How Much Is She Worth?

As she was about to go out on stage to accept the job as the first woman to chair a state Republican party, Elly Peterson was told that that the party could not pay her what her male predecessor had earned “because she was a woman.”  Instead, she was advised she would be paid nearly 30 percent less.

Peterson was naturally angry, and admitted later that she had considered crying. But she forged ahead and took the job–and the next year gave herself a raise.

Nearly 50 years later, the wage discrepancies between men and women still persist. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported last week that the average starting salary of a female college graduate was 17 percent less than a male graduate. The study found that even when the numbers were adjusted for the fact that more men may choose careers with higher-paying salaries (think computer programmer versus elementary school teacher), the disparity persisted.

I can honestly say that I never knowingly accepted a salary that was less than that of an equally qualified male counterpart.  On the other hand, I know that the experience of some of my friends was quite different.

What I do know is that when I was a principal in a consulting company that I helped found, I discovered that when the time came to set our own salaries, my sense of “what I was worth” was less than the dollar amount my two male colleagues pegged for themselves. They joked that if I wanted to accept less, that was fine with them. But instead I accepted the salary they were earning.

My gut tells me there is a lot of this that goes on. And, unfortunately, in tight economic times, probably more salaries are negotiated downward–for both men and women.

Women’s salaries may never equal men’s in the aggregate–but it would be nice if they at least started out that way when they came out of college.


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