Rejecting the ‘Barbie box’

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Actress Amber Heard may not inspire much interest or sympathy among working women. She’s stunning and rich, and worries about things like losing her freedom to fame.

Still, in a recent Elle article, she made an interesting point about not wanting to be put in a “Barbie box” for her work:

“I feel like I’m constantly fighting against my exterior, or this exterior presentation of myself because of how I look or perhaps because of who I’m with.”

There are women whose jobs depend on them looking like someone’s fantasy version of a female. Such work can be lucrative and, depending on a woman’s preferences, satisfying.

But many women feel burdened by employers who create career constraints based on superficial perceptions of gender and capabilities. On a related noted, working mothers know all too well the frustration of finding themselves shoved into a “mommy track” by an employer over fears that family obligations will interfere with productivity.

–Ruth

Who cares about valuing household work? Insurers.

The insurance industry is one part of the economy that cares about valuing the work that parents put into household chores.

As Father’s Day approaches (it’s June 21), Insure.com, which bills itself as the most cited independent consumer-insurance site, calculated that a father’s household tasks, such as mowing the lawn, are worth almost $26,000 per year. That value is based on wages for different chores typically performed by dads, and how much time they spend on those tasks.

Why do insurers care about fairly valuing household work? They want to sell life insurance. Insure.com quoted its managing editor, Robert Beaupre, saying:

“The value of Dad’s contributions around the house and his annual salary are real figures that will need to be covered if something were to happen to him…If you can skip going out to eat at work a couple of times per month, you can probably set aside enough money to pay for a term life insurance policy and give your family that peace of mind.”

Here’s the site’s table showing how it calculated the value of fathers’ household work.

FathersDay061515–Ruth

Do women know how they’re doing in the economy?

For those keeping score, women nabbed most of the new jobs last month, making up two-thirds of net nonfarm payroll growth, according to government data released Friday.

Longer-term trends show that women’s employment gains have far outpaced men’s since the start of the Great Recession. Women hold almost 2.4 million more jobs than they did at the end of 2007, when the downturn began, compared with men’s gain of less than 1 million.

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This is all good news for women, with the caveat that they dominate relatively low-wage industries. But since the report was released, I find myself wondering: How many women know about how they are faring in today’s economy?

I don’t expect many people to tune into the daily spewing of economic data from the government, industry and think tanks. But when there’s a blockbuster jobs report, the kind that influences the most powerful regulators and lawmakers in the world, I hope that adult women are aware that something important is happening.

Women are underrepresented among business and economics reporters. Looking at my personal sample size of one, among people who follow my economics Tweets, only 16% are women. One of my former editors recently reported that less than one-in-10 women “frequently discuss saving and planning for retirement with family and close friends.” And according to the American Press Institute, an Arlington, Va.-research group, about 76% of men follow business and economy news, compared with 65% of women.

Women tend to earn less than men, heightening the importance for them to pay attention to their finances, as well as local and national economic trends. A woman who is aware that there’s a bias in the distribution of, say, wages, is one who has knowledge that can arm her in the fight for equal pay. A woman who knows which occupations are growing and where can make informed career choices.

–Ruth

A vicious cycle for men who put family first

HuffPo’s Emily Peck ran a great Q&A with a father who wanted to use company leave benefits after his wife gave birth, but was denied. (Full disclosure: When Peck was at WSJ, she edited several posts I wrote for the paper’s site about balancing working and family.)

In the HuffPo Q&A, Josh Levs described how he was told that he was ineligible for paid caregiving leave when his third child was born. Levs said:

“There’s a vicious cycle punishing men who put family first. So many businesses reward men for just staying at the office for longer. Today’s dads are very involved at work, but the people in the C-suites are the few men who admit they don’t prioritize their family. They believe work-life conflict is a woman’s problem. They’re wrong.”

As Woman’s Work has noted before, it’s important for more men to appreciate their economic stake in caregiving. And as Levs makes clear, he and lots of other dads would like to spend more time with their little ones. A society that no longer labels caregiving as a “woman’s issue” is one that may move closer to properly valuing such work, and expanding opportunities for men and women to take the time needed to care for kids and older relatives without facing a financial shock.

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Men who can’t take advantage of company leave benefits certainly have cause for complaint. But a big-picture view of the U.S. shows an unpleasant truth: The less money you make, the less likely you are to have access to paid leave, and women are overrepresented in the most common low-wage occupations. Women of color, in particular, tend to make less than their white counterparts.

Of note, in a 2014 report on the economics of paid leave, the White House points to an interesting phenomenon: While almost four-in-10 workers say they can take some paid leave to welcome a new child, just 11% of workers are actually covered by paid leave policies.

What’s going on? The paper explains: “The gap between workers’ and employers’ reports suggests that informal arrangements with managers and the use of other forms of leave, like paid vacation, may currently be playing an important role.”

So it seems that there is employer awareness of the importance of paid leave. But companies remain wary of formalizing policies. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to lag other major economies on mandating access to paid parental leave, but some states are supporting workers with such benefits.

–Ruth

Speaking of women not entering high-paying occupations…

…a new study shows that fewer than 10% of fund managers are women.

Also, according to Morningstar, a Chicago-based investment research and management firm: “Women exclusively run only 2% of assets under management in the $12.6 trillion U.S. open-end mutual fund universe.”

Here’s a look at how underrepresented women are as fund managers:

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Morningstar also pointed out that women’s funds don’t underperform:

“Overall, our data suggest that, from a performance standpoint, women are holding their own as fund managers, despite their small numbers and despite running more-expensive and noncore funds.”

–Ruth

Here’s hoping that candidates for prez talk about fair pay

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As presidential hopefuls try to woo voters with a mix of forced folksiness, semi-concealed vitriol and chiseled talking points, here’s hoping that the issue of fair pay is in the spotlight.

Men and women with comparable skills and experience who do the same job should get the same pay. That proposition seems obvious, but research signals that there’s still an illegitimate pay gap between sexes in the U.S.

One (very) rough estimate of that gap, based on U.S. Labor Department data, shows that full-time women workers make about 81.6 cents for each dollar men make. A couple of major factors contribute to the gap:

–Women make up the majority of the country’s largest low-paying occupations, such as child care workers and home health aides.

–Women are more likely than men to leave the labor force for some period of time to act as a family caregiver, whether for a child or an older relative, giving up some career experience.

Once researchers take such factors into account they find a narrower pay gap.

But here’s a disturbing trend: The pay gap is also evident early in workers’ careers, before the needs of kids and aging parents typically come into play. For example, a study by economists with Harvard and the University of Chicago found that at just one year after MBA graduation, median earnings for women were 83% of men’s.

There’s a similar gap among those with no more than a high school degree. These women earn about 86 cents for each dollar earned by men with comparable education, after adjusting for factors such as age, full-time versus part-time status, industry, and occupation, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office, investigators for Congress.

It’s taboo in the U.S. for workers to speak openly with each other about earnings, so it’s hard to pin down when employers hand out unfair wages. This silence creates urgency for leaders to loudly address the importance of fair pay.

In a speech last week in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton spoke about equal pay. She isn’t every Democrat’s cup of tea (and many Republicans seem to have a visceral negative reaction to her), but she made an important point when she said that equal pay isn’t just a woman’s issue. Rather, whole families are affected when employers unfairly treat women workers:

“The truth is that when any parent is shortchanged, the entire family is shortchanged…We should promote pay transparency across our economy to ensure women have the information they need to negotiate fairly.”

She also spoke about the need for paid leave, getting more women into higher paying occupations and enabling working parents to have flexible schedules. These are topics to be visited in future Woman’s Work posts.

Hopefully, Clinton’s speech won’t be the last time a major candidate addresses equal pay. It would be great to hear some Republican ideas about how to cut sex-based wage inequality.

–Ruth