Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

Breaking the glass ceiling

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has published data regularly on the gender gap in pay — what we call the “glass ceiling.” The United States pay gap is listed as 18.38 percent in 2015, meaning that women make 81 percent of what men make in the workplace. There have been other percentages published over the years, but I will rely on the OECD figure.

That gap has to go away if we are to have equality among men and women in the workplace. The traditional excuses are really not valid. Women and men should make the same amount for doing the same work, and “traditional” women’s jobs should be valued and paid in the same way as men’s.

So: How do we bridge that gap?

Entrepreneurship. Many women are looking into starting new businesses. I have seen so many good ideas from potential woman entrepreneurs, and there are a number of organizations that have come along to encourage women in business.

I have some cautions here.

• Know what you’re getting into. You need a good business plan, not just a vague idea that you want to have a business.

• Have some capital to start your business. Banks and the Small Business Administration (SBA) have lending programs and other organizations have loan and grant programs as well. But you must have some money to start. Banks want collateral. The SBA wants collateral. Some of the grant programs may not, but you can’t think of going into a new business without some money of your own.

• Be sure to incorporate or form an LLC for your business.

Alternative Training. Think of the old saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Women all over the U.S. are learning the trades that have been traditionally “men’s” trades. They are learning plumbing, electrical work, carpentry, and more. And why not? Those trades don’t require a man’s muscle power, they simply require skills and interest. Skills can be learned.

Being the best that you can be. Certainly, joining any of the professions like accounting, law, and engineering can be a gateway to a higher paying job, and the professionals in those areas tend not to discriminate in setting salaries. But having the degree may not be enough to crash through the ceiling. You may need to prove your worth and be better than the men in your company, but you can do it. The professions have their professional designations — CPA for accountants, professional engineer designations for engineers (PE), or passing the bar for attorneys. Those exams are the great equalizers.

So, now that you’re a CPA, for example, you should be paid the same as the other CPAs at your level at your company. A CPA with 10 years’ experience is not going to be paid the same as someone who has just passed the exam, but two people with the same qualifications and the same amount of service should be.

Note, too, that professionals can easily form their own practices. That is entrepreneurial, so the section above on entrepreneurship applies, but people’s “hanging their shingle” is commonplace and, with the qualifications, there is no reason why women cannot do what men have done for years.

I have noticed in my years as an HR professional that women are now leading the way in educational achievement. My study is strictly anecdotal, but I have seen more and more women who are very serious about their educational achievements, while their peers who are men do not take education as seriously. Unless those men have a sudden awakening, we will start to see a natural reversal of the glass ceiling as we inch closer and closer to seeing women earning 100 percent of what men earn. •

Dave Mount is the founder of Westaff in Burlington.

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