Milwaukee Biz Blog: Examining the reasons behind the gender wage gap

Cause is complex, and solution will be, too


Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:21 pm

The pay disparity between men and woman is not a new controversy; it has been a topic of debate for years on a local and national scale. It’s an issue that many agree should be made right, and is one of the few (agreeable) topics from both presidential candidates.

Though it wasn’t a hot topic of the recent debate, both campaigns have taken positive positions on the issue. In her speech at the Republican National Convention and in subsequent discussions, Ivanka Trump has said, “Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties, they should be the norm.” Her father, Republican nominee Donald Trump, has responded positively to questions regarding gender equality in the workforce, “Women should have absolute access to capital. If they do the same job, they should get the same pay.”

Hillary Clinton has often spoken out about equal pay for equal work. A recent tweet from her reads: “When you short-change women, you short-change families and you short-change America.”

In a year of heated political debate, both the left and the right are in agreement: women should be paid equal pay for equal work.

But like all good campaign rhetoric, the devil is in the details.

A recent study in the Wall Street Journal shows that despite the occupation, level of income or how “elite” the job is, women in many fields earn well below men. For years, focusing on women’s education was identified as a solution to narrow this wage disparity, but this study suggests that some of the biggest pay gaps exist in white-collar professions, in which both genders receive high levels of education.

Some experts point to the inevitable opportunity costs of having and raising children as responsible for this gap. It’s obvious that many women take time out of their careers to have, and attend to, children. Joyfully and without remorse, but at the peril of returning to a lower salary or wage than a man who did not have to choose between having a family or his career.

However, childbirth alone cannot account for the disparity. Aversion to risk and natural ability to self-promote may also be factors.

The Wall Street Journal cited the CFP Board, a national nonprofit group that certifies financial planners, to explain the lack of women in the financial industry, or the “feminine famine.” Its recent report found women were hesitant to take heavily commission-based jobs or own their own firm. Although riskier, these opportunities can produce a greater financial reward. Instead, women are more likely to accept jobs with guaranteed income.

For a variety of factors, women are also less likely to try for higher pay, whether that is upon accepting a job or as a raise.

We can all agree that identifying the root cause of the gender pay gap is complicated, as is fixing it. It is my hope that the wage gap issue will not just be a convenient talking point by both the right and the left to sway a gender category of votes, but rather an issue of substance on which we will continue to make progress.

This is an issue that TEMPO Milwaukee is focused on addressing. Leadership and mentoring are core competencies of TEMPO Milwaukee’s mission. And now that mission extends just a bit further in our community to continue to address this critical issue. Earlier this year, TEMPO Milwaukee launched its Emerging Women Leaders program, so the networks, leadership and coaching that are so critical in closing the wage group will not only permeate the more than 325 current TEMPO Milwaukee members, but are now being consciously passed on to the next generation of women leaders in our community.

Jennifer Dirks is the president and CEO of TEMPO Milwaukee.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display