The internet is burning up with video of Miss Utah stumbling through the interview portion of this year’s Miss USA contest. The question, posed by contest judge NeNe Leakes was, “A recent report shows that in 40% of American families with children women are the primary earners yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?”
Miss Utah flashed a big beauty contest smile and started, “I think we can relate this back to education and how we are continuing to try to strive…to…” You can see the panic in her eyes as she flashes another smile and realizes she doesn’t know where to go with this answer. Then she continues, “Figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem and I think especially the men are seen as the leaders of this and so we need to figure out how to create education better so we can solve this problem.”
Winning third runner-up anyway; she got a second chance at the question on The Today Show. “It’s not OK,” she said. “It needs to be equal pay for equal work and it’s hard enough already to earn a living and it shouldn’t be harder just because you’re a woman.” Matt Lauer applauded.
First, let’s give her a break! She’s a 21-year-old singer, model and actress who most likely never had to think much about inequity in pay. Many 31, 41 and 51-year-olds in the workforce probably couldn’t answer the question either.
What does the inequity in pay say about society? It says that we don’t value women’s work as much as we value men’s work. Ouch!
We prefer to explain the pay inequity by saying that many women work part time or that women take time out for childrearing and that skews the statistics to show that women’s pay is lower. Yet research shows that in the same jobs for the same companies women are often paid less than men.
Saying, “we have to pay men more because they have families” sounds like something from an episode of Mad Men but just last year many women participating in a class action suit against one of the country’s largest employers testified that’s what they’d been told.
This class action lawsuit was brought by 1.5 million women who claimed that Walmart systemically promoted and gave raises to men over women. It was dismissed by the Supreme Court—not won—just dismissed. They ruled that the group was too large and diverse to be considered a ‘class.’
Miss Utah was actually right the first time. This relates back to education.
Education for companies. During the years leading up the dismissal of their lawsuit, Walmart got educated. They learned from their mistake and quickly hired female executives, promoted women and got involved in women’s initiatives across the country.
Education for women. Statistics show that women don’t negotiate as well as men for salaries, raises and promotions. Many books like Sheryl Sandberg’s recent bestseller, “Lean In” are available for women to educate themselves on workplace inequities and how to handle them.
Education for men. As Miss Utah said, “they are the leaders” (in most companies anyway) and they need to be educated as to how to ensure equitable pay and opportunities at all levels of their companies.
Education for society. Men and women are different. And that’s a good thing! But pay should be determined by job requirements, performance and results. Not gender. As a society, when we value woman equally to men, we will not pay them less.