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Mr. President: Mind the Gender Gap

The people are talking about it on television and in newspapers and magazines. Of course, I refer to the positive effect that President Obama’s election is expected to have on young African-American men and on the conversation about race. Jonathan … Read More

By / November 10, 2008

The people are talking about it on television and in newspapers and magazines. Of course, I refer to the positive effect that President Obama’s election is expected to have on young African-American men and on the conversation about race. Jonathan Kaufman and Gary Fields, in "Election of Obama Recasts National Conversation on Race," in The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ describe African-Americans who feel that they can now hold their heads a "little higher" and, as important, hide behind fewer excuses in terms of their own achievement. In addition, white folk may feel that, in voting for Obama, they have atoned for their considerable historical sins and either are no longer "racists," or will no longer be perceived as such. Here’s what’s missing from the national conversation. In what way will electing another man, even a man of color, to be our Authority-in-Chief, psychologically effect young girls and women? Are they also holding their heads higher, are they also now empowered to break glass ceilings without any excuse for failure? Perhaps and yet: If we still conceive of God as a tall man, and imperial authority as residing in a man, how does this enable women to become like them, as opposed to merely marry or sleep with them? According to Jena McGregor, in her Business Week article, "Gender Pay Gap: Still Alive at the Top, Too," women (working full-time) still make 79 cents on the male dollar. Well, this is slow and painful progress. When I started out in this, the "longest revolution," American women made 59 cents on the male dollar and were locked out of most high-paying positions. Imagine that: It took a mass movement to achieve twenty cents in forty one years. Holding aside lower paying jobs where, some have argued, womens’ lower compensation is due to their leaving to have children or due to a decision to work only part-time, McGregor examined the compensation only for corporate CEOs. "The Corporate Library, a corporate governance research firm, is just out with a 2008 study of more than 3,000 North American companies which documents that indeed, "total compensation for women CEOs lags behind male CEOs after all." In short, female CEOs make about 85% of "male total actual pay." Interestingly, on paper, the women start out with slightly higher base salaries but "add in cash bonuses, perks and stock compensation–the goodies that really get CEO pay skyrocketing– and the differential is clear. The gap is the widest for female CEOs of the largest companies, who make less than two thirds of their male counterparts." And now for some more good news: Only 3 percent of the CEOs are women–a "shockingly low number in any major Western economy" said Senior Research Associated, Paul Hodgson. And further: Male CEOs are seen as responsible for increasing or decreasing the company’s wealth–but, according to co-author Clara Kulich, when female CEOs do so"[boards are] more prone to use external situations, economic situations" to explain their performances. There is almost an "indifference" to the women leader’s impact. According to Merissa Marr, also in today’s Wall Street Journal, Catalyst, a New York research group, found that women hold 15.4% of the top jobs (not the CEO positions) in Fortune 500 companies. However, this is a decrease 16.4% in 2005. Now, due to mainly male leaders, our nation has suffered an economic meltdown of gigantic proportions. Many men and their families will suffer; women as full-time wage earners and single heads of household will suffer more. So: I would like our national conversation about race to be expanded to one about gender as well. And, I would like people to grapple with the issue of how electing a male leader, even an eloquent and inspiring male leader, will translate, psychologically, into elevated ambitions for girls and women.

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