In this political season, we hear lots of talk about women's rights and "equal pay for equal work." What exactly does that mean? It means that a woman with the same education and training as a man doing the same job at the same level as a man should be paid the same. Figures vary, but the latest numbers I've seen show that on an average women are paid from 75% to 95% what a man makes for performing the same job. There are a few jobs that women make more than men, such as social worker, but they are for the most part the lower paying jobs overall.
The reason for the disparity in pay is partly social. Women are still the main caregivers of children. During childbearing years some women take time off, or choose roles with lower pay because they offer more schedule flexibility and are less stressful and demanding. Who wants to preside over a high stakes meeting and make high pressure decisions, when you've been up all night taking temperatures and your kids are home with the flu?
Society is changing and men are taking on more of the childcare responsibilities. I myself have known a few "house-husbands" who stayed home and cared for children while their wives worked, but they are the exception rather than the rule. I applaud employers for providing flexibility to both women and men who must leave work to care for the occasional sick child or attend a doctor appointment. Employers know that people have lives outside of work, and those lives sometimes intersect with work hours.
However, I also know of employees who treat their jobs like something to fit in around their family schedules. It is one thing to enjoy flexibility at work. It is another thing to take undue advantage of it. In the United States, many full time employees are expected to work an 8 hour day or at least a 40 hour week. However some parents use their children's schedules to whittle that down to 35 hours or less by coming in late, leaving early, and being absent a disproportionately large part of the time, all under the guise of "taking care of the kids," and all the while still expecting to maintain full time status and receive full time pay and benefits. Moms leave work early to shuttle kids to soccer practice and come in late more than seems reasonable. Time can presumably be made up by "working at home" but how often is it really, and how would anyone know? Who keeps track?
In my experience, employers are very tolerant of this kind of activity and there doesn't seem to be penalties for this behavior, but maybe the penalties are there under the surface. These employees may be the ones who are not getting raises and promotions as often as others, and they may not mind at all. They are still getting a full salary and full benefits and their job is not interfering too much with their family lives. Should these people be making as much as others? No they shouldn't! They are not doing "the same job to the same level."
This is not to disparage all working parents. I have known very dedicated moms and dads who have gone over and above what is expected from their employers without neglecting their families. I hope that their employers recognize this and have rewarded them accordingly.
But the bottom line is this - before we start screaming "equal pay for equal work" we'd better take a good long look at our attitude toward our jobs and make sure this is what we really want. In some cases "less pay for less responsibility" is what some of us are really after.