What’s a Woman Worth?

In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the answer to that is apparently 68.6% of a man. An article last year in the Lancaster newspaper quoted a study by 247WallSt.com that showed Lancaster, where I live, as having the third largest gender pay gap in the country.

I’m not surprised, actually. I think the traditional-values orientation of Lancaster County makes it a prime candidate for this, with hiring managers thinking of women as “little housewives” working for a bit of “pin money.” Only two places in Utah, had a bigger gap, which I think can be explained by the similar traditionalism of the Mormon population.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with women choosing to stay at home and raise their children. I do have a problem with women doing the same work as men and getting paid differently, especially if religious faith influences that. I remember a couple of decades ago female friends who were teachers at Christian schools were offered much lower pay than men because they weren’t the “breadwinners” of the family. I hate to think that mindset still affects us.

Some of the local business leadership say the findings are because the industries most predominate here are those women don’t gravitate toward, like manufacturing, transportation and construction. “Women tend to flow toward low-skill, low-wage jobs . . . if women were more open to these kinds of career paths [manufacturing with technology training], they would be able to access higher levels of pay.” Oh, so it’s women’s fault they don’t get paid more. That’s convenient.

I’m not saying that as women we don’t occasionally contribute to our pay inequities: In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In she cites a study of students graduating with master degrees from Carnegie Mellon University. The study found “that 57 percent of the male students, but only 7 percent of the female students, tried to negotiate for a higher offer.” So as women, we need to take the risk of negotiating for better pay. We’re worth it! Believe it!

But if you are a man or a woman who has any influence over salaries of new hires or employees, do your part as well. Advocate for fair and equal pay. Pay that woman like a man.

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