From women fighting to end child marriage in Africa to women demanding equal pay, to women teaching other women to love their bodies regardless of shape, color or size, women are empowering women all over the world.
Here's how women are empowering others around the world
02:58 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Carrie Sheffield, a conservative commentator, is the founder of Bold, a digital news network committed to bipartisan dialogue. She is also national editor for Accuracy in Media, a conservative media watchdog organization. The views expressed here are solely hers. View more opinion articles on CNN.

CNN  — 

On this Equal Pay Day, it’s easy for American women to get upset when we read about companies like Vice Media, which is reportedly paying a $2 million settlement to women who allegedly received less money than their equally qualified male colleagues, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

And we clearly can’t be complacent in the battle for equal opportunities that our foremothers waged for the most fundamental rights, including voting, working in a chosen occupation, even opening our own checking account or securing a credit card without a husband’s signature.

Carrie Sheffield

Yet around this time of a year, a cloud of misleading coverage about gender pay equality (like this one from Vox: “You’ve heard that women make 80 cents to men’s dollar. It’s much worse than that. More like 49 cents”) which, while conveying information about the fact that women (and their pay) are not a monolith, also ultimately diminishes the true strides women have made in the workplace and beyond. These stories can leave us feeling as victims rather than victors.

It’s true that women occupy fewer positions of senior leadership and power in the workplace, and changing this ratio toward greater gender parity is the understandable goal of many women – and one that President Trump lauded in his State Of The Union this year – but reinforcing misinformation among ourselves is surely not a strategically sound way to advance.

The truth is that wage discrimination is illegal and has been illegal in the United States since 1963, when then-President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law. The 1964 Civil Rights Act also protects women from workplace sexual discrimination and harassment, protections recognized by the US Supreme Court and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

When it comes to the issue of equal pay, headlines like Vox’s, so common in mainstream media and social media, are often based on misleading interpretations of wage data. Most of these top line wage gap statistics don’t take into account the multiple combined variables among workers like profession, education, experience, benefits, work conditions or hours worked.

They are calling something a “wage gap” when in reality it is an “earnings gap” resulting largely from women’s life choices. They also don’t give the complete picture of men and women with the same or similar jobs, experience, training or hours – some women are often more interested than men in flexible or reduced work schedules in exchange for more family time and women tend to select majors in college that prepare them for lower-paying professions (studying liberal arts in college vs. finance or engineering, for example).

As a society, we must grapple with how we value traditionally female occupations like teaching and nursing, especially as Americans’ median age increases, requiring a better-educated and more productive workforce to sustain the retirement of an aging population.

Evidence from sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the National Institutes of Health also tells us that men generally work longer (and less convenient) hours in more dangerous roles than women.

Once women look at these factors, we see that in many situations, the purported gender wage gap isn’t actually a measure of the often-touted “equal pay for equal work,” but to a large extent, the manifestation of women prioritizing family over the workplace and fields they find more meaningful beyond just a heftier paycheck.

Thankfully, when controlling for these relevant factors, multiple academic studies show this pay gap shrinks to almost nothing. It’s just $0.98 for women compared to a $1.00 for men, according to PayScale Inc.’s The State of the Gender-Pay Gap in 2019. One recent Harvard working paper analyzing Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority data found there was no gender pay gap at all, once all factors are controlled for.

As my former boss Edward Conard notes, “one of Harvard’s renowned labor economists, Claudia Goldin, examines the gender wage gap and finds that differences in cumulative career hours worked accounts for the remaining gender pay gap beyond the lower-paying professions women tend to choose – e.g., social work versus computer programing.”

Indeed, economists Mark Perry and Andrew Biggs rationally point out that if companies seek to maximize profits and they could hire exactly comparable female workers at, say 77% percent or 80% of the cost of men, why on earth would they ever hire a man again?

In situations where there is indeed a gap, then we should fight to close it (training in negotiation can help, for example) – but let’s not discount the much more empowered position where women stand today in making those changes.

We can argue that society should continue to encourage more women to enter higher-paying fields like business and science – as a female entrepreneur, I absolutely support this. And we can argue that women who take (or feel pressured to take) the “mommy track” should feel better supported and receive the resources they need to re-enter the workforce, if they so desire to return and advance in leadership roles. Among black and Latino women, who generally have lower earnings than Asian and white women, we must completely level the educational and societal playing fields to improve further expand economic opportunities.

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    But the bottom line is that it’s disempowering to tell women that the marketplace is fundamentally tilted against them or to imply that the problem is insurmountable. This Equal Pay Day, like all other days, it’s dangerous for women to let media figures or politicians try to build or distort a stumbling block in front of us. It’s dangerous to build or distort this block in front of ourselves, too.

    It’s time to give women a real portrait of just how far we’ve come and more precisely target how our society can improve.