Springfield, MO

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Stop The Presses

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by Clarissa A. French

I really didn't know it was still there. But of course, that's the point. A glass ceiling is invisible until you crack your skull on it.

The Alliance of Professional Organizations, a coalition of local groups whose memberships are primarily made up of women, gave a presentation on pay equity for women at the Association for Women in Communications luncheon March 3.

The findings based on information from the Missouri Census and Missouri Census Update, U.S. Department of Labor, Fair Pay Clearinghouse, Business and Professional Women's Foundation and other sources were a shock: For every $1 the typical man makes, the typical woman takes home only 71 cents. In other words, women, on average, earn 71 percent of what men earn.

In the fields of finance, insurance and real estate, that figure drops to 65 percent: 65 cents for women vs. $1 for men. In the public sector, it rises to 81 percent: 81 cents for women vs. men's $1.

And I was not the only woman to erroneously think this battle had already been won. The study pointed out that a majority of women perceive income equality. But while "Breaking the Glass Ceiling" reported women MBAs entered the work force at the same salary as men, 10 years later those same women were earning 20 percent less than their male counterparts.

The typical woman works 15 1/2 months to earn what a man makes in a year. Also, 40 percent to 60 percent of the improvement in women's wages from 1984 to 1996 is due to a decline in men's real earnings as opposed to actual higher earnings for women.

As I was preparing to write this column, I came across a bit of serendipity: a rerun of the movie "9-to-5" on cable.

Most people are probably familiar with the plot: a trio of put-upon women office workers kidnap their boss, "a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot." While he's detained, the women revolutionize the workplace with visionary programs from work sharing and on-site day care to equal pay.

At the end of the movie, the company chairman himself praises their efforts while giving credit to their sleazy boss but balks at one new policy: equal pay.

The women rally despite their disappointment, stating the changes they have made are "only the beginning" and implying that equal pay will come.

That film was made in 1980. It is nothing less than astonishing that, 18 years later, the typical woman is still making less than the typical man.

The Business and Professional Women's Foundation states that between 1981 and 1996, the wage gap has narrowed from 59 percent to 71 percent a change of less than a penny per year. As a result, the average woman loses approximately $420,000 over a lifetime because of unequal pay practices.

This, despite the fact that wage discrimination is illegal according to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But there is some hope. There are two proposed federal fair pay acts that would beef up enforcement of the existing laws for equal pay for jobs equivalent in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.

Also, in November 1997, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission struck a blow for equal pay by declaring universities could no longer justify paying women coaches less because men's programs bring in more money, unless the universities can prove they have invested comparable amounts in both men's and women's programs.

And to the credit of companies that hire and promote women and minorities, the U.S. Department of Labor found that such companies are more profitable and receive positive customer response as a result of their good business practices.

So, why are most women still not receiving equal pay?

Part of the problem is that many women are simply not aware of their worth or that they are earning less than their male counterparts. But there are resources for enlightenment.

For example, the Fair Pay Clearinghouse, a project of the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau, provides wage and occupation information, as well as resources for fair pay efforts. The clearinghouse can be reached at 800-347-3741 or on the Internet,

Rose Kemp is the contact for our region's U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau, at 816-426-6108, and Sue McDaniel is the director of the Missouri Women's Council, at 314-751-0810.

Other information resources include Bob Simpson, at the Missouri Job Council, 887-4343; Susan Bianchi-Sand at the National Committee on Pay Equity, 202-331-7343; and Heidi Hartmann, economist at the Institute for Women's Policy Research, 202-785-5100.

A presentation of the Alliance program on pay equity can be arranged by contacting Alliance President Brandy Mc-Shane, of the Greene law firm, at 866-6111.

And women can take action on a personal level.

Alliance recommends that women ask for specifics on pay ranges; benchmark their efforts by talking to friends outside the office to learn pay ranges for similar jobs; ask how they can be more valuable to their organizations; and ask for specifics on what they should be doing to earn pay increases.

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