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Yep, It’s 2023 and Women Are Still Making Less

Advocates excited with salary transparency bill slated to go into effect in September this year

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

When asked for an interview about gender wage equality, Anne Messenger quipped, “Give me a break; are we still doing this?” because the topic sounds so antiquated, like equality issues such as the right to vote or own property.

Messenger, a women-owned business advocate in Manlius, serves as the chapter chairwoman of the Women Presidents’ Organization in Syracuse.

The topic warrants attention, as women still making less money than their male counterpart of equal skill and experience, despite the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median weekly earnings for women were $912 or 83.1% of men’s earnings in 2021.

Although many employers in recent times have struggled to meet rising wages and other expenses, “there are a lot of organizations employing people who can control pay. The decision makers can make changes,” Messenger said. “They can be intentional about those changes within their budget limits, of course.”

Messenger wants to see more women become outspoken about money at work. Instead of just settling and feeling meek about whatever salary is offered, she wants women to research what their experience and education is worth.

Messenger expressed excitement for the salary transparency bill (legislation S.9427-A/A.10477) slated to go into effect in September this year. Anyone employing four or more will have to list salary ranges for all advertised openings and promotions.

“Equipped with the information, we need to go out and have a conversation and talk about the job, think about the job when it’s offered and then negotiate for a fair salary and compensation,” she said.

Care responsibility is one factor as to why women get less over the course of their careers. Only women have children. Women also provide the lion’s share of childrearing and elder care. For many women, these responsibilities take them out of the workforce for months to years at a time, making it difficult for them to achieve tenure-based raises. Messenger said that many women missed these opportunities during the worst of the pandemic because they had to stay home with caregiving duties. With greater acceptance of hybrid and work-from-home arrangements, Messenger hopes that fewer working women will miss opportunities for advancement because of caregiving responsibilities.

Kishi Animashaun Ducre, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at SU, does not believe that caregiving roles entirely explain the wage discrepancy and said that “the patriarchy” is more to blame. Ducre is an associate professor of African American Studies at the College of Arts & Sciences at the university.

“There is no rational, economic reason for it except for gender inequity,” Ducre said. “Women of color make even less.”

She referenced Equal Pay Day is March 15, meaning that a woman would have to work one year, plus until March 15 the following year to equal the pay a man receives for one year’s work.

“The differences are starker when you think of Blacks and Latinas,” Ducre added. “For Black women, it’s Sept. 21 — and additional nine months. For Latinas, it’s Dec. 8.”

It may seem that the service industries, in which women predominate, may skew the numbers. However, Ducre said that even in fields where women work in greater numbers like nursing and education, men still make more.

Education may not matter as much. In recent years, the percent of female graduates inched ahead of the percent of male graduates. Ducre said that despite this, men receive more pay.

“We like to think that if you go to school, you’ll make more, but even with a bachelor’s or master’s or doctorate, she in general will make less,” Ducre said. “The bottom line is we value men’s labor more than we value women’s labor. It’s not as easy as go to school and become credentialed. The inequality happens among all levels of education. The gap is smaller among people who have postsecondary education but it’s still there.”

Women who work in more professional environments may also benefit from greater flexibility in hours and leave allowances, which can help with parenting and other caregiving responsibilities.

Women should be able to expect to receive the same pay anywhere they work. However, seeking women-owned companies may help reduce the pay gap. But Ducre warned that leadership can change.

Like Messenger, she promotes self-advocacy.

“If you’re doing some great work, ask for a raise,” she said. “Say, ‘There is a pattern of gender inequity. I want to do a salary review. Can you assure me I’m making the same as my male colleagues?’”

Tracy Chamberlain Higginbotham, founder–president, Women TIES, LLC, Syracuse, supports equal pay for women by promoting the notion that “one way to level that playing field is to buy from women first and foremost to help them put money in their pockets,” she said. “I suggest more women have a feminist buying attitude and put their money any time they can in the hands, bank accounts, and PayPal accounts of women over men.”

She thinks that some people resist this line of thought because they believe that women are hired and paid equally as men.

Like Messenger and Ducre, she encourages women to know the payrate their education command and demand a fair rate, along with asking for raises they deserve.

“Women mustn’t shrink from the role of asking for what they are worth or what a counterpart is getting,” Higginbotham said. “It’s this mindset that also has to change to keep the pay equality issue moving forward.”