Who wins when women are paid less?

Many of us can remember that first professional job we landed out of college. There were over 100 applicants, they said, and they were looking for someone who could speak, in addition to English, two other languages close to fluently, and was well-traveled. Your first task? Making coffee and serving it to everyone in the office. If that sounds remotely familiar to you, you are probably a woman. It sounds like it was back in the Dark Ages, but in fact it was the 1990s.

Congresswoman Annie Kuster was at Franklin Pierce University on Wednesday, talking with students and staff about the issue of pay inequality. It’s an elusive problem. Are women more often than not drawn to fields that pay less? Yes. Do women work just as hard as men do? Yes. Do they get credit for it? Not always.

Kuster told the round-table participants that women are leaving 23 cents on the table to every dollar a man makes. But how to prove it is the question.

We live in one of richest countries in the world, where opportunities abound, where women have more choices than their counterparts in many other parts of the world. So what’s the problem?

Some might say it’s our culture. How much do we really value women? Are we more comfortable taking orders from a man or a woman? And for women: How good are they at selling themselves and making the most of their contributions when it comes to landing the job, getting a promotion, or asking for higher pay?

Kuster put it nicely when she said Wednesday, “It’s a narrow bandwith to be confident and competent without falling over the edge. I, for one, think being humble is an attractive quality, but it can be an issue.”

Identifying the enemy in the quandary of pay inequality is part of the problem. It might be tempting to blame our bosses, blame men, or pin it on “the establishment,” but we have to ask ourselves what are we really doing about it? Who among us is taking up the cause?

We applaud Kuster and other legislators for their efforts, but also acknowledge, as she does, that it isn’t an easy puzzle to solve. We can say pay equality is important to us, and that it’s the law of land, but unless women are willing to put their jobs on the line and take someone to court, inequality in pay based on gender is difficult to prove.

Kuster made a good point when she noted that husbands and fathers don’t want to see the women in their lives underpaid. It begs the question of who is really profiting when a woman makes less.

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