Amy Gehrt: Pay inequality still a problem

Amy Gehrt More Content Now

Women account for more than half of the workforce in the United States, yet despite that, we still earn an average of 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Yet whenever the subject of gender inequality in the workplace arises, detractors invariably come crawling out of the woodwork.

Some seek to disprove the statistics entirely, while others claim that it may have been a problem once upon a time, but things are just peachy now and we all just need to stop buying into the outdated rhetoric. My personal favorite tactic, however, is the one that attempts to turn the tables, claiming — with a straight face — that women actually get farther than they should because of their gender, not in spite of it.

One need only look at the executive ranks of corporate America to see that gender inequality is still flourishing — even among those who are tops in their fields.

An Associated Press/Equilar pay study released this week found that CEO compensation went up for the fourth straight year in 2013, and median pay for chief executives topped $10 million for the first time.

Granted, it’s hard to call any of those CEOs underpaid. (In fact, the sheer insanity of those eye-popping paychecks is even more mind-bending when compared to the fact that workers’ pay has stagnated, for the most part, with many of us not having received a raise of even a single cent in years, but that’s a topic for another time.) However, look at the list of the top 10 highest-paid CEOs and it’s readily apparent that not a single woman is among them. And, while the study shows the median pay package for women was slightly higher than men — $11.7 million versus $10.5 million — that seems far less impressive knowing that only 12 females were factored in, compared to 325 males.

And the pay discrepancy isn’t the only proof the glass ceiling, while less apparent at a glance, still exists.

The recent dismissal of former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson is another prime example of gender inequality in the workplace.

Reporters at the New Yorker and NPR wrote that Abramson was fired after discovering her total compensation package was considerably below what predecessor Bill Keller was given. The Times denies that, saying she was dismissed due to “an issue with management in the newsroom.”

So just what was that “issue,” if not pay? One scenario suggests Abramson fought with fellow managers over how to run the website, while another claims she was unpopular in the newsroom.

We will likely never know, but regardless of which of the three it was, what strikes me most is that words like “pushy,” “tough,” “brusque” and “abrasive” keep being bandied about as justification for her firing.

Those words can probably be used to describe top execs in almost any business in the world — male or female — and the Times has long had a reputation for employing leaders who possess those very same characteristics. The only apparent difference seems to be that those leaders were men, while Abramson was a woman and therefore, the obvious implication is, she should have been what — more soft and feminine?

Still not convinced? Let’s briefly examine one final, telling example: General Motors CEO Mary Barra.

Last weekend, my mom and I watched an episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” that focused on the GM recall. I drive an older GM vehicle — a 2007 Pontiac that has had myriad problems since I bought it — so we watched with particular interest.

However, the possible risk to my safety wasn’t what caused us to suddenly look at each other, mouths agape. It was this little gem, uttered by CBS analyst Frank Luntz on “CBS This Morning” about Barra and her handling of the situation: “She’s a mom with two kids. Her first responsibility isn’t as CEO of the company. As a mom with two children, she could personally relate to those people who lost their family members.”

Neither of us could believe that, in this day and age, a news analyst — particularly someone employed by a national network news organization — could utter such a blatantly sexist statement.

If Barra were a man with progeny, would Luntz, a Republican pollster and strategist, have said his first responsibility was as a father? Of course not. He’d be expected to act as a CEO, because that is the job for which he was hired.

The irony here is that if Barra had acted as a mother, not a CEO, she’d have been taken to task for being an “emotional” woman who was unable to separate her personal feelings from her professional responsibilities.

So tell me again there isn’t a gender equality gap in America.


Amy Gehrt is the city editor of the Pekin (Ill.) Daily Times. She may be reached at, or on Twitter @AmyGehrt. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Pekin Daily Times or this publication.