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The Battle For Pay Equality Has Been Fought And Won

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Once again, we are deafened by the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth of those trumpeting the latest figures on gender pay inequality. Whether it's the "fact" that women earn 75 cents or 79 cents (or whatever this year's figure is) for every dollar men earn, we are regularly inundated with these catchy, but essentially meaningless, statistics.

While it may be true that there is an overall wage gap between men and women, there is no great inequity that needs righting. This disparity is simply a reflection of the different choices that women often make as compared to men.

Headline writers and lazy commentators like to tout the latest figures to inflame their readership. Why do we still have such an unfair situation? How can we allow this wage gap? When will women finally be adequately compensated?

The answers to these questions are "We don't," "We haven't" and "How about now?" For all practical purposes, pay fairness has been achieved.

Don't believe me? Just "drill down," as they say in today's parlance, into the pay figures and discover the true picture.

When you compare the difference in annual pay by gender for various jobs for similarly qualified men and women, the gap is negligible. For example, a male human resources administrator earns one per cent more in salary on average than his female counterpart. Same for a male elementary school teacher.

Even where there is a gap, it's fairly insignificant and definitely not worthy of front page headlines. A male computer systems administrator earns about three per cent more in salary than his female counterpart. A male software developer earns about four per cent more.

Yet the headlines accompanying this year's wage gap figure (be it 79 cents on the dollar, 73 cents or whatever) suggest that there is widespread inequity and discrimination that needs immediate attention.

This clearly is not the case. Years of change have brought us to a position today where there is effectively no wage discrimination. A woman doing the same job as a man generally makes the same or almost the same salary.

That's pay equality, and that battle appears to have been fought and won. The 79-cent-female-dollar may represent a number of different workplace phenomena, but it isn't a clarion call to realign our current pay structures.

One thing that gap represents is the fact that men and women tend to gravitate toward different careers. Often the male-chosen career (think engineering, finance and high tech) pays more than the female-dominated one (e.g. nursing and teaching).

That gap is also a reflection of different family choices. Women often opt out of the workplace to raise families or they scale back their career ambitions for such a purpose. Just check out the statistics and you'll see that up to about age 30, college-educated men and women tend to be on the same salary track, but after that a gap begins to open up.

Does that mean that there is some critical inequity in the labour market? No. Men and women receive essentially the same pay for the same job.

If there is a wrong that needs to be righted it has to do with other factors such as child care, the minimum wage and pay equity. If we want to encourage professional women to stay fully employed in the workplace then we should provide adequate, affordable and subsidized daycare for all.

However, I doubt that many of us will be sympathetic to the plight of two-income professional couples who want cheap, affordable daycare so they both can work 70-hour weeks.

As for the minimum wage, let's raise it to a level above the poverty line. Since women are disproportionately represented at the lower end of the scale when it comes to lifetime earnings, that would help reduce that gap.

Finally, if you want to achieve true equality then pay equity may be the answer, as in "equal pay for work of equal value." However, once you delve into the swamp of comparing jobs like apples and oranges there may be no coming back.

Personally, I'd prefer to let the market work things out. Already we have more women graduating in medicine and law than men and other professions are likely to follow suit. Whether such graduates choose to work 30-hour weeks in those fields rather than 60 or even 70-hour weeks is up to them.

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