

“ETS researcher Carol Dwyer… provides some historical perspective on the gender gap in her 1976 report. She notes that it is common knowledge among test-makers that gender differences can be manipulated by simply selecting different test items. Dwyer cites as an example the fact that, for the first several years the SAT was offered, males scored higher than females on the Math section but females achieved higher scores on the Verbal section. ETS policy-makers determined that the Verbal test needed to be “balanced” more in favor of males, and added questions pertaining to politics, business and sports to the Verbal portion. Since that time, males have outscored females on both the Math and Verbal sections. Dwyer notes that no similar effort has been made to “balance” the Math section, and concludes that, “It could be done, but it has not been, and I believe that probably an unconscious form of sexism underlies this pattern. When females show the superior performance, ‘balancing’ is required; when males show the superior performance, no adjustments are necessary.””

So women, who are more likely to be low income and are more likely to need a degree to get a high-paying job, need to pay to take a test that purposefully underestimates our abilities in order to apply to degree-granting institutions. Oh, and those who can pay extra for the courses are more likely to do better and get accepted, of course. This is bad for colleges, bad for the economy and bad for women. A number of colleges and universities don’t require the SAT as part of their admissions process. I hope that female students and activists talk to institutions not on that list about why the SAT doesn’t do women justice.