Many readers have responded to my callout last week about the kind of cultural norms and pressures that might be affecting the way women make career decisions—which in turn affect their pay in the short or long run.
One theme that’s come up in these accounts is that of a hostile work environment. Namely, that women are aware of them in certain industries and—no surprise—don’t want to work in them. This is just rational calculation, since what people get out of having a job is rarely just about money. Jobs not only give us meaning, they determine our schedules and time-use, give us colleagues (or clients or patients or customers) to interact with, and give us tasks to accomplish. For women, a hostile environment, or one that demonstrates a lack of opportunity to grow or rise through the ranks, is undoubtedly a factor in career decision-making.
Before getting to our reader stories, I want to share part of a testimony from Betsey Stevenson, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers who was chief economist at the Labor Department from 2010 to 2011, from an U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hearing earlier this year (the bolding is my own):
Implicit discrimination has proven to be more difficult to eradicate than explicit discrimination has … Importantly, the 79 percent figure does not tell us how much discrimination is occurring. Even today, women have different educational attainment, work in different occupations and industries, and have different workplace experience. These differences have explained part of the wage gap in the past. During the 1980s and 1990s, women’s education and experience gains were the primary drivers narrowing the gender wage gap. Today, women receive more post-secondary degrees than men, so accounting for education actually widens the pay gap.
Over the past 40 years, women have also been increasingly entering occupations that were historically male-dominated. However, even with this progress, differences in occupation and industry persist.