Why Equal Pay Day Depresses Me

Pay inequity isn't going away anytime soon.

Equal Pay Day depresses because I assumed it was a thing of the past all the way from sometime in the mid-80s until the dawn of the 21st century.

Guess who wasn't paying attention? Not just Lily Ledbetter!

Equal pay means comparable worth and that's not an easy, nor an easily accepted, concept. The pay gap isn't just applying apples to apples (senior trial lawyer in a major international law firm vs. senior trial lawyer in the same or another international law firm). 

The pay gap is value to value.

The Wal-Mart women cashiers whose class action was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court rightfully complained that a significantly greater percentage of "non-skilled" men (on the loading dock) were promoted into management ranks than the "non-skilled" women. "That's because the men's physical work is harder," we're told, as if physical labor were a highly valued commodity in a knowledge and consumer economy.


But Women Take Women's Jobs

The pay gap is often blamed on women for "taking women's jobs." But there's the rub. Women's jobs are undervalued because they're women's jobs, not because the value created by those jobs is less than "men's jobs". And this isn't just an historic anomaly.

Any time a profession or sector becomes female  dominated, the pay craters because, well, it's become "women's work" which is always valued less - no matter what it is - than "men's work". Want an example? The highest paid public employee in nearly every state of the union is a football coach

We find this devaluation of womens work in the legal employment arena where women have been steered into employment litigation because it involves people, which includes women. Higher billing specialties such as securities fraud, intellectual property, antitrust and the like are corporate, male dominated and better compensated.

A recent survey of law firm equity partners showed that women practicing employment law bill more hours than their male counterparts. They nevertheless make significantly less money because they can't bill as much as the male dominated specialties can. This is not because those specialties are more difficult or more sophisticated or require heavy lifting, but because they're dominated by men. 

The more your work involves actual non-Citizens United flesh and blood people, the less society values that work. Teacher. Professor. Social worker. Family law attorney. Less  money. University administrator. Corporate lawyer. Investment banker. More money.

The exception? High school football coach.

The other "equal pay" problem is women's lack of time - the one commodity that men have more of. Even though the "product" that knowledge workers create is not made better by the time it takes to create it, we continue to base the value of the legal product (advice; strategy; tactics) on the time it takes the lawyer to accomplish it. Naturally women, who have less time, suffer from this way of valuing their work.

I've long said that if time-based billing deprived men of the ability to have a successful career and a family, they would have found a better way to value their work a long long time ago.. 

None of this is anyone's "fault."

The pay gap is a result of historic forces and massive changes in the economy. We're now obliged, however, to "true up" the workplace and the value of the product of that work to present day realities. The past continues to dog women's ability to make a middle class living. That's a challenge and a responsibility worthy of our time, our attention, our creativity and our good will toward one another.

If you'd like to hear the experts wage war about causes of the wage gap and my advice about narrowing or eliminating it, check out this edition of The Sound of Ideas.

Victoria PynchonComment