Women and wages in 2012: New data analysis shows there's still a gender pay gap in Missouri

Monday, November 19, 2012
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New U.S. Census Bureau data shows that in every congressional district in Missouri, there is a gap between the wages of women and men.

In the first-ever analysis of this data by congressional district, in Missouri's Eighth Congressional District -- comprised of Southern Missouri -- women are paid slightly less than the state median, earning 73 cents for every dollar a man earns, with the annual wage gap being $9,660 between men and women.

The median yearly pay for women in Missouri is $9,281 less than the median yearly pay for Missouri men, or 78 cents for every dollar, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the Eighth Congressional District and 97 percent of all congressional districts -- 423 out of 435 districts -- the median yearly pay for women is less than the median yearly pay for men in like professions.

"Pay equity is a complicated statistic, and there are a number of factors which contribute to the disparity, but when it comes to men and women doing the same job there should never be illegal wage discrimination," said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo. "Equality is about more than pay, however. It is about women and men having the same opportunities to succeed." Emerson said throughout Southern Missouri, she's talked with women running farms and ranches, starting their own businesses and embarking on careers in the sciences.

"I'm very confident that we will continue to close the pay gap between men and women," she said.

One of the factors contributing to the pay gap is that women don't negotiate their salaries as well as men do, said Dr. Heather McMillan, who teaches human resources classes at Southeast Missouri State University's Harrison College of Business. She is certified as a Professional in Human Resources by the Society for Human Resource Management.

"On the front end women come in making lower salaries than men for the equivalent job because they don't negotiate as well. We tend, as a whole, to take whatever is offered," McMillan said.

Women accept what is offered hoping to prove to the company that they are worth more, but while they may demonstrate this, there is no guarantee they will be compensated for it later. They continue to stay behind their male counterparts.

Women are also more likely than men to have times when they leave the work force, either temporarily or for long periods of time to have children. This time away also hurts their earning ability in the long run, McMillan explains.

"Despite the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act and Family Medical Leave Act, any time you enter and exit the work force, even for a short period of time, it's going to affect your wages," she said.

The gender wage gap persists through all levels, from employees to managers and even among chief executive officers.

"It doesn't matter where in the line you're at. The pay differential happens," she said.

For women who believe they are experiencing gender discrimination in their pay, McMillan suggests first going to their immediate supervisor.

"Follow the chain of command. If your supervisor doesn't give you the remedy you're looking for, then go to HR and talk to them," said McMillan, who previously worked as a corporate human resources director. "Unfortunately, most employee handbooks do state you're not to discuss your pay."

Women who feel they are being discriminated against by being paid less than their male counterparts and who can't find a remedy within their company can file a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"They will look to see if you have a discrimination case, but my caveat to that is be sure that is what you want to do. That becomes a matter of public record and especially in a smaller area, like Cape, there is a risk of being blackballed because of it," McMillan said. "I'm not saying don't, but make sure you know what you are willing to lose to pursue it."

In some instances, it may be better to just seek a different job with another company.

"I tell my students and I believe this: If they are engaging in blatant gender discrimination, then you don't want to work there anyway. If you can get out, get out," she said.

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