Reaching the Top - And Still Finding a Pay Gap
Published on Wednesday, July 27, 2005 by
Reaching the Top - And Still Finding a Pay Gap
by Martha Burk

Forbes magazine just came out with its “Celebrity 100" issue showcasing “the hottest movie stars, musicians, and athletes,” ranking them on a power scale (subjective) and an earnings scale (objective). Oprah Winfrey tops the power list, but comes in second on the earnings list at $225 million per year, behind Director/Producer George Lucas who raked in $290 million. That puts the most powerful woman in good company -- she makes 77 cents on the dollar compared to her male counterpart -- two cents more than the ordinary Jane Doe earns when compared to John Doe. The rest of the list underscores the point -- the gender pay gap is alive and well, even at the highest levels of achievement and recognition.

Only two of the top 10 and seven of the top 50 earners are women, while sixteen of the bottom 25 are female. In sports, the gap between Tiger Woods, the highest-earning male, and Maria Sharapova, the highest female, is a whopping 80 percent, with 13 other male athletes outranking Sharapova. The gender pay gap at the top in acting is 45 percent (Will Ferrell vs. Drew Barrymore), with nine other men ahead of Barrymore. Book writing? A 33 percent disparity. Women can forget altogether about reaching the top in directing, producing, or speaking, since no females even made the list. If not for Oprah, the highest TV host, and Madonna (who edged out Prince by a mere 1 percent), men would have swept every individual category. It’s hard to believe this pay gap, even higher than the 25 percent experienced by ordinary women, is due to a talent gap, an ambition gap, or an energy gap. Could something else be at work?

Women’s labor has been undervalued since recorded history began. In biblical times, God told Moses women were worth 30 shekels of silver, compared to men at 50 shekels. In modern times, we see this undervaluing when women clerks at Wal-Mart must sue because they are paid less than the male clerks, and female brokers on Wall Street also have to go to court to get more money in their paychecks. Companies, of course, say the lawsuits are without merit, just a few malcontents bringing baseless charges. What to do? Simple disclosure, like Forbes did this month, would help a lot. If working women (and men) knew how they were being paid relative to each other, it would show which companies are fair, and which companies have something to hide. But corporate America says it can’t be done – it would destroy the competitive edge and put them out of business.

Not so fast. There’s a little ice cream company up in Vermont where women’s compensation is on par with men’s, and they publish the numbers every year: statistics on women’s pay vs. men’s pay by job category. So far they seem to be hanging in there in the marketplace. Speaking of celebrities, had a scoop of Cherry Garcia lately?

Martha Burk is author of “Cult of Power: Sex Discrimination in Corporate America and What Can Be Done About It."

© 2005