EconTracker News

Dec 26, 2013 4:40 PM by MTN News - Sanjay Talwani

Gender pay gap still prevails in Montana

Almost no one nowadays admit, "I'm sexist."

Still, studies show - as they have for decades - that women don't get paid as well as men for the same work.

Montana's Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force, appointed by Gov. Steve Bulllock, is confronting that issue and plans to come up with some policy recommendations. But the job is a tough one, confronting deeply ingrained cultural biases even among those who consider themselves sexist.

Earlier this month, the Task Force heard from Jessi L. Smith, a professor of Social Psychology and Montana State University, to get a view of what they're up against.

Smith took a look at her own employer MSU - whose president, Waded Cruzado, is a Task Force member.

Smith's finding's: Female tenure-track professors make, on average, $4,000 less per year than their male counterparts.

The pay gap is true even when adjusted for levels of experience, she said.

And it's not just MSU - similar data can be found nationwide.

Smith said "shifting standards" keep the pay gap alive.

"This is that notion that, ‘She makes a lot of money - for a woman. She runs fast - for a girl,'" she told the Task Force.

Put another way, a woman is often considered successful when she makes the same salary that might not indicate success for a man.

The bias begins early. One experiment asked kids to draw pictures of scientists, and nearly all drew men (apparently chemists, many resembling Albert Einstein.)

It continues with the job application process. Smith pointed to studies in which groups of employers were given job applications that were identical, except for the names. The fake applicants with male names got
more (and better) offers than their female counterparts.

When the female applications added just one family-oriented item, such as involvement in a parent-teacher association, their situation got even worse. They received fewer offers at still lower pay and were held to greater standards of performance and punctuality than those without that resume item, according to a 2007 study cited by Smith.

Another study asked Ohio voters about two fictitious politicians considering running for president. Even with identical records of public service, the females were more often judged by the voters to bee too
inexperienced for the job than were the male candidates.

And even as women have entered male-dominated fields, such as medicine, the women haven't always joined the men at the higher pay levels. Instead, the overall pay scale of the field has lowered as women joined - except in specialties that remain dominated by men.

Smith said women are less likely than men to negotiate for higher salaries or to aggressively seek promotions. And when they do, it's often is counter-productive.

"Here's the conundrum. If the woman self-promotes, she might experience backlash, not get the raise, not get hired," Smith said. "But if she does't, she's definitely not going to get the raise, or get hired, or get the scholarship money."

So what can the Task Force do in terms of policy to combat such deep social realities?

Pam Bucy, Montana Labor Commissioner and Task Force co-chair (along with Montana Department of Administration Director Sheila Hogan) said some changes can happen just by making people aware. But the Task Force, which has held only two meetings so far, expects to make some specific policy recommendations.

Some are simple matters of recruiting and retention policy, making application processes truly gender-neutral. Some might want to strengthen family-leave laws and policies.

Bucy said the Task Force will continue research, including outreach to business interests about what works and what doesn't work.

"There are ways to get rid of our ingrained and even unaware biases that we might have, through some pretty simple practices." she said after the December meeting. "We can to talk to women about how to
negotiate for pay and benefits and how to do it really transparently and address some of the backlash or some of the negative consequences of doing that."

There are some positive indicators: A recent study shows that the gender gap for pay is almost gone among men and women 25 and younger, Bucy said. But historically, the gap has always been less severe among younger people, and grows as workers age.

The Task Force plans a summit on the issue in April.

Its duties also include developing a pay equity self-audit for public and private employers. Bullock also called on the Task Force to "lead by example" by conducting a state employee workforce audit and making recommendations to ensure pay equity in state agencies and contractors.

According to Bullock's order establishing the Task Force, woman make 71.5 percent as much as men's median earnings nationwide. In Montana, women make even less - 67.1 percent of what men make, placing Montana 39th in the nation in gender pay equity.

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