The Sun News

Q&A with Laurie Shaw

City of residence: Centerville

Occupation: Academic adviser, Middle Georgia State College, Warner Robins campus

Q: The American Association of College Women named Tuesday Equal Pay Day.

A: That’s right. It’s the day determined as how long it typically takes a woman to make as much as a man did in 2014 in the same job.

Q: So, if a man made $60,000 in 2014, it would take until Tuesday, this year, for a woman to earn $60,000.

A: Unfortunately, yes. On average, working the same job, that’s the case. Current research shows women earn only 78 cents to the dollar compared to what a man earns.

Q: Why do you think that is?

A: There are so many reasons, but one is that women don’t need higher salaries, that they only need money as secondary income because men are always the primary breadwinner. Again, research shows that’s wrong. Women are often the primary earner. And something not often thought about, later in life that salary determines Social Security and retirement benefits, so being shortchanged now has an impact in the future, too.

Q: Is it legal to pay women less for the same work?

A: No. It’s not legal to discriminate with pay. But often it’s against company policy to discuss pay, so there may not be an awareness of disparity. One of those “aha” moments came a few years back in a major case out of Alabama. She filed legal action that went to the Supreme Court and resulted in one of the first laws President Obama signed. It is illegal, but unfortunately there seem to be ways companies find to get around it.

Q: Is the problem regional? Is it worse in the South than say, New York or Washington, D.C.?

A: It’s nationwide. There are disparities in every single state. There are differences depending on population and the number of employers state to state, but it’s in every state.

Q: Has there been improvement?

A: Not like you’d think. It’s held steady for about the past five or six years and it doesn’t appear to be good-or-bad-economy driven. In 1989 AAUW research showed we were at 68 cents to the dollar of women earning what men make, so there has been movement over time but not like you’d think. We hoped it would narrow much more quickly.

Q: What about employment sectors? Any occupations better or worse than others?

A: Typically, the bigger gaps come in the traditionally female professions like teaching, nursing, clerical -- wherever there’s been what you might call pink collar professions. If it’s been considered mainly female at one time there’s a bigger gap. Gaps in corporate roles, science, engineering, math, technical and similar jobs have closed more.

Q: That’s surprising. You’d think women entering previously all-male professions would have a bigger gap.

A: But that’s the case. There are gaps in all, but greater in the traditionally women-held jobs now that more and more men are entering those roles.

Q: AAUW has major involvement in promoting higher education among girls and women and a powerful reading program, Reading is Fundamental. Involvement in the equal pay issue seems complementary.

A: Right, we work with young females to seek education and enter good fields so obviously they need to be paid appropriately. Women don’t pay less for their education; they should be compensated equally at work. With more women attending and graduating from colleges and universities you’d think finding employment and getting good jobs right out of school would be the ticket, but here again, a 2012 study of graduating women showed a pay gap already one year into working.

Q: What are some ways AAUW is approaching equal pay issues?

A: We have lobbying efforts at the federal and local levels. We have advocacy programs to raise awareness, educate, support research and similar efforts. Regarding education, we have such things as the Start Smart Workshop presented at colleges and universities that teach salary research and negotiating skills and other tools to secure the highest salary possible in a first job. We also have legal advocacy. We raise funds to help pay fees in major cases involving equal pay. I’m currently involved in that.

Q: How so? And what is the local AAUW group?

A: We’re the Houston Peach Branch of the AAUW and I’m chair of the legal advocacy fund as well as being past state AAUW president. We mainly do fundraising to help national-impact cases, not just in equal pay but also involving sexual assault and sexual discrimination cases.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell.