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Gender pay gap improves little in Western Pennsylvania

| Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009

The wage gap between women and men in Pennsylvania narrowed to about 20 percent during the past 12 years, with women still earning less than men in comparable jobs, a government report released Monday shows.

The median wage for a woman working full time in the state was $642 per week in 2008, compared with $815 for a man. That's about 79 cents for every dollar of a man's earnings, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationally, the median weekly wage of a female worker was about the same.

The wage gap has narrowed since 1997, when women earned about 72 cents for every dollar paid to male workers for the same jobs.

"It's good news that we're seeing some progress, that we're moving in the right direction," said Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, a nonprofit based Downtown. "We have had one of the worst wage gaps in the country."

The report showed the pace of improvement for women slowed from 2005 to 2007 but resumed last year.

"It doesn't seem so good. There's not been as much progress as in other decades, like the '80s," said Linda Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University and author of "Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide."

The slow diminishing of the wage gap between female and male workers in the 21st century is not enough for Angela Arrington, director of Duquesne University's Women's Executive Leadership Program.

"It really hasn't changed that much. We want to work to see that more women are compensated fairly," Arrington said.

One reason the wage gap endures is a lack of female executives at companies and organizations, which leads to "a lack of executive-level support" for other women, said Arrington, who leads Duquesne's Center for Corporate and Executive Leadership.

In some cases, women are not seeking jobs that carry higher pay and require longer work hours because they want more work-family life balance, Arrington said. The corporate culture at companies might not know how to help women because of the demands of the business, Arrington said.

Women might be at a disadvantage because they are not asking for more money in salary negotiations, or "not asking for the job assignments or the training or the projects that would put them at the next level," Babcock said.

Pay inequity has the unintended consequence of prompting more women to turn to entrepreneurship, said Jayne H. Huston, director of the E-Magnify women's business center at Seton Hill University in Greensburg.

"When they continue to see they are not being appreciated or their contribution is not being valued in the workplace," women seek to become business owners at about twice the rate of men, Huston said.

The overall statistics, however, might not show a true picture of the wage gap because those statistics don't take into account differences in experience, the responsibilities of the jobs and how long the women were in the work force compared with the men, said Harold D. Miller, president of Future Strategies LLC, a Downtown consulting firm.

Women tend to work in nonprofits, where the pay scale differs from the corporate world, said Miller, who believes the gender pay gap will narrow as more women move into jobs with higher responsibility and pay.

Arnet believes the future looks good for women to close the pay gap because most workers are women, most college undergraduates are women, and most students entering law school and medical school are women.

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