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Gender pay gaps are not petty issues

February 10, 2016
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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Wage inequality continues to be a topic of conversation in Hollywood. Sure, it’s hard to feel bad for frontrunner Jennifer Lawrence who made “only” $52 million, but if it’s compared to the $80 million earned by Robert Downey Jr., her male counterpart, the discrimination is clear: She earned just 65 cents for every $1 he earned.

Even Oprah Winfrey—the world’s first black female billionaire—experienced an egregious case of wage inequality early in her talk-show career, and there was little she could do about it. She wasn’t being petty, yet she still suffered social penalties for speaking up. I don’t imagine anyone would dare dismiss her now.

Earning 85 cents on the dollar

The White House Council of Economic Advisers recently found that for average Americans, the gender pay gap persists with little progress made in the past 15 years. Women earn 85 cents for every $1 that men earn—and that’s after accounting for experience, education, industry and time away for family responsibilities. It shouldn’t be surprising that race also makes a difference. The gap between white men and white women (21%) is greater than among black men and women (18%) or Hispanic men and women (12%).

Remember that women are also a slight majority in the population overall and represent 47% of the labor force. Since the 1990s, the majority of all undergraduate and graduate degrees have been awarded to women, according to the council.

Time to clean house

The only real solution is to insist that employers evaluate the gaps in their organizations and clean their own houses. Failure to do so could result in costly legal troubles. It’s worth it to conduct a payroll audit twice a year, and there is no shortage of human resource experts who can help with that if needed.

A rule of thumb is to compare not just the wages by gender but by essential job functions. For example, if you have a male MD stuffing envelopes and a woman with less education also stuffing envelopes, you would pay them the same because their job functions are identical. An advanced medical degree is not required to do the task, so that overqualification of the MD should not result in higher pay.

Of course, there can be ranges, but there must be good rationale behind them, such as tenure in the organization. Here again, the rule of thumb might be to establish a range associated with each specific job description.

Note whether the anomalies in your payroll data always favor male workers—that could easily demonstrate a pattern of discrimination if you should ever find yourself in a defensive position. You might see the biggest pay gap in the highest executive levels rather than among the front-line workers.

The National Council for Behavioral Health is planning to open up a number of “uncomfortable conversations” this year, including issues of race and civil commitment. I’d like to suggest that we as industry also begin to examine the issue of wage inequality as well.


Julie Miller

Editor in Chief

Julie Miller


Julie Miller has more than 14 years of experience observing, analyzing and reporting on various...

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