You get paid for what you give

Years ago, my father said that part of his job involved being paid to be stressed (or more precisely, being paid to worry about the state of the supplies for his customers’ businesses, regardless of what is going on in his own life). That was also around the time that I was doing my chemical engineering degree, so I learned early on that people aren’t paid to be happy.

The only reason that people will part with their hard-earned money and give it to you is if there is a job that they need doing that they do not want to do themselves or functionally cannot do themselves.  They will pay you more for it if it involves technical complexity, legal liability (e.g. accountants, senior executives), risk to your own body, a lot of anxiety, or if fewer people are around to underbid you on it; you will be paid more for being reliable and having good customer service than for being unreliable and putting your own life first.

So when the fifty-year-old President of the United States repeated the old canard about women being paid $0.77 for every dollar that a man earns, it was – well, not shocking, but still sad.  If you want a cushy, safe office job that has you out the door at 5 pm sharp and doesn’t much mind when you stay at home with your sick kid, you’re going to pay for it – or rather, not get paid as well for it as you would for a job with longer hours, a more unpredictable schedule, and a heavier demand on your time.  (Pointing out the obvious: if the latter job didn’t pay more, no one would bother doing it. Why clean toilets when you can throw pots or paint murals?)

Actual women would benefit from an honest discussion about this reality.  What we do not benefit from is mindless pandering or yet more legislation that hasn’t done much of anything.

Back in 2007, I wrote about the Lilly Ledbetter decisionThe Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed in 2009 in response to Ledbetter v. Goodyear, which left open the option for Congress to craft a new law in response to the ruling.  Five years later, the “pay gap” is exactly where it had been in 2009: seventy-seven cents for full-time women to every dollar earned by a man who works full time.  While progress often moves in fits and starts, we ought to expect that it would at least move; the perfect stagnation of the wage gap suggests that the issue is not one solely of legal discrimination.

Let me be exceedingly clear: as a woman engineer, now an attorney, I am well-aware that there is still sexism in the working world.  What I ferociously dispute is the idea that more legislation will somehow curb these issues (it hasn’t, as per above), or that the “pay gap” is not a result of women’s choices. Yes, some choices (do what you luv!!) are more socially acceptable than others (“Do what you can stomach that provides a stable income that enables you to live the kind of life you want”), but that doesn’t change the existence of those choices or the repercussions of those.

In a better world, women who are actually interested in ending the pay gap would work with younger women and have honest discussions about career tracks, sacrifices, and the cost of a work-life balance.

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