Yesterday was Equal Pay Day in the US, marking the point at which women would have had to work into 2010 to earn the same as men in 2009. An extra four months? Seems a little unfair. Given the discrimination they face in the corporate world, is it any wonder that quite a few young women consider bedding a millionaire and becoming a housewife to be a more appealing career path? Just one problem with that, though: even with a divorce settlement, they will never really have any money to call their own, and are easily replaced by a younger model.
The various explanations put forward for why women continue to earn significantly less than men have been gone over and demolished at length, so I’m not going to do that here. Let’s just admit that even accounting for pregnancy and career breaks, there is still systematic discrimination against women in the workplace. Instead, let’s focus on the careers that pay women the most. Helpfully, CNN Money compiled such a list yesterday, along with a little picture gallery giving facts and figures about average earnings, pay disparity and the proportion of women working in the field. Those jobs were, in order:
- IT Manager
- Software Engineer
- Physician or Surgeon
- Management Analyst
- Computer Scientist
- Occupational Therapist
Notice anything about that list? Most of the jobs are in sectors that tend to be male dominated, and even if they do manage to make it to the top of those professions, they will still earn less, taking home 75% of a male pay packet, on average. Aside from the programmer, where it is still possible to rise through the ranks as entirely self-taught (though increasingly difficult), all the other jobs will require some form of professional qualification. So even when women are as qualified and ambitious as men, and even when career breaks due to pregnancy or childcare are accounted for, they are somehow still considered worth less to their employers.
Except in one instance: the CEO. Generally, when we think of these titans of business, we imagine the heads of companies listed on the stockmarket. But every business has an ultimate boss, and if the growing number of “mumpreneurs” is anything to go by, this is where women see their best prospects. Discouraged or even prevented from returning to the same career tracks after giving birth, many women to abandon their previous jobs altogether, choosing instead to set up their own businesses, where they can be in charge. And being in charge means you get to set your own pay!
On the one hand, when I hear about the number of new businesses that have been set up by women, even in the recession, and how increasing numbers of women are taking charge of their own careers, I cheer. Small businesses are the engine of any economy, and if women are taking an increasingly active role in shaping the economic landscape, that can only be a good thing. But for them to have done this, it does mean that other businesses have lost a talented and experienced employee, who will be expensive and difficult to replace. Englighted businesses, of course, try to retain their talent, of whatever sex. Those who don’t, however, could be storing up problems for themselves in the future.
More women at the top of the food chain in a variety of businesses means more issues that have previously been ignored or overlooked being taken into consideration when deciding how business is conducted. Regardless of whether you think this is a good or a bad thing, what cannot be denied is that it will have a transformative effect on business. Already, flexi-working and job-sharing are becoming more common. This will have an effect on both men and women. Those with the vision to anticipate the long-range changes will be making plans now to cope with the future landscape. Those who don’t believe anything should change could find themselves stuck in the past, scrabbling to play catch-up.
[Image by AnnieBee]