From gendered pay inequities to paycheck fairness

In the early days of PR, men comprised the majority of practitioners in the field. Today, women are the majority, with recent studies placing the profession's female proportion between 60 and 80 percent.

In the early days of PR, men comprised the majority of practitioners in the field. Today, women are the majority, with recent studies placing the profession's female proportion between 60 and 80 percent. 

Yet women in PR still earn less money than men. This is true even when things like years of professional experience, education, and organizational roles are taken into account.

On April 11, I presented research from PRSA's National Committee on Work, Life & Gender regarding the gendered pay gap in PR as part of a congressional lunch panel sponsored by the American Association of University Women. Other panelists included representatives from the legal, engineering, and academic communities. The good news, I suppose, is that women in PR are not alone in getting paid less than men.

The bad news? That few people seem to care, except when a woman executive at Manning, Selvage & Lee files a $100 million lawsuit against her employer, alleging gender discrimination in salary and promotion. Or, when female employees of Wal-Mart sue the company for pay discrimination in a case that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

I can't speak to the specific lawsuits in question, of course, but I can tell you that women in PR have earned less than men since researchers began tracking these numbers in 1979. That year, women in PR earned 58 cents on the dollar earned by men, for an “inequity ratio” of 58 cents on the dollar. If years of professional experience were accounted for, the adjusted inequity ratio in 1979 would be 72 cents.

In 1991, the inequity ratio in PR was 74 cents unadjusted, and 89 cents adjusted for professional experience. In 2010, the inequity ratio was 78 cents unadjusted, but down to 86 cents adjusted for professional experience.

These numbers were run by David Dozier, Ph.D., my colleague at San Diego State University. Dr. Dozier has been studying the gendered pay gap since before I was old enough to know what the word “pay” even meant, much less the words “gender” or “inequity.”

But today, I do understand those words, and I'm not happy about what I know.

There are no easy fixes to the persistent problem of gendered pay inequities. One possible solution, though, is legislation to mandate fairness in salaries.

On April 12, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in Congress. This legislation would require employers to offer equal pay for equal work, and to put in place tracking mechanisms to ensure paycheck fairness for all employees.

Write to your congressional representatives and demand that they vote to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Paycheck fairness is critical in PR. Lower wages paid to women means lower wages for the profession as a whole; that's basic math. Lower wages in the profession make PR less attractive to the best job candidates; that's the economics of the job market. Poorer quality practitioners make the PR function less valuable to our clients and employers; that's the business case for gendered pay equity.

Paycheck fairness matters for men and for women, for the practitioners of today and those of tomorrow. And it matters for the status of our profession and for the value of PR in the business community.

Bey-Ling Sha, Ph.D, APR, is an associate professor of PR at San Diego State University. She chairs the PRSA's National Committee on Work, Life & Gender.

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