The Cost of Career: A Woman’s Dilemma of Pay or Passion
Collegecensus.com recently posted a list of the highest paying jobs for women in 2019. The fact that we, as a society, are going into yet another decade where lists like this are necessary is highly disappointing. The culprit? The gender wage gap, it would seem. This term is often used to refer to a difference in pay between women and men in the same fields. However, while the pay difference is the most publicized symptom, the wage gap is merely an umbrella term for a larger, multi-tiered gender bias affecting the American workplace and the nation as a whole. It encompasses pay differences yes, but also the roles assigned to gender from childhood, the differences in accessibility to employment, and the chances of upward mobility in the workplace. This country is plagued by a notion of male dominance that is so ingrained that it creates an environment in which women struggle to thrive and in which the only foreseeable way for the wage gap to shrink is for women to continue to break into male dominated fields and to rise into positions of power themselves.
Issues regarding the wage gap start with the gender roles we assign to children. We always ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, and you hear young girls say they want to be president or a meteorologist. However, the statistics in related college majors don’t reflect that, so what happened between that simple question and the choice of a career? It’s simple; society encourages boys to go into tough and “manly” work like construction or business, whereas women are encouraged to go into nurturing fields like education and nursing. This is where the wage gap begins, in the things we tell our children. It is 2019, and not all women want to be nurturing. They want to be the boss, but so many are deterred by this doubt of success in a “man’s” field that is instilled in their minds at a very young age.
The wage gap is not exclusive, however, to male dominated fields. In fact, the jobs that women flocked to when they first entered the workforce, have seen pay cuts for female workers, meaning that even if a woman chooses a more “feminine” job, she is still likely to make less than her male counterparts. A prime example of this is the healthcare industry, where, as of the end of 2018, female nurses made 91 percent of that earned by male nurses. This divide is even greater when you look at the earning of medical specialist, physicians, and surgeons, positions in which women earned only about 71 percent of men with the same level of training.
More problematic still, is that the gender roles society assigns create a gender exclusivity in many fields that is still hard to break through to this day. This limits the upward mobility for women in certain industries by erecting a glass ceiling that women must try to break. This is apparent in employment trends in the financial sector. As of 2017, only 16% of financial advisers were made up by women. This lack of female representation in the career field has led it to hold the biggest pay disparity with women making a measly 58% of the earnings of men in the field. A career so completely dominated by men creates an environment with only men making decisions. When considering promotions and raises, male financial executives gravitate toward other male employees. This age-old “boys’ club” mentality in this and many other fields creates not only barriers for qualified women seeking mobility, but also helps to keep the wage gap in place.
As a woman entering a traditionally male dominated field, I have seen firsthand the way the majority flocks together. I once took a calculus class where only six of the thirty students were female. This may seem like an insignificant experience but observing how the men congregated together was a powerful thing. It reminded me of the challenges that I will face in the field of business management. But more importantly, having this experience shed light on what must happen in my field and many in order to close the wage gap. I realized that it is inevitable that most men will lift each other up before considering a woman for the same positions. Therefore, women must band together and break through these glass ceilings that are keeping us down. If men in high up positions have that much say, then it will take women in those same positions to use their influence to influence the fate of other women. The dynamic of women lifting women just as men traditionally do is dire for the shrinking of the gender pay gap.
So how do we break free from this cycle of gender inequality in the workplace? How do women rise in the ranks to help lift each other up to positions that we are qualified for but for which we are looked over due to our gender? It’s simple really, we teach our daughters that they can be whatever they want to be despite gender roles. And most importantly, if you are a woman who wants to make it in a male dominated field, you go for it. Is it fair that women have to choose between joining a field where there is potential to earn the same as a man or joining a field where you must work three times as hard to earn half of your male coworker’s wage? Absolutely not. Is it insulting that this is still a problem in 2019? Absolutely, so this is a call to action. If you are a woman who wants to “get her hands dirty” in a “man’s” occupation, do it. If we keep turning away from these jobs because of the wage gap, we will never be able to close it. We must follow our passions and rise up. Only then can we impact the pay and upward mobility of other women and pave the way for a new era in which we finally reach a greater level of equality in the workplace. Should closing the gender pay gap fall solely on women? Of course it’s not, but as Isabel Allande once said, “a man does what he can; a woman does what a man cannot.”