Exploring the gender wage gap: Part one

Home|Opinion|Local Columnists|Exploring the gender wage gap: Part one

When I was 17, my Grammy Kay signed me up for a workshop at Sheridan College with the WAGE Project — Women Are Getting Even — a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to eliminating the gender wage gap. 

Throughout the afternoon, we learned how to research the average salary for a specific job, taking into account the cost of living in our cities. We learned that your starting wages predict your living for decades onward. And, finally, we learned how to negotiate a salary. (Yes, there was a role-playing exercise.)

These tools will sound unnecessary to some Sheridan Press readers out there. How do I know? I have the pleasure of reading your Facebook comments.

On Oct. 17, The Sheridan Press published “Women still earning less than men in Wyoming,” an article written by Ashleigh Fox. 

She reported that women earn 68 cents for every dollar men earn, citing “A Study of the Disparity in Wages and Benefits Between Men and Women in Wyoming: Update 2018” from the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. 

The study analyzed the pay of 86,721 Wyomingites who work full-time and year-round across 228 occupations.

In some industries, women and men did not have statistically significant wage differences. And in others, the wage gaps weren’t too dramatic: Female accountants, for example, earn 90 cents on the dollar, as do auditors. 

However, in still more industries, the gaps were pronounced. Women working alongside men as mechanics are paid 63 cents on the dollar, while female roustabouts in the oil-and-gas industry earn 61 cents on the dollar.  

The study concluded that Wyoming’s gender wage gap is the second largest in the U.S., coming in just below Louisiana.

I shared the link on Facebook, and our followers pounced. 

Several said that women choose or are fit for lower paying jobs.

“Look at the type of jobs in Wyoming,” commented one man. “Most of the higher paying jobs are energy field jobs which are ‘typically’ male jobs.”

Others cited counterexamples in their own lives.

“I work in the energy industry,” wrote a man. “Women who I work with do not get paid any less than the men and we are paid on a scale depending on your skill sets. Women have the same opportunity to earn the higher wage as the men. Not all jobs pay the same, if you want that then you better go to Venezuela.”

Still more seemed to be upset by the topic (and I suspect did not read the article).

“I think The Sheridan Press is trying to lose readers,” typed one woman. “FAKE NEWS.”

Only one commenter agreed with the study and considered how to move forward.

“I truly hate this wage gap disparity,” the man wrote. “Focusing on a solution requires that we ask why does the disparity exist, and how do we fix it.”

Just last week, on Nov. 23, The Press published a follow-up article, “Legislators respond to gender wage gap study,” describing a joint committee meeting with the research manager of the infamous study. 

Some of their questions mirrored our Facebook comments. 

“The report comes out and says there’s a wage differential, period, end of story,” said Legislator Rep. Joe MacGuire, R-Natrona. “At any point, was there an actual audit done?”

The research manager explained how his team collected the data, underlining that they did break it down by industry and presented the job-by-job wage gaps.  

At the end of the session, the joint committee voted to sponsor three bills in January: equal pay penalties, wage transparency and wage equality in state employment.

I shared the link; the Facebook commenters got to work.

“There is no gender wage gap,” responded one woman. “It’s a liberal myth.”

To this, I note that WDWS is a politically neutral government organization, and the Wyoming Legislative joint committee is comprised of 12 Republicans and two Democrats.  

“Let them ask for a raise like the men have to, cripes,” another woman typed. “They complain because they’re not treated equal, but it’s really they want somebody else to do the hard stuff for ‘em, and asking for more money is hard. Cry me a river.”

This comment neatly carries me back to the WAGE Project workshop I attended 13 years ago. Those tools, role-playing exercise and all, have helped me with every job negotiation since. But I’m lucky to have learned them. Not all women have a Grammy Kay. And even if we do, women cannot control how the entire world receives us. 

Many of our commenters believe that people are not treated differently because of gender. I interpret this as an optimistic stance: Women think more highly of their fellow humans, and men don’t think they’re sexist. 

But the truth is we all have unconscious biases. We may not realize that we — or the people we like, respect and love — deeply believe these learned, automatic stereotypes, but we do. They are baked into our institutions and social norms. And we act on them, even when we mean no harm.

If you bear with me, I’ll subject you to one more Facebook comment, posted on the first article.

“The headlines are bogus, read the fine print of these studies,” a man wrote. “The updated study’s introduction said the gender wage disparity is often attributed to differences in occupations, industries, hours worked, experience and gender discrimination.”

True. The gender wage gap is often attributed to those differences — though the final results of this study aren’t necessarily affected by all of them (remember, they only studied full-time, year-round workers in 228 occupations). 

Still, I plan to tackle those factors in next week’s column. If you have any ideas, facts or feedback, send me a note: caitlin.addlesperger@thesheridanpress.com. 

By |Nov. 30, 2018|

About the Author:

Caitlin Addlesperger started writing for The Sheridan Press as a 15-year-old youth reporter and continued her career as a college intern and then staff reporter. After nearly a decade spent in the writing, editing and marketing worlds in Italy and New York, she is back at The Press as the director of special projects, a role in which she aims to connect the newspaper with the community. Email Caitlin at caitlin.addlesperger@thesheridanpress.com.

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