The Gender Wage Gap Task Force in Connecticut issued its report last month with both findings and recommendations on a continued disparities between what men and women, on average, earn. In doing so, it recognized that there are multiple factors that are responsible for the gap in its view.  It paints a far more complicated picture of the wage gap than some politicians suggest.

As it detailed:

Understanding this inequity is not a simple matter. Many factors contribute to the overall wage gap including education and skills, experience, union membership, training, performance, hours worked and the careers women and men choose. However, even after these factors are controlled for, an estimated wage gap of 5-10% remains. The task force has identified six key contributors to the gender wage gap in Connecticut: unconscious bias, occupational segregation, lower starting salaries and positions for women, women’s slower career advancement, the existence of a glass ceiling and a lack of support for working families.

Mara Lee, from the Hartford Courant, does a nice job recapping some of the key findings.  Her take?

The report says that researchers have determined there are two reasons for that disparity: women don’t negotiate salary offers as often as men, and there may be subtle biases among bosses, even ones they don’t realize they have.

The report gives an example of a study of students graduating from Carnegie Mellon with master’s degrees, which found that 57 percent of men negotiated salary offers and 7 percent of women did. The men’s salaries were 7.6 percent higher than the women. And that $4,000 was almost the exact amount more that people who negotiated were paid compared to those who didn’t.

What might we see as a result of the report? There are a number of recommendations, but surprisingly few of them touch on changes to the legal system.

First, it suggests that Connecticut “align” its Family Medical Leave Act with the federal Family Medical Leave Act by expanding it to include companies with 50 or more employees.

If the General Assembly does take that up, legislators should consider narrowing the differences between the two statutes.  For example, Connecticut gives employees 16 weeks of leave over a 24 month period, instead of the federal 12 weeks of leave every twelve months, which can be confusing at times and leaves to strange results that allows employees to get 16 weeks of leave the first year and then another 12 weeks during the second year — far more than just the 16 weeks first contemplated under Connecticut law.

The report also recommends supporting paid leave programs, like those in New Jersey and California. Connecticut is currently studying various proposals.

Employers in Connecticut should remain cognizant of both the issues that this report raises and the legislative developments that may arise from it as a result.

Earlier today, I visited with John Dankosky on his wonderful WNPR show, "Where We Live".  You can listen to the replay on its website here.  

In the discussion, we touched on a variety of topics including the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act, which did not get through a procedural vote last week.

As I’ve said on this blog before, there is no doubt that gender discrimination still exists in our society and must be eliminated.  Indeed, there is also no debate that there is a median wage gap between men and women when looking at the raw statistics.

The issue we discussed today is: Why? Why do women tend to make less than men?  Is gender discrimination the reason? (No, according to a recent U.S. Census study and a 2009 study commissioned by the United States Department of Labor.)

If persistent gender discrimination isn’t the reason (or the main reason) for the gender wage gap, then are new laws, like the Paycheck Fairness Act bill necessary or a solution?

(As readers will no doubt know, this blog has continued to taken an avidly apolitical stance focusing instead on what the impact on any proposed legislation might be on employers so I leave it to politicians to debate the merits of the actual bill.)

But the suggestion that we do not have laws on the books to protect equal pay for equal work is a false one.   We already have an existing strict liability law on the books (the Equal Pay Act) that prohibits employers from treating men and women differently in the workplace except in limited circumstances. Here’s the key text:

No employer…shall discriminate… between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex…

Notably, a seniority system is one area where an employer IS allowed to treat employee differently. This most often occurs in a union environment where an employee who may be doing the same job as an employee 30 years younger will get paid more because of seniority.  If the older employee is male and the newer employee is female, then that would explain a wage gap.  Would unions go along with changing seniority systems to close the gender wage gap as well? 

These are complicated and nuanced issues. Everyone agrees that the gender wage gap can’t be closed with legislation alone and its important to discuss the other factors that everyone agrees also leads to this wage gap: job choices, negotiations, time out of the workplace to raise a family, etc.

Here are a few resources if you’d like more background on the subject:

Overall, nearly a third of the gender pay gap (27.4 percent) can be explained by differences in occupations, one-fifth (21.9 percent) can be explained by industry, and 10.5 percent can be explained by labor force experience.
This means that if women worked in the same jobs as men and had the same educational and experience levels, same propensity to be in a union, same racial and ethnic make-up as men—all factors we can measure—the gender pay ratio would rise from 80 percent to 91 percent of men’s pay levels. In other words, most of gender pay inequity can be explained by these factors.

Hopefully, today’s show can continue  to elevate the discussion of the gender wage gap into one of substance, rather than one where people are either "for" or "against" equal pay.  I thank John Dankosky for inviting me to appear.


Been a busy week so there’s time only for a few things to some recent and upcoming publications, podcasts and radio shows that I’m involved with.  My thanks to the respective producers or reporters for the opportunity.