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Earning Power!: Science of Change: Wage Gap Tipping Point

Monday, November 28, 2005

Science of Change: Wage Gap Tipping Point

Most people think that women’s earnings will steadily increase over time until the wage gap between men and women is closed. According to some estimates, such as predictions by the Women’s Committee of 200, it will take another 50 years to do so. After all, its taken 40 years for the gap to move from 59 cents to about 76 cents to a man’s dollar.

Others are more skeptical, as the Institute for Women’s Policy Research suggests, the wage gap has recently been slightly increasing year over year. As an example from 2003 to 2004, women’s average salaries against men have worsened.

If we were able to have men view the wage gap as a man’s issue rather than a woman’s issue, would we be able to begin paying people equally regardless of gender? What would it take to have this idea reach a “tipping point”, or critical mass?

Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller The Tipping Point suggested that social change happens more like an epidemic than a slow, steady rise. Although woman have been steadily pushing for equal workplace rights for years, perhaps what is needed is the other half of the human race to have a thought change. The idea that men matter can be a message that changes ideas and behavior like an outbreak, and leads to sudden and surprising solutions.

A meme is an idea that behaves like a virus, in order to transmit new behavior from one man to another. How would this actually work?

1) Dispel the myths. In order to get past bias fears have to be addressed upfront.
2) Reiterate the benefits. In order to have a head and heart change a personal connection must be made, rather than relying on legislation.
3) Show the way. When we have courage and understanding, we can overcome paralysis to move toward solutions together.

So what are the benefits to men who hire, promote and pay women as they would men?

Solving issues of social injustice and human rights may motivate some men. However, from a corporate standpoint men need to understand the bottom line. Solving women’s issues leads to decreased capital outlay and increased profits. How? Companies mitigate risks by lessening exposure to needless litigation. In addition, there is evidence that companies with women in key leadership roles perform better financially. Barriers to effective interactions between employees are also eliminated decreasing turnover, giving more time on task, and allowing a faster time to market.

From a personal standpoint, men who sponsor wives, daughters and female coworkers can increase their own work life balance and enjoy the benefits of flexible options at work. Dual income families have improved total economic viability, and the better prospects help overcome poverty and improve the survival of the family. This load sharing can also improve men’s mental and physical health over time.
Some men will feel they have a fuller humanity, giving their children more options than they had, getting some relief from the pressure to be the sole provider, and enjoying a more active fatherhood and commitment to interpersonal relationships with their family.

Are these benefits enough to overcome the suspicions between genders? They ought to be enough to make us curious to explore joint solutions with men in power within a non-threatening framework. The goal is a corporate culture transformation. Restoring hope in the negotiations may be what is needed to bring enough positive passion to the wage issue that it won’t still be our grandchildren’s issue 50 years from now.


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