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Women's Voices Magazine - Washington Watch - May 2014

posted May 2, 2014, 7:42 AM by Ann Sullivan   [ updated May 2, 2014, 7:59 AM ]
R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Women Business Owners Missing in Wage Debate
By Ann Sullivan

Although I spend my life advocating for women business owners on Capitol Hill, I am no Susan B. Anthony nor a Betty Friedan.   My work is centered around economic issues and how policies decided in Washington affect the ability of women business owners to thrive.  Although “women’s issues” in Washington are considered to be choice and “soft” social issues, it is my belief that economic empowerment in the form of entrepreneurship should be front and center for women.  You know the phrase—money talks.

Speaking of economic empowerment, last month, the Paycheck Fairness Act was considered and failed in the Senate.  On principle, I think most would agree equal pay for equal work should be the standard.  Implementation, of course, is another story. Companies are rightfully skittish about what this means in terms of disclosure and legal liability. 

What really struck me during this debate was the lack of serious discussion about women in the workplace or women who start their own companies and create jobs for others.   Instead, the commentary around this issue focused only on the politics of the issue—which political party was going to gain the upper hand for the “women’s vote.” The words that were spoken and written showed very little respect for the 7.8 million women business owners and the 72 million women in the workforce.

First the media.  Many news articles and the endless television news commentary started and ended with “in an effort to garner the women’s vote, the Congress/President…” CNN headlined “Democrats highlight equal pay in political push.” United Press (UPI), a major news outlet carried internationally, led with “Democrats push Equal Pay in early campaign effort.” Bloomberg read “Paycheck Issues Top Senate Agenda in Bid for Women's Vote.” Really?

Ask the woman business owner that started her own business because she realized she would never be compensated like her male colleagues.  Tell that to your daughter who is competing for promotions and equal pay.  Ask your wife who took care of your family, balanced kids and juggled a job which may have had to take a back seat in her career to make sure everyone else succeeded.  Tell that to the woman who is the primary breadwinner in the family. 

Second the politicians.  The finger pointing by males in the House and Senate is astounding. The Republicans accused the Democrats of making them take a hard vote and the Democrats responded by saying the Republicans are waging a war on women.   Some Republican women in the Senate wanted to offer amendments but were denied the opportunity.  Why?  Because this is not supposed to be a serious debate—this is just a sideshow.  And then these same men are surprised that the American public holds them in low esteem.  Instead of an intelligent debate on what we can do to make sure that there is equal opportunity for women in the workforce, the words were so cynical, it made my skin crawl.

It is not my contention that the Paycheck Fairness Act is the answer.  In fact, from an employer’s perspective, we are always cognizant of lawsuits by employees even if the last thing we ever want to happen in our companies is discrimination by pay scale or by other employees.  Small businesses, in particular, consider their workforce as their biggest asset and move heaven and earth to make sure they feel respected and appreciated.  If the Paycheck Fairness Act results in more frivolous lawsuits against employers, that’s a problem.  Am I crazy about my employees disclosing their compensation to other employees—probably not.

But why isn’t the Congress and the rest of Washington talking about how to get at the root of the problem without putting employers—especially small employers—in tough situations.  There’s no question that women lag behind in their compensation.  The statistics prove it.  Depending on which sources you trust, the wage gap is between 19 - 23 cents on the dollar. A well-publicized study from the American Enterprise Institute showed that even at the White House, women earn 88 cents for each dollar of their male colleagues.

Regardless, whether women are missing out on nineteen cents or twenty-three, they are still missing out. And it is not just about the money; it is also about fairness.  If you perform, you should get paid.

Pay gaps aren’t limited to just employees. A recent study from Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Business Program found women entrepreneurs are paying themselves less – 20% less – than their male counterparts. Other articles cite an $8,000 annual difference between the salaries of women business owners and men running their own companies. What is the reason behind that statistic?  All of us should be trying to answer that question.

Women and men need to work together to make sure that the contributions of females to households and household income are recognized.  It is time to find workforce solutions that mirror the demands of the 21st Century—not the last one. 

If politicians are fighting for women’s votes at the ballot box, they can start by talking about how to help women businesses succeed and how to help women in the workforce succeed.  The nonsense that we were subjected to this week should be relegated to a thing of the past. 

It all starts with R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Note: This article originally appeared in the May issue of Women's Voices Magazine, where Ann is a regular contributor.

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