Steve Tobak recently wrote an article on bnet where he says the gender pay gap is a complete myth. He states reasons why men get paid more have to do with CHOICE rather than with an actual inequality in pay. He claims that men choose more dangerous, higher paying, often times more isolated jobs. He also claims that men typically work more hours than women. He says that men take on higher stress work, and work that requires more weekend and evening hours. Men may actually be in all these job situations, but Steve does not address why that may be. Until we do a better job of understanding the challenge a woman faces (much, much different from what a man faces) when she chooses parenthood and a career (in some cases there is no choice for career, a woman is forced into career by single parenthood), we really cannot talk about gender pay gap being a myth. Until there is a way for women to take on the same job challenges while pregnant, or while nursing a child, a gender pay gap will exist. Until there is really true equality between a woman’s parenting commitments (especially in a child’s early years) and a man’s, there will be a continued gap between the types of jobs that women “choose” vs. those that men choose. I have many, many friends who have had to make career changes when they started having babies. No matter how dedicated they are to their careers (saving running their own company, which I am very fortunate to do), a woman is forced to make choices between career, job, work, and being a “good” parent.
- Do you go back to work right after having a baby, instead of taking three months (often unpaid) of maternity leave?
- If you go right back to work, can you survive the guilt our society will put on you for leaving a tiny baby with a caregiver?
- Do you attempt to figure out how to pump milk in order to breast-feed, even when traveling, or working long hours? Or, do you give up on breast-feeding and face that guilt?
- Can you physically keep up with a man in a demanding job while eight months pregnant? Or, while three months pregnant and going through terrible morning sickness?
- Can you deal with not being taken as seriously in a business meeting when your pregnant belly is all people see when you walk into a room?
- What happens when dad is out of the picture? How do you deal with career choices that will allow you to earn more, while still being a single parent? (Yes I know that there are some men that deal with this issue, but a much, much lower percentage of men are single parents than women.)
I could continue with the list — but I think you get my point. The bottom line is that, in our society today, women still have more pressure than men to be the primary caregivers for kids. My husband is an amazing father, and truly is a partner with me in raising our three kids. But he freely admits that there is a lot less pressure on him as a working dad than I get as a working mom. He less often feels guilty for his choice, because in the scheme of things he does so much more than the average working dad does. So he is ahead of the game, while I am “behind.” The pressure is different even from our own kids. Because many of the kids my sons go to school with have moms who pick them up from school (and dads are less often seen by my sons), I am the one who gets the question from my sons:
“Mommy, why can’t you pick us up at school like all the other mommies?”
I want to make sure that everyone and anyone who reads this understands that I am not complaining about my choices and where I am in life. I have chosen my career path, and chosen to be a parent. But I am also aware of the limitations that I have to deal with. My last pregnancy with my third son was very difficult. It was hard to be pregnant and deal with the stress of running a company. It was hard to run out during a meeting to throw up when I was sick at the beginning. Or to deal with terrible, terrible back pain from sitting at the computer all day. It was extremely difficult and exhausting to breast-feed and pump for my son’s first year of life. Every meeting that was scheduled during those 12 months, every trip, every speaking opportunity had to be carefully planned so that I would still have time to pump 3-4 times per 8-10 hour period. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry. And no matter how much my husband wanted to help, there are some things he could do nothing to help me with.
How many women will choose a job that requires isolation or is extremely dangerous, if they know that sometime in the future they will want to get pregnant and have a child? How many women look at careers, and try to figure out how they will fit with the choice to become a parent, and then choose a lower-paying job that accommodates pregnancy and babyhood? There may not be anything that can be done about the gender pay gap as, for the time being, a man cannot be pregnant and cannot nurse a child. But let’s not pretend that the gender pay gap is all due to the choice made by women. Because what Steve seems to be saying in his article is:
- Women aren’t as brave and tough as men (hence, not choosing dangerous jobs)
- Women don’t work as hard as men (hence, the difference in work hours per week)
- Women won’t work in uncomfortable, isolated, undesirable locations, even for more pay
- Women don’t choose higher stress and higher paid areas of the same career category
I say these are the biggest myths of all! Any man who says women aren’t as brave or tough, should try giving birth to a child. Maybe a woman doesn’t choose dangerous jobs because she feels responsibility to a child. Maybe a woman can’t work as long as a man because she happens to be the only caregiver for a child (we know more women are in this position than men). Maybe a woman doesn’t have the choice to work in an isolated or undesirable area, because she chose to also be a mother. Maybe a woman already has so much stress in her life, she can’t choose a job that gives her more. I’m not saying that men aren’t also making career choices because they are fathers, but for the most part our society still puts more pressure on a man to produce money and a woman to produce children and take care of the children. Men aren’t made to feel guilty for making career choices that take them away from their children. Women get judged and made to feel inferior if they choose career over child. Until the day that our society really changes that (and maybe it never will), there will always be a gender pay gap that is not by choice.