Gender pay gap shrinking but here to stay, attorney says

Eighty-four cents: That’s how much an average woman in Nevada employed full-time makes for every dollar a man makes, according to a report released in recognition of Tuesday, Equal Pay Day.

Compared to a 36-cent national gap in 1980, “We’re going in the right direction,” said Jessica Green, a Las Vegas employment and professional negligence attorney with Lipson Neilson Cole Seltzer & Garin. But, she said, there’s still a ways to go.

The report, conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families, ranked Nevada as having the 11th smallest cents-on-the-dollar gap in the nation. Green, 33, says that isn’t surprising.

“So many of our earners are in service-oriented jobs that come with a structured pay rate at the entry level,” Green said. “It’s when people have the ability to negotiate that it makes a difference. If you looked at middle and upper management in the service industry, you’d see discrepancies between men and women.”

A 2015 Enterprise Policy Institute report found the pay gap is much narrower in low-level jobs than in higher-paying ones. In lower level, hourly jobs, the minimum wage helps to create a level playing field, along with capped weekly hours. On the other hand, women in higher-earning professions feel the pay gap much more.

Equal pay for equal work

The story behind the pay gap is messy. The phrase “equal pay for equal work” has certainly made the rounds, and for many people a “pay gap” implies gender discrimination — but there’s more to the story.

Women make different career choices than men. Within high-paying professions, women tend to choose positions that pay less, according to the Enterprise Policy Institute report. For example, in the medical field women tend to choose lower-paying specializations, like pediatrics instead of orthopedic surgery. In the legal field women tend to work in lower-paid settings, such as nonprofits.

“In environments that are less inclusive, women are sometimes driven to specializations that are lower-paying because they’re often times less demanding,” Green said. “I have peers who have left private practice for government positions because the schedules are more conducive to raising families. Even for women without children, however, I think women are less likely to choose the highest paying positions — partly due to societal messages. What is acceptable as a man and labeled ‘aggressive’ is discouraged for a woman and labeled ‘rude.’ These messages stymie women’s ability to obtain the higher level positions.”

Also, within these higher-paying salaried jobs, women are less likely to “lean in” and ask for more cash in hand as frequently as men.

Green said her firm has a pay structure in place that does not emphasize negotiating skills.

“We are aware of the factors by which we’re judged and there is little room for negotiation,” Green said. “The factors are objective and results driven which means we are evaluated on our merits rather than our ability to negotiate higher salaries – something that men have excelled at historically.”

The career cost of children

Having children also comes at a cost. translates into an opportunity cost for women.

“Historically, women earn less as they age or build their families,” Green said. “My firm helps counteract that by maintaining a strong maternity leave policy that can be tailored to each person’s needs. They also provide full pay for a substantial amount of that time, so women aren’t forced to come back to work before they’re ready to support their families.”

The EPI report states that just 12 percent of private-sector employees had any access to paid family leave in 2014 while childcare is “more expensive than rent in 500 out of the 618 metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas across the country.”

For many women, that’s a compelling reason to reduce their working hours or to take time off.

A 2008 Harvard study found that an 18-month career break was associated with a 29 percent drop in earnings for Harvard-educated mid-career lawyers and doctorate degrees, and a 41 percent drop in earnings for MBAs.

As is, the pay gap is here to stay, Green said.

“We’re seeing some promising advancement though. Women make up only 36 percent of the legal profession in America, but two of the seven Nevada Supreme Court justices are women and one of the three appellate court justices is a woman. And, though it is about 35 years late, Nevada just ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. So, there is a lot to be hopeful about,” Green said.

Contact Nicole Raz at nraz@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @JournalistNikki on Twitter.

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