Career advice for a daughter I don’t have

Bloomberg Businessweek magazine leads off its June 26, 2017 cover with a plaintiff cry: “Why do women still make 80¢ on the dollar?” The answer, of course, is simple: they don’t. It’s a myth perpetuated by simpletons who understand neither math or statistics.

I don’t have a daughter. But, if I did I would tell her this…

Be whatever you want to be. But, don’t expect anyone to hand success to you; you’re going to have to work bloody hard for every accomplishment. Hard work is the hallmark of every success.  At the same time, don’t limit yourself or let others limit you. That’s the downfall of every failure.

Does the Gender Wage Gap exist?

Yes. Numerous studies have shown that the median income of women in the world is lower than the median income of men. That’s the gap. It’s real and it’s been measured: The median income of women is routinely calculated to be between 0.71 and 0.81 times the median man’s income. Meaning for every dollar a man earns at the median male income, a woman earns 71 to 81 cents at the median female income.

Does this matter to my daughter?

Not at all.  She isn’t going to earn the median female income. Almost no one does. (By definition, at most, one person does.) She’s going to earn whatever she’s going to earn. And, every study that’s looked at why the woman’s median income is lower than the median man’s income tells us the same thing: it’s almost entirely due to the different choices individuals make. Just the same as the difference between my income and the median man’s income is due almost entirely to the different choices I’ve made, compared to other men.

What can my daughter do to increase her earning potential?

“Why do women still make 80¢ on the dollar?” The answer, of course, is simple: they don’t.

The same things my sons can do:

1. She can choose a career that pays more. Medical doctors in Canada are typically paid more than grocery store clerks. Engineers are paid more than daycare workers. Whether that should be the case, or not, is another debate. Suffice to say, for the time being it’s the way it is. It’s reality. So, if you want to be paid more than a bus driver – choose an occupation that typically pays more than driving a bus. If my daughter wants to be paid as much as a heart surgeon, she should become a heart surgeon.

My daughter should, however, not choose an occupation just because it pays well. I hope she will find a career or vocation that inspires and excites her. Because money, alone, is not what motivates most people.

2. She can pursue an education that prepares her for her chosen occupation. Many studies show that male students are more likely to choose academic programs that lead to higher-paying occupations, while female students are more often over-represented in academic programs that lead to lower-paying occupations.  Men are disproportionately represented in engineering, science, IT and technical programs while women are over-represented in early childhood education, social work and psychology programs. Guess which programs lead to higher paying careers; not the latter group.

3. She can aspire to, and achieve, success as a leader in her occupation. Workers in most occupations earn more as they gain experience and assume more responsibility. Supervisors typically earn more than frontline workers, managers more than supervisors and executives more than managers. So, being promoted to increasingly challenging leadership roles is one way my daughter can get paid more.

A significantly lower percentage of women than men aspire to leadership positions in their occupations. A recent Accenture study called “Getting to Equal 2017” found that just 41 per cent of women aspired to leadership roles in their chosen occupations, compared to 51% of men. Berkeley Warburton, a Managing Director with Accenture told my NEWSTALK1010 listeners about a female job applicant who hoped to be paid just $45,000 per year – after having been told the salary range for the job she sought was $50,000 to 90,000 per year. Male applicants for the same job asked to be paid close to or at $90,000.

Accenture found that 92 per cent of the men they surveyed aspired to be promoted, compared to just 67 per cent of their female peers. It’s possible this difference could be related to lower self-confidence amongst the women (or over-confidence amongst the men) or conflicts between career aspirations and other life goals.

4. She can choose not to have a family, or have children at the most opportune time in her career, and/or choose a partner who will carry much of the burden of raising their children.  Many studies have found that women, on average, work fewer hours than men. There are many possible reasons for this, but there is no doubt that fewer hours of work correlate with lower pay – either by reducing hourly-wage earnings or by losing out on job assignments or promotions to others who appear to be “working harder” or “more reliable.”

Women are also more likely than men, to take time off for child-rearing.

By choosing an occupation that will provide work-life flexibility and waiting until she reaches the best career-point (perhaps, once she’s a manager or highly-valued independent creative contributor), my daughter may minimize the negative impact raising a family may have on her career. She may also choose a partner who may more equally share the burden – as even in 21st Century Canada, women continue to typically bear more of the burden of raising a family.

In short, my daughter has the same chance of success my sons have

There is no reason in 2017, in Canada (or the USA), that any woman can’t do what my imaginary daughter couldn’t do: the same thing my sons can do, if they choose. The “median income” is a largely meaningless indicator of gender parity. It is entirely, backward looking.

There was a time, not that long ago, when political and business culture was decidedly anti-woman. My ex-wife, who is a brilliant business leader, was not allowed to join the management program at a major Canadian bank – because she was a woman. She’s now been a successful executive and corporate officer in a couple of very lucky financial services firms. The bank was wrong, then. But times have changed.

That said, change takes time to work its way through the system. And, it’s true that even if all women today are given exactly equal opportunities as their male colleagues, there would be (and are) more male than female corporate CEOs and board directors. That’s because women came to this opportunity later than men, sadly. Being a CEO, board director or other senior executive is not an entry-level job. It requires experience; experience requires time. The leading wave of women who’ve been given the equal opportunities they’ve always deserved is only just now reaching the top of the management hill. And, they’re performing remarkably.

The future is bright for young women – and men – who choose to make it so. Let that always be the case.

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