Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why Pay for Occupations Dominated by Women Isn’t Measuring Up.

Our gender often plays an important role in the types of careers that we decide to pursue. Whether it is a result how we are nurtured (the dolls that girls get verses the construction sets our brothers get), or simply by the nature of our feminine characteristics, women continue to fill traditional nurturing roles in society, even when more doors are opening for us to pursue professional careers in fields that might cause our grandmothers to roll over in disbelief in their graves. Jobs focused on care giving and education, such as nursing and teaching are predominantly occupied by women, while careers in technology and engineering, such as architecture and scientific research continue to be flooded with armies of men.

Although I believe that women are capable of being just as proficient as men in male-dominated professions, our unequal representation in these fields does not bother me as much as the discrepancies that exist for careers that are predominantly occupied by women. In the field of teaching, where 71% of teachers are female 1, the average salary for someone with 1-4 years of experience is $36,000. In contrast, in the field of engineering and IT, where women are outnumbered 9:1 (according to the Society of Women Engineers) an entry-level Software Engineer earns $73,313---nearly twice as much as teachers do early in their careers. 2 & 3

The hypocrisy that exists doesn’t end at pay, but also, more often than not, at required education. To move up the ladder in professions such as nursing and teaching, an individual is required to obtain a masters degree or even higher certification to be qualified for “upward mobility (which could equate to something as small as a title change)”, even though their pay will not carry the monetary value that it would for someone with an MBA, JD or MD.

My friend, Kim, a nurse from Northwest, OH is a prime example of person that is well educated, but struggling to be find work that will compensate her for her level of education and experience she has. After working in the medical field as a pediatric nurse for many years, she returned to a reputable medical school to receive her master’s degree as a Nurse Practitioner. To her dismay, as she job searches for opportunities to make her comeback in the medical field, she has been a bit insulted by hiring directors who tell her that she would improve her chances of being hired for positions by receiving additional training and a doctoral degree. Despite her strong qualifications and experience, Kim is frustrated by the challenges she faces; “If I knew that I was going to have to get this much education to do what I love, I would have just gone to medical school to become a doctor.”

The hands of our country’s health and vitality is in the hands of individuals that occupy professions that are often most marginalized by society. With mediocre pay and benefits, and often-unrealistic expectations, our teachers, nurses, and caregivers are leaving their professions at alarming rates. Within the first five years of their careers, nearly 50% of all teachers will leave the profession. How can the inner-city teacher nurture the seeds of the next generation, or the home-healthcare give comfort to our sick and aging, when they’re worried about whether their paychecks will be large enough to make their house payments for the month, or to pay for an out-of-pocket visit to the doctor. Regardless of the reason (pay, hours, stress), when we lose women (and men) to professions that nurture, cure and educate, we not only lose people, but also the hope for a better tomorrow.

We may condemn overt pay discrimination against women by signing into law legislation like the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but the grim reality is that jobs that are inherently occupied by women are still failing to deliver the compensation that is deserved and needed to sustain high quality people in essential roles. It’s time for America to put its values and priorities to the test by having a real conversation on why the pay for roles occupied by a majority of women aren’t measuring up those that are dominated by men.

1.) Fresh teachers may help area weather predicted nationwide shortage.
2.) Statistics on average salaries by years of experience;
3.) Women in High Tech Jobs.

Image of Women from Getty Images.


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