I recently read an article headline that gave me a sense of deja vu. It was about BYU trying to improve gender parity in its faculty but with a twinge of fretting about too few women candidates in some fields. There have been some great posts about this in the past, including Michael Austin’s post at BCC that was prompted by my son’s observation that he had zero female professors at BYU-I. There was also this partial rebuttal post at T&S that actually mostly agreed with Michael’s post, although the comments mostly said “Wah! What about the men??? Where are they supposed to work if women are hired?????”

I was about 11 years old when I first heard about the ERA, the Equal Rights Amendment, that was in the news at the time. I had that smugly superior view at the time that no matter what argument there was, the Church would always know the truth and would always be on the side of right. That’s a belief I was able to hold despite the 1978 Priesthood Ban lift because I am white and was a child at the time so my cognitive dissonance wasn’t really sparked by that yet. I asked what the ERA was all about, and I was told by adults that it was a fight for women to receive equal pay for equal work. Well, what’s wrong with that? I naturally assumed the Church would be on the side of something so obvious and fair. Why wouldn’t it be?

As women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers, it also seemed obvious to me that we were changing from a single breadwinner economy to a dual income economy, although I was too young to know these terms. It simply seemed obvious to me. As a youngest child, the role of unpaid care-giving didn’t occur to me yet. I simply saw that if the future norm was based on single earners (not a man earning enough for a burgeoning family), that wages for all would drop to accommodate a model in which there might be more workers per household or divorced single parents or never-married individuals with no dependents. Base wages would be based on assumption of one individual earning enough for that individual, not a score of financial dependents. Men would earn less, and women would no longer be shackled to abusive drunks or forced into a life of unpaid drudgery (even if they loved doing unpaid housework, cooking and childcare, I didn’t!), too afraid to divorce because it would mean a life of poverty. It would be better for women, perhaps an inconvenience for men, but better overall for humanity. You can’t fight economic evolution. Well, you can fight it, but you won’t win.

It’s now 40+ years later, and I’ve had a multi-decade highly successful career in business with lots of personal experience. How are we doing? Is there still a penalty for being a woman? The political parties are greatly divided on what the problem even is (or if there is a problem) and what to do about it (if anything). I recently read an article that BYU is struggling to get enough female applicants for teaching positions, and I also read the transcript from a great interview on the Freakonomics podcast with Harvard economics professor Claudia Goldin, talking about the wage gap and what’s really driving it.

The political left frequently quotes the current wage gap by stating that women earn 77 cents on the male dollar. This 23 cent gap is often scoffed at by the right who either deny that a wage gap exists, or who state that if it’s normalized for qualifications and job description it shrinks to something like an 8 cent gap. Actually, both of these different figures are right. How can that be? There is a larger gap in the first statistic because it figures in all working women, regardless of their chosen field, regardless of qualification, regardless of part-time or full-time status, and compares them to all working men; addressing this gap is a much bigger problem than simply ensuring equal pay for equal work, but this gap is still meaningful and worth investigating.

Here are some other factors at play in the second wage gap:

  • Women who choose part time or secondary careers. Women may do this to be able to be a caregiver while also earning an income. They may need a secondary income as a family, or they may want to do something but have limited opportunities due to a spouse’s career inflexibility or demands, due to personal skills or education, or due to preferences.
  • Women who choose lower paid work. I was once horrified by a comment a woman in my ward made at a graduation event for our kids. My son and her daughter were about to enter the same college in fall, and I asked what her daughter was going to study. She said she wanted to be a teacher which this woman (who had chosen not to work) deemed “a good career for a lady.” My horror was that there were jobs suitable to one sex but not the other, especially since both sexes require food and shelter. Women don’t get to pay 75% of what men have to pay for rent, clothing or groceries. It also implied that teaching should be underpaid because women do it, and that men shouldn’t become teachers because it doesn’t pay well enough.
  • Wages drop in fields that women enter.  From an article in the New York Times: “the difference between the occupations and industries in which men and women work has recently become the single largest cause of the gender pay gap, accounting for more than half of it. In fact, another study shows, when women enter fields in greater numbers, pay declines — for the very same jobs that more men were doing before.” So, it’s not just a matter of women choosing jobs that have more flexibility; it’s also that the jobs they take that were more lucrative for men suddenly tank in terms of earnings when women do them. A Bustle article cites double digit pay declines in several fields when they went from male-dominated to female-dominated: recreation directors, designers, ticket agents, cleaning positions, and computer programming. Jobs that were previously more lucrative (at varying education and skill levels) were suddenly seen as menial if women were doing them. Even jobs in STEM saw large pay declines when women started doing them.
  • Glass ceiling effect. According to an article in payscale.com, 87% of women in legal firms are paralegals whereas 68% of partners in those legal firms were men. (The Church’s law firm, Kirton McConkie has numbers that are horribly, horribly worse, and the worst by far for Utah legal firms). Even at the American Express women’s conference I attended with over 200 female executives, mid-range VP level and above, the 4 C-Suite leaders there to speak to us were all men, men telling women with words and not living role models how to be successful.
  • Women who take exit ramps. This usually occurs when jobs are too inflexible to allow for personal needs like maternity or elder care. While some jobs are necessarily inflexible, some inflexibility is just a holdover from the prior workplace construct in which men were not involved with families, so they didn’t require the time flexibility that households without a fully financially dependent wife might have had baked in.
  • Workplace environment. Traditional workplace structures are based on a male workforce, not a mixed gender one. Second wave feminists (like me) usually adapted by being good at navigating a “man’s world,” fitting in as one of the guys and setting ourselves apart from the women. This approach has a shelf life, and really should not be the norm–it elevates some women at the expense of others. Additionally, sexist cultures or practices can make women feel unwelcome or can bar women from influence. In my own experience, two of these practices I encountered were 1) sales people taking clients to strip clubs for “entertainment,” and at the other extreme 2) male employees who refused to meet one on one with women or go on business trips with female colleagues. Both of these situations were rare, but they happened in my lifetime. In the first case, I worked hard along with some of my male colleagues to eliminate this culture, and we were successful at getting it changed. In the second case, our company was committed to equal opportunity for both men and women, and it ultimately hurt the men who took these stances, not the women. Still, when women are treated like a “special case” in a workplace designed for men, it can have a dampening effect on their ambition.

There are some hidden issues behind the wage gap:

Outright discrimination. This is usually hard to identify because it’s not obvious what the cause was, and nobody openly admits to discrimination. That’s why studies like the Heidi / Howard study are useful, in which two identical resumes are submitted, one with the name Heidi and one with the name Howard.

When I left American Express where I had a very successful executive career, I interviewed for a job at Amazon for which I was overqualified (I had held higher positions than the person I’d be reporting to). They flew me in to Seattle for an interview. I was concerned that due to their pay structure we might have a hard time making this move (base salary was very low, and the majority of pay is in stock options which vest over time). The interview experience there was very unusual compared to my experience in the financial services sector (but perhaps normal for these types of Silicon Valley firms). I interviewed with a series of peers to the role as well as the boss and the boss’s boss.

Their policy is not to give feedback on any interviews, a wise choice in my experience, so I can’t know what their views were or why I was not selected. However, my impression as a candidate was that the boss’s boss really liked me, the three other men I interviewed with were somewhat neutral toward me, and the one woman I interviewed with liked me all right but wasn’t a key decision maker for the role (which she apologetically said to me, so maybe she wasn’t that invested in the hiring decision); as I walked the halls, I saw very few women there at all. I was a little surprised by that as American Express had a much better female to male ratio.

Several of the interview questions seemed very strange, too, asking me about what big future investment I would make if I had carte blanche (to which I basically pitched Amazon Prime with new content shows which for all I know now was already in the works, but was not live at the time) and also how many palindromic years have there been since the year 0 (this one was not only offbeat, but the boss’s boss actually rolled his eyes and asked if that guy had asked me that question).

So was I discriminated against for being a woman? It’s impossible to say. They simply might have liked someone else better. If asked, I don’t doubt they would be able to come up with reasonable answers why they didn’t choose me. I’ve done enough hiring to know that while it’s always partly subjective, we always have rational explanations for our choices. Most of us don’t discriminate intentionally.

Self-selection / discouragement. Orchestras were noticing that fewer women were being selected, so they decided to do a blind audition where the musician was hidden behind a screen so that the selection would be made without knowledge of the player’s sex. This resulted in many more women being hired for orchestras.

Dr. Goldin points out that while we might think this was evidence of discrimination (that the judges were deliberately or unconsciously choosing male players), a result of the blind audition is that far more women were willing to apply for orchestra positions than previously had. Perhaps they believed they would face discrimination and opted out, or perhaps the old process made them uncomfortable or caused them to perform worse. For whatever reason, when women don’t believe they will face discrimination, they show up for more opportunities.

And this one goes to the heart of BYU’s problem. As a religious institution, BYU is not under the same requirements as secular institutions to avoid sex discrimination. As a result, those conducting interviews have a mix of beliefs and prejudices about the desirability of hiring women, and women who work there will encounter varying attitudes when teaching that they may not face in other institutions. For example, some students or decision makers may have negative feelings about women having careers, and there are no protections against these types of harms for women in a religious institution as there are in other work environments. Why would a highly qualified woman want to work in a place like that when she had other great opportunities where she would be respected and valued?

Ambition gap. Not everyone has a killer instinct or wants to live a life that is in dogged pursuit of money and advancement. Some men do, and some women do. Many of both sexes do not. When women are taught from a young age that they should be financially dependent on others and that they do not need to be prepared to financially support themselves and a family (or are given bad advice about how such a Plan B might work such as getting an education but having no work experience), they may not feel as interested in pursuing career opportunities or they may feel entitled to be financially cared for by a husband or others if they only live “righteously.” Couples can certainly choose to have one partner stay at home if that is their wish, but those choices will create disproportionate vulnerability for the dependent spouse.

This initially sounds like the premise of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. In this model, women either opt out of education and career opportunities, choose to care for family members instead of taking paid opportunities, or are discouraged from educational or other economic pursuits. And all of these things create a situation in which women earn less than men.

Dr. Goldin explains that rather than just encouraging women to “lean in,” we need to be doing more to encourage men to “lean out,” not only to even the playing field, but to encourage everyone to strive for more balance in their lives, more time flexibility, rather than pushing so hard for money at the exclusion of all else that workers are leaving vacancies at home that are either unfilled or that eventually require someone (usually a woman) to cover it. One of the innovations in this area is to provide paid paternity leave for men that is equal to paid maternity leave. If they don’t use it, it evaporates. The philosophical shift here is that rather than keeping the existing patriarchal structures (in which men toiled long hours and spent little time with family, instead putting work first), introducing large numbers of female employees (with potentially different values and priorities) should remake the workplace to fit and be attractive to a wider variety of workers and lifestyles.

Care-giving / time-flexibility. I was at a Women’s Conference years ago as a female executive at American Express, and Ursie Burns, CEO of Xerox was a speaker. She said (to this entirely female audience) that as women advanced their careers, we were leaving vacancies at home, and those vacancies would have consequences. That’s a fact, but not one that it’s fair to place solely on women. Men can give care just as women can; it takes two to choose not to tango. She pointed out that “for whatever reason” men weren’t filling those vacancies.

The reason seems pretty clear to me: patriarchy. We have an existing system that rewards men for earning well, and punishes everyone for unpaid care-giving. We also stigmatize men based on lower earnings and stigmatize women for care-giving faults or gaps. Whom does such a system benefit? Corporations, not people! There are men who would love to be a care-giver to their children or elderly parents, but who often do not because of being discouraged from “women’s work,” or being encouraged to do paid work.

Negotiating Skill. A lot of studies talk about the unwillingness of women to negotiate for higher pay, unlike their male peers. I found in my time as an executive that I frequently inherited women who were paid less than their merit, something which I corrected whenever I found it. I also had several male employees who were demanding and not particularly grateful for raises; by contrast, the women were frequently surprised and delighted by the recognition. To me, their behavior was entitled and emotionally immature. Perhaps not coincidentally, the men who behaved in these ways were sole breadwinners for a dependent family. Some of the women were, too, but they didn’t feel entitled to demand raises off cycle, and they had humble self-evaluations. They had to be talked up, whereas the men often had to be talked down to a more realistic self-perception. As we say in feminist circles, negotiate like you’re a mediocre man!

Jennifer Lawrence talked about this:

A hack of Sony Pictures e-mails showed that the actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams got fewer back-end points than their male counterparts in the film American Hustle. Interestingly, when Lawrence later wrote about this revelation, she largely blamed herself. “I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early,” she wrote. “I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need… But if I’m honest with myself, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’”

In fact, despite her findings that the wage gap is largely mischaracterized, Dr. Goldin shares a story about failure to negotiate that is right on point. She was asked to review a wage discrimination study, and she had not previously done consulting work and offered $2000 for her time (when she had thought she was just doing it as a favor). She accepted the offered pay without really thinking about it. Two other consulting researchers (men) were also hired to review the study. Because they had experience consulting, they negotiated and were paid about 1.5 times as high as she was–to review a study on wage discrimination!

So if BYU really wants to hire more women, what can the Church do to encourage that? Well, here are my suggestions:

  • Put family first, including equal benefits and time flexibility for BOTH sexes.
    • Pay an attractive paternity leave and maternity leave.
    • Cover all family health care, including birth control (which is used for a whole lot of women’s health issues completely unrelated to pregnancy, for anyone who is still unaware of this).
    • Be flexible enough for couples to both work for the university without harming one’s career in favor of the other.
  • Conduct rigorous sexual harassment training and enforce it. Avoiding sexual harassment isn’t just about sexual advances (something you would hope BYU is decent at avoiding). It’s also about the sexist attitudes women have to endure in the workplace.
    • Talk to and about women with respect.
    • Don’t tolerate disparate respectfulness toward women who teach, either from students or faculty. With all the crazy things that the Honor Code outlaws, why isn’t this explicitly one of them?
    • Don’t expect women to justify their career choices or to defend their actions. Period.
    • Never assume that motherhood is in conflict with a career.
    • Assume every student, regardless of sex, intends to enter a career after graduation. What they do is up to them, but nobody should ever be treated as a “less serious” or “less important” student just on the basis of sex.
    • Act as if you are under the same non-discrimination requirements as other employers, even if you are not. Shouldn’t the Church do better as an employer rather than worse??
  • Quit discouraging women from pursuing academic goals. From an article in the Daily Universe that was published ONE WEEK AGO, in 2019, some students still report being told ‘You’re taking the seat from a potential breadwinner, you probably won’t even pursue a career, so what’s the point of going to college? You can’t be a mother and pursue a career, you got into that program or got that job offer because you’re female.’ If the Church can’t fix this problem, BYU doesn’t deserve top women professor candidates. It hasn’t earned the privilege yet. You are a UNIVERSITY, for crying out loud, and these students have paid tuition just like their male counterparts. If I ran the University I would crack down on that crap so hard their misogynist heads would spin right off.
  • Church leaders should model seeing women as authorities. Wow, do we have a long way to go on this one.
    • Quote more women.
    • Talk about prior female colleagues with respect for their intellect and ideas.
    • Have women speak to men.
    • Treat women as valuable for our minds and leadership, not just our ability to give birth or create a domestic haven for you to return to after a hard day of hunting woolly mammoths.
    • QUIT TALKING TO WOMEN ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A WOMAN. That is truly the quintessence of mansplaining. I hate to tell you this, but you are inherently less qualified on this topic than every woman you will ever speak to. Obviously.
  • Make pay rates completely transparent. Publish what people are paid so that women know how much they should be making.
    • I know I’d be skeptical given my experience at BYU as a student. When you make pay transparent, you also give power to the people working there, not just to the institution.

What other suggestions do you have for improving BYU’s ability to recruit women to teach at the university? Is it a worthwhile goal or a lost cause? Defend your answer in the comments.

Discuss.