At the March Valley Business Women’s luncheon, I heard Elsie Rose speak about the penalty for being born a woman. I did not take offense to her topic or her premise as I have preached that sermon many times myself. As a member of the American Association of University Women I was made amply aware of the statistics that Ms. Rose used as part of her presentation, and in fact, she used AAUW statistics in her presentation. The presumed penalty for being born a woman comes to $849,000 in simple math terms. To see a slide of this, see http://www.dailyfinance.com/photos/the-849-000-penalty-for-being-born-female/. Type “penalty for being born a woman” into Google and you’ll see many entries. This is not just an American issue. One of the articles you would read if you did a Google search is for Australia. Another is for The Netherlands. One website called being born a woman a “major financial mistake” as if this was a choice for most of us.
I “came up” when women were only 25% of the graduating class of my law school and it was difficult to get a job because I didn’t have a Y chromosome in a very competitive job market in the midst of the mid-1980s Texas oil bust (where I was living at the time).
I remember when a woman still needed her husband’s signature to get credit and when the wife was not even added to the utility bills. Female clients whose husbands died found they were not credit worthy simply because they had been married and none of the marital credit worthiness was attributed to the wives, only to the husbands. Imagine having to pay a deposit to the electric company when you had paid the family’s electric bill for the last 50 years! When I was getting divorced and was establishing my own auto insurance policy, I needed my soon to be ex’s permission to acquire certain auto insurance benefits with a well-known insurance company (that shall remain nameless) because we were still married and he had a policy with those same benefits. He had to agree to let me have those benefits too. I was lucky he agreed. I imagine not all exes are as amenable. By the way, that was only a dozen years ago.
Honestly, I have such fatigue realizing that the same fight I was arguing about in 1986, the year I graduated law school, is the same fight I’m arguing about today.
Authors and news people, Katy Kay and Claire Shipman claim that the key to fiscal fitness among women is being confident and asking for the job you want at the salary you want (The Confidence Code, Harper Business, 2014). I don’t know that it is that simple. If you are a Katy Kay (of the BBC) then maybe you can command enough clout to walk into a boss’s office and demand what you want (job, hours, salary). I am not so sure that a woman working at Handy Mart for minimum wage can do the same. I doubt that a teacher can do the same. I know that I wasn’t given that opportunity either. I still hear about this from other women I talk to as well. Frankly, I think that if we weren’t still hearing about it, we’d know that either we had succeeded at being in charge of our fiscal fitness and closing that $849,000 lifetime gap, or had totally given up.
I don’t see us giving up, at least in my lifetime. So what I really want to know from the Valley Business Women readers being directed to this blog entry, as well as any woman (or man) that reads my blog, is what do you think we have to do to close this almost $1 million gap? Are there skills we, as women, need beyond our education, our innate intelligence, and our willingness to work really hard? Or is it something else?
© Suzan D. Herskowitz