Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, March 22, 2004

Some women can fault themselves for their lower salaries, author says

By David Schepp
Westchester Journal News

There's no argument that women generally earn less than men on the job.

The average working woman takes home $10,000 less than her male counterpart, bringing in just $27,355, according to data from the 2000 U.S. census — about 73 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Over a working lifetime, this wage disparity costs the average American woman and her family an estimated $523,000 in lost wages, affecting Social Security benefits and pensions, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity.

And while the gap has narrowed since the inception of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, when women earned just 59 cents for every dollar men made, the causes for the breach remain wide.


Some argue that women make less money because of male domination, discrimination or "glass ceilings," the subtle and transparent barriers that keep them from reaching the upper echelons of corporations.

Others blame the choices made by women for reducing their own earning power.

More pervasive, one author argues, is the practice of under-earning that many women unwittingly bring upon themselves.

While it's hard to measure, about 20 percent of women engage in the psychological pattern of earning less-than-you-need despite the desire to do otherwise, says Mikelann Valterra, author of "Why Women Earn Less," published by Career Press.

"A lot of women were raised with the notion that they will be taken care of," Valterra says. "But the reality is that nine out of 10 women end their lives alone."

Part of dealing with the "good-girl syndrome," as she calls it, is for career women to examine whether they are waiting for someone or something to step up and take care of them.

Whether women view Prince Charming as a man, the state lottery or a parent's inheritance, if women tell themselves, " 'It really is up to me,' it changes things," Valterra says.

For twentysomethings Nicole Norris and Tamara Toles, both from Queens, N.Y., Valterra's views ring true. They and more than 3,000 other women recently stood in the snow waiting for a chance to talk to recruiters from 60 employers who had signed on to be part of a Women For Hire career expo.

While their views differed on some issues, Norris and Toles, both recent college graduates, said they knew of friends who weren't as aggressive as they could have been when it came to bargaining for better wages.

At the career fair, Toles says, she noticed a "lot of mousy talk," referring to the way the pitch in her friends' voices changed when talking to recruiters. "I don't understand why that is."

Norris says her experience has been different. The college she attended offered classes that taught students negotiating skills. "So we know how to come in and be forceful and be out there," Norris says. "It all depends on how you were trained."

While she's cautious about generalizing about stereotypes assigned to the sexes, Tory Johnson, chief executive of Women For Hire, says women generally aren't as good at negotiating as men.

"We'll take lower-paying jobs and what's offered to us, as opposed to fighting for what we deserve," says Johnson, who began Women For Hire in 1999 as a way to give women a place to meet face-to-face with top recruiters.

Women accept jobs at lower salaries with the expectation that in three to six months, the employer will do the right thing and increase pay. "That just doesn't happen," she says. "It's a fairy tale."