Fifty years have passed since the Equal Pay Act went into effect, guaranteeing that women receive pay equal to men for doing equal work.
But equality of pay has not been achieved in the workplace arena, most women have found. Statistics show that women still earn 77 cents for every $1 earned by a man doing the same job.
It’s a meager 18-cent improvement pointed out by Dottie King, president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, when she spoke Tuesday at the Women’s Equality Day Luncheon of the Federally Employed Women organization at the Crane Surface Warfare Center.
Many factors play into the lack of equality, despite the federal mandate, King said.
Some factors remain in place — sexism, discrimination, sexual harassment — even 50 years later.
But some factors are internal, King said. Women sometimes hold themselves back by lacking confidence, compromising career goals, and internalizing negative messages that say it is wrong to be outspoken, aggressive and more powerful than men, she said.
“Men are promoted based on their ‘potential’,” King said. “Women are promoted based on past accomplishments. They must prove themselves at every level.”
King said that as she worked on her doctoral dissertation a few years ago, she looked at college research, admissions data and an attitude inventory of females in college.
One theme that emerged unintentionally, and unexpectedly, was the “need for male permission” to be successful, King said. She found that women who had a supportive male mentor in middle school were more likely to pursue the STEM areas of science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
She could relate to that experience herself. A male middle school math teacher told King that she was good in math. So, knowing that she intended to become a teacher, she chose to pursue mathematics rather than English teaching because of that teacher’s encouragement.
King said that while many professional women set a good example of success both at work and at home, many young women today do not know if they can or want to balance work and a family. That is why education should teach females at the middle school level to “aspire higher” to reach for their best achievement. By high school, it is often too late for many girls who have already decided to drop out of STEM fields.
“If a woman opts out of STEM too early, it is affecting her earning power for life,” King said.
As the president of an all-women’s college, who previously taught in a co-ed university environment, King said that she did not notice the subtle differences between male and female students until she first taught at SMWC. But she soon saw that in all-female classes, the women were not hesitant to raise their hands to ask questions. In her prior co-ed classes, usually only men took the risk of raising their hands or asking questions. The females did not want to seem weaker in intelligence or knowledge, she inferred.
“Women’s colleges empower women to find their voice. It changes them forever,” she said.
It has her concerned that women today seem to have lower aspirations concerning their careers and their futures.
She admitted that she, herself, worked as an adjunct professor for 17 years before getting serious about her own career.
To change the trend, she encourages professional men and women to encourage girls and young women to “lean in” to what they are good at and accept compliments. It builds confidence, and it can build earning power.
Women have lost a little momentum on their trailblazing of 50 years ago, she said, but that trend can be turned around.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.