A week ago the nation observed Women’s Equality Day, commemorating the right for women to vote, officially becoming part of the U.S. Constitution.
Today, on Labor Day, we pay tribute to the social and economic achievement of American workers, many of whom are women.
Though women now account for a significant voting block nationally and there are laws in place to protect against gender discrimination in the workplace, statistics show women still make significantly less money than their male counterparts.
According to the Pennsylvania State Data Center at Pennsylvania State University’s Harrisburg Campus, the median earnings of women employed full-time in the civilian workforce in Pennsylvania were 77 percent that of the median earnings of men in 2011, the latest data available.
Women working for the federal government fared significantly better, earning 91.5 percent of what men in that field earned, with a median salary of $53,497 compared to $58,450 — the median salary among males. The median wage of women employed by private, for-profit companies was 74.2 percent of the median for male counterparts — $34,920 compared to $47,031.
Self-employed women who owned incorporated businesses earned 69.9 percent of what male owners of incorporated businesses earned, with median salaries of $41,122 versus $58,832. Women who owned their own non-incorporated businesses fared worse compared to men who owned a non-incorporated business, earning only 63.4 percent of what men earned, with median salaries of $22,390 compared to $35,332.
“It’s certainly true that while to some extent the glass ceiling is in fact breaking, data demonstrates differences in male/female salaries across the board,” said Anthony Liuzzo, a Wilkes University business and economics professor and director of the school’s Arizona Business Programs.
The difference is highlighted especially in the salaries of older women who were initially hired at lower salaries than men. Women entering the workforce today and in more recent years are hired at salaries that are more comparable to men’s, Liuzzo said.
While women in middle and lower management positions have been able to bridge the gap to a great extent compared to women in upper management positions, “statistically it’s nowhere near where it should be,” he said.
There are reasons for the wage disparity in addition to gender discrimination, Liuzzo said.
Because women exit the workforce for child caring more frequently than men, it disrupts their careers, therefore, they don’t attain the same level of success in their careers; if one measures success by salary level, he said, adding that women also have tended to migrate to positions that historically have paid lower salaries.
Liuzzo points to the makeup of his classes when he started the Masters of Business Administration program at Wilkes.
“In the late ’70s and early ’80s, three quarters of the class population was male. Today, it’s about half and half,” he said.
“We can assume some of those differences (in salary) will fade away over time, but we still have a long way to go.”
Slow improvement by the numbers
Data from the state Department of Labor and Industry indicate that improvement in women’s salaries over the past few years has been slow.
In 2006, the median salary for working males 16 and older in Pennsylvania was $36,997, compared to a median salary for working females of $24,653, — 33.4 percent less. By 2011, the median male salary was $40,354 while the median female salary was $27,103 — 32.9 percent less.
The picture was only slightly better in Luzerne County, with the median female salary at $21,701 and the median male salary at $31,544 in 2006, with the median female salary 31.2 percent below the median male salary. The difference decreased to 30.5 percent in 2011, when the median female salary was $25,519 and the median male salary was $36,738.
The ball in a different court
Despite the remaining disparities, local businesswoman Ruth Corcoran says the situation for women in the working world “definitely has gotten better” since she started out on her career path.
“When I started out in banking, unless you were in the old boy’s network, you weren’t going to move up the ladder,” Corcoran, 49, of Bear Creek, said.
But the workforce is “a lot friendlier now,” she said. “Women can take maternity leave and not have any interruption at all (in their pay or position). It’s changed for the better. When I was young, it took me a while to get back in the workforce” after she took time off to bear and raise her children.
After she got out of banking, Corcoran started a public relations division for MLB Advertising in Wilkes-Barre and then left to start her own business, Corcoran Communications, which she owned for 13 years before opening the award-winning Cork Bar and Restaurant in Wilkes-Barre six years ago.
She sees the career path for her daughter to be somewhat easier than her own, especially in bigger cities such as New York and Philadelphia. “I think the opportunity is there,” she said.
“I personally think Luzerne County is behind the times,” Corcoran said. “Traditionally male positions are still around, but I do see changes. There are more women CEOs and executives than ever before.”
And while she believes initiatives such as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and low-interest loans that the Small Business Administration offers to women and minorities to start businesses, Corcoran also believes that women have to go after what they want in their careers.
“I just think that as a woman, it’s up to us to be tenacious and aggressive if we want to move up,” she said. “I think the ball’s in our court too.”