…An entire movement has grown up around the factoid that American women make about 80 percent of the pay of men. It is a reliable talking point of Democrats who insist the country is racked by a â€œWar on Women.â€ A raft of proposed legislation purports to remedy the discrimination exposed by the damning number. It is the only bad statistic with a day devoted to it, â€œEqual Pay Day,â€ which falls in April to signify how much longer women have to work into the New Year to make what men earned in the previous year. Tradition says that the day must be marked with wailing and gnashing of teeth, and lots of press releases from advocacy organizations.
Never mind that the figure is crude and misleading. The latest data from the Labor Department say that women made 82.2 percent of what men made in the first quarter of 2012. Thatâ€™s a considerable gap, but comparing all women versus all men is not particularly telling when all sorts of variables â€” occupation, levels of experience, education, hours worked â€” are in play.
â€œWomen gravitate,â€ Carrie Lukas of the Independent Womenâ€™s Forum writes, â€œtoward jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility. Simply put, many women â€” not all, but enough to have a big impact on statistics â€” trade higher pay for other desirable job characteristics.â€
And a big shift is already upon us:
Women earn about 60 percent of bachelorâ€™s and masterâ€™s degrees, and are reaching parity with men in medical and law schools. Their attitudes to work are changing. In a historic reversal, more young women ages 18 to 34 (66 percent) than young men (59 percent) say high-paying work is one of the most important things or very important, according to a new Pew survey.
In light of all this, it stands to reason that the wage gap will narrow, even if it doesnâ€™t disappear. A study by a research organization called Reach Advisors shows that single women in their 20s make 105 percent of what single men in their 20s make in urban areas, and 120 percent â€œin certain cities with a heavily knowledge-driven employment base.â€
But that’s not all.
With a growing pool of highly qualified women and intensified investor pressure on boards to diversify corporate management teams, companies “are hiring more high-potential women who could be CEO,” says Judith von Seldeneck, head of Diversified Search, a Philadelphia executive-recruitment firm.
The ranks of female chief executives remain thin, with women in the top spot at just 35 Fortune 1000 companies. But the pipeline is promising, says Maggie Wilderotter, CEO of Frontier Communications Corp., FTR 0.00% adding that she has noticed a number of “women in waiting” at Xerox Corp. XRX -1.55% and Procter & Gamble Co., PG +0.30% where she is a board member.
She adds that she wouldn’t be surprised if the number of major-company female CEOs doubled by 2017. At her own employer, a diversified telecom firm, half of Ms. Wilderotter’s six direct reports are women.
“If you want a CEO role, you have to prepare for it with a vengeance,” says Denise Morrison, chief of Campbell Soup Co. CPB -0.09% and Ms. Wilderotter’s sister.