Photo: Shutterstock/Orhan Cam
QEDaily: Inequity at the White House
QEDaily

QEDaily: Inequity at the White House

By Photo: Shutterstock/Orhan Cam

The Obama Administration on Wednesday was talking about the gender pay gap again. But this time it wasn’t inequity in corporate America. It was inequity inside the White House.

As The Washington Post reported, men working in the executive branch make 13 percent more than the women. As Press Secretary Josh Earnest was quick to point out, that’s actually better than the national average, which is 23 percent. And the basis for the White House disparity, officials noted, was the relative representation of men and women in more senior roles. Basically, there are significantly more men in the positions that have salaries above $100,000 a year.

But that’s often the problem these days. It’s easy to assume, as many conservatives do, that the gender pay gap simply reflects choices women make about the careers they pursue and the time they wish to spend with family. Research suggests, however, that as much as 40 percent of the gap is due to other causes. Outright discrimination can play a role. So can retrograde policies on family and medical leave. Since women still often end up doing more of the caringfor young children, as well as family members who need extended medical carethey have a harder time staying with companies and advancing. The result is under-representation of women at the highest levels. Economists have noted this isn’t good for employers, since it’s bad for retention and they end up losing good talent. But the behavior persists. And we’re still a country where women make less than men across virtually every occupation.

White House officials know this as well. It was a major topic of discussion one week ago, at a conference they sponsored on work and family. One remedy is making it possible for more people to take leavewith payin order to care for a newborn or sick relative. Another is pay transparency, so women can find out whether they’re the subject of systematic pay discrimination. The Administration has actually taken action on that front, with an executive action to end pay secrecy for federal workers and contractors. But achieving pay equity can also require more subtle changes, in culture and attitudes, even among employers who believe it’s the right thing to do. As Earnest acknowledged, “there is more that we can do to improve our record here at the White House.”

Rebecca Leber

 

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Note: We will be off on Independence Day, enjoying some parades and re-reading the Declaration of Independence. We’ll be back on Monday, July 7.

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