Gender pay differences: A long way to go

After I graduated from college, I had three months to support myself before I could start my first professional job as a teacher. To cover that three-month income gap, I took a position as a clerk-typist at what was then Inland Steel Corp. in East Chicago, Ind. 

The time was 1967. Offices relied on the typing skills (not data input!) of people like me who could pound out 90 words a minute on an electric typewriter. Back then, IBM Selectrics were considered high technology; the personal computer had not yet been invented.

My job was in the accounting department; I was tasked with typing checks to pay invoices. The woman who trained me (a lead clerk) had been with Inland for 25 years. She calculated the amounts to be paid, then passed the checks to me for typing.

We worked in a bull pen — a large room filled with rows of desks.

I don’t have proof-positive, but I strongly suspect that the only man in the department — who did the same type of work as my trainer — was paid a significantly higher salary than any one else. Back then, it was accepted that men earned more than women. Women worked to supplement household income. (Pity the woman who was single and had to support herself or a family.)

Women in the 1960s earned less than 60 percent of what men did. The situation has improved, but not enough. A 2007 report from the American Association of University Women ( entitled “Beyond the Pay Gap” said, “One year out of college, women working full-time earn only 80 percent as much as their male colleagues earn. Ten years after graduation, women fall farther behind, earning only 69 percent as much as men earn.”

A recent study — “Is the Gap More Than Gender? A Longitudinal Analysis of Gender, Gender Role Orientation, and Earnings” — published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 93, 2008,, reported that men who harbored traditional values about women (that is, that a woman’s role is as a homemaker) earn higher salaries than those who value women as equal partners in work!

That report suggests that prejudice against women is still being rewarded. And as long as it is rewarded, it will be perpetuated.

On more than one occasion, I remember my mother remarking about women who worked outside of the home: “She makes good money for a woman

Be honest: Do you harbor those same sentiments? Do you take gender into consideration when you figure pay by thinking, “Well, hers is a supplemental income” or “I’ll lose her to maternity leave anyway” or “Her husband will be transferred.” Do you take pride in getting more for your money by hiring overexperienced females and underpaying them, justifying your decision by saying, “Well, it’s an entry-level job.”

In the academic publishing arena, articles for journals are juried — that is, an editorial board reviews “blind” articles; they don’t know who the author is. The article must stand on its own merits, not be judged by who wrote it.

I’ve often thought that’s the way we ought to hire people. Remove all indications of sex and race from the resume or job application and hire based on merit, skills, and experience.

Back in the “olden days” when cigarettes were advertised on television, there was a brand (Virginia Slims) marketed to women. Its tagline was, “We’ve come a long way, baby!”

We have come a long way. But we (men and women) still have a long way to go.

Until next time,

Linda Segall

Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

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