The Unthinkable Reason the Gender Wage Gap is Widening

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Women have the worst earnings compared to men in nearly 114 of the most common jobs with female insurance sales agents facing the largest wage gap, according to a new study.

"Year after year, it is occupations with high commission payments that do worse for women," said Ariane Hegewisch, the study director from the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR). "Given lack of pay transparency, we have to rely on lawsuit evidence showing that women are not less likely to work hard in these jobs but are less likely to be given the higher earning accounts or work in the big buck sales departments."

The IWPR study found women insurance sales agents earn $641 weekly compared to $1,026 for men.

"More women in decision making positions would reduce the bias level," said Philip Noftsinger, business unit president at CBIZ Payroll. "If 70% of your CEOs are male and you assume some level of bias, it's not unlikely that male salespeople will more often receive a "yes" for a deal than women sales agents."

Further, occupations dominated by women pay lower wages and women are twice as likely as men to work in occupations with poverty wages.

Common occupations for women include waitress, cashier, housekeeper, maid, psychiatric nursing and home health aide.

"The most common occupations for women show how far women have come with good earnings in many occupations but they also show the desperate and all too common problem of low pay for many women," said IWPR President Heidi Hartmann.

That may be in part because women don't negotiate as often as men.

A CareerBuilder survey found that 54% of men versus 49% of women negotiate first offers while only 54% of sales workers are likely to negotiate their salary.

"Many employers expect a salary negotiation and build that into their initial offer. So when job seekers take the first number given to them they are oftentimes undervaluing their market worth," said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder.

Overall, the annual rate of wage gains in the private sector in coming months is expected to remain at or near the 1.9% increase posted in the second quarter, according to the Department of Labor's employment cost index (ECI).

"While not every hiring manager will be able to raise their offer, it's never a bad idea to negotiate," said Haefner.

The failure to negotiate means many workers, men and women, are leaving money on the table in more ways than one.

"The lagging economy mutes increases in wages in everybody that doesn't have an equity position but it accelerates wages in those that do have an equity position," Noftsinger said. "Thus, it elongates that earning gap that we see in the country."

Workers receive equity positions through stock option and stock grants offered by their employers but these income opportunities are often limited to higher level positions in a company.

"Women can personally close the wage gap for themselves by seeking work with companies that offer an equity program and maintain a clearly defined and functioning program that identifies and elevates women of talent," Noftsinger said.

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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