The most important thing young women entering the labor force can do for themselves is ask for what they really want-what they really need, according to “Earn More, Move Up,” a book published last year by a Twin Cities-based “action tank,” the Center for Economic Progress.
“We can and we will take closure of the pay gap from an elusive dream to a commonplace reality,” said economist Jennifer Keil, Ph.D., the Hamline University associate professor who is the book’s editor. “We can and we must succeed-for our neighbors, for our families and for ourselves.”
According to Keil, the book brings together groundbreaking research by 12 experts who studied a variety of factors that influence why women earn less than men over the course of their careers. “It is a nice collaboration of ideas,” she said.
“Earn More, Move Up” is available at Amazon Bookstore Cooperative, 4755 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Knowledge is power
Keil, who teaches undergraduate management and economics classes, said that some of her female students aren’t aware of the wage gap. “Some young women come into my class and don’t know that this type of gap even exists,” she said. “Young students haven’t experienced a pay differential yet so the women are as surprised as I was years ago when I was in school.”
Once Keil has talked about the wage gap, she feels a responsibility to help students examine it. “Once we inform students of the wage gap, it is up to us to … give them a way to help solve the problem,” she said. “We have to be creative in how we talk about this issue and find new ways to look at it.”
Although “Earn More, Move Up” might be of interest to anyone curious about the gender pay differential, it is an especially important read for women who are new to the labor force or who are preparing to re-enter the job market after taking time off. “And young men who will be working with women early in their careers, or who find themselves working for a female manager, will be better coworkers and better managers by understanding how the topics in the book impact women,” Keil said.
Risk taking, communication skills, women’s labor market choices and how people played together when they were young are all topics discussed in the book, which doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. “Good research should bring up … more good questions,” Keil said. “We’re not expecting to solve this problem. We just want to move the conversation along.”
Collaboration and competition
According to one of the book’s contributors, Lori Charron, Ph.D., professor of communication studies at Concordia University in St. Paul, that conversation includes a look at how men and women communicate and how they compete. “From playpen to schoolyard, our days as children were filled with time to play, create, compete and make believe,” Charron wrote. “Some of us spent time playing house … and telling secrets to our best friend. Others played cops and robbers … king of the hill.”
When we seek to understand these differences we can finally begin to put together the wage-gap puzzle. “Research suggests that a boy’s learning style is competitive and a girl’s is collaborative,” Charron explained. “Maybe women … know they could make more money in some jobs but also know they wouldn’t enjoy competing for it as much as their male rivals. They realize … in life there’s a lot more at stake than money.”
That mentality is one of the pieces of research that grabbed Keil’s attention. “I’m curious about the opt-out phenomenon where women with college and graduate degrees decide to leave the labor force and, oftentimes, never re-enter,” she said. “I’m interested in helping educate women about the full impact of their decision to leave the labor force. I’m also interested in helping companies recruit these women back to work.”
A chapter written by Keil and Karine S. Moe, Ph.D., professor of economics at Macalester College, looks at the trend of married women with professional degrees choosing to stay at home to raise children. They point out that in 2002, 62 percent worked full time; just two years later, the number had dropped to 53 percent. “This is just one example of the brain drain that occurs when highly educated women opt out of the labor force,” they wrote.
Pieces of a puzzle
Contributors to this book hope to organize the pieces of this puzzle in a way that will benefit young women as they begin their own journey. “We did not want to write a book telling young women they are doomed before they even begin,” Keil said. “Rather, have them recognize the differences and use them to their advantage.
“If we have accomplished nothing else, we hope that each chapter encourages people to keep working with all the pieces so we can finally close the gap,” she said. “We believe that even the most difficult puzzle can be solved if enough people are willing to see it through.”