Sixty-two percent of West Chester University students are women. With graduation just weeks away, many WCU students are getting ready to enter a job market where gender discrimination still persists.On average, women nationwide earn just 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. That average number lowers when solely examining the wages of non-white women. African American women earn just 69 cents to every man’s dollar, while Latina women earn only 59 cents to every man’s dollar.
“Often my students think that discrimination against women doesn’t happen anymore,” Dr. Adale Sholock said, the new director of WCU’s Women’s Center, located in Lawrence. “Pay inequities based on gender are a very tangible way that we can see the operation of sexism in our society and the oppression of women.”
Pennsylvania is among the worst state offenders of unequal wages, ranking 43rd of 50 states. ?”I think that it really shows we’re not equal yet,” Rachel Blatt, a WCU senior and Sociology major, said. “It seems like women have come a long way, and we really have, but this shows that we still have a long way to go.”
Blatt experienced wage discrimination against her gender first hand. ?Blatt worked as a sales associate at a Harrisburg, Pa. clothing store for three years before transferring to the West Chester, Pa. location. At $8 an hour, Blatt figured that she was being paid more at the West Chester, Pa. location than she was at the Harrisburg, Pa. location. However, because the cost of living in West Chester, is higher than in Harrisburg, Blatt was unaware that she was actually being paid less.
“I started talking to people and I found out that $8 an hour is the amount that new hires with no experience are paid. A girl I worked with told me that when she started, our boss said that he hired women at $8 an hour and men at $9 an hour, I guess figuring that she wasn’t going to tell anyone. When I found out, I got mad and went to my boss’ boss.”
“It took me over six months of meetings and statements but I finally got $1.25 in raises total as a direct result. I was the only woman who got a raise because I was the only one who made a scene. The corporate bosses told my boss to just deal with me to get me to be quiet. Other women were aware that they were being paid less but they didn’t do anything.”
Blatt quit her sales associate job soon after. ?There are many reasons why women continue to be paid less than men. One such reason is that employees are often told not to discuss their wages with coworkers. Without the knowledge of what their coworkers are making, it is rather difficult for women to figure out if they are being paid less than their male associates.
Another factor that contributes towards unequal wages is that while men negotiate their salaries, women generally do not.
“Men have been equipped with and taught to be more self confident [than women] about their worth and abilities, so they are asking for what they think they deserve,” Sholock said.. “One thing that we can do is to teach [women] how to be more confident around pay negotiation.”
The fact that occupations are traditionally gendered is another reason for the wage gap that exists among the sexes. Traditionally male associated jobs are paid higher wages while traditionally female associated jobs are paid lower wages.
“Why is it that secretaries get paid less than construction workers or teachers get paid less than lawyers?” WCU Professor, Dr. Lisa Huebner asked. “They both require knowledge, just a different kind of knowledge.”
In honor of National Equal Pay Day on April 28, WCU’s Women’s Center Club is throwing an Equity Bake sale in Sykes to bring attention to the wage gap that still exists among men and women.
“We are going to be charging women 77 cents and men a dollar for baked goods,” second-year student Jenn Halligan said. She is the Vice President of the Women’s Center Club.
The different prices for men and women represent the difference between their wages.
“I don’t want to say that men are paying more,” Sholock said. “Women are getting a discount that reflects the amount of money that they are making as opposed to men…it’s important to really emphasize that it’s all in good fun. It’s about raising awareness about a serious issue but in a fun way.”
Women are making progress when it comes to combating wage discrimination. The Lilly Ledbetter Act of 2009 signed by President Obama, “correct[s] a disastrous Supreme Court ruling that allows bad employers to discriminate against their employees as long as they hide it for 180 days,” Illinois Democratic Representative Phil Hare said in a debate on the House floor in January.
Laws are not the only way to fix the wage discrimination problem.
?”I like to talk about how far we’ve come, but I also want to address the reality and equip WCU students with the skills that they need to succeed,” Sholock said. “The Twardowski Career Development Center and I are going to offer some workshops next year on teaching third-year and fourth-year women how to negotiate for pay, how to be financially savvy, and to prepare West Chester University women to enter the job market after graduation.”
Karen Blyton is a second-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at KB666213@wcupa.edu.