The Widdershins

The Value War…

Posted on: September 23, 2014

Good afternoon Widdershins. There is much astir today. It appears that Iraq 3.0 began last evening — a war so nice we have now done it thrice. From early returns, it appears we have bombed between 20 to 25 ISIL and Khorasan outposts, training grounds, and their ostensible headquarters.

The Arab neighbor watch appears to have stepped up to the challenge. Good on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Qatar, and Bahrain for their help.

Gender Pay Gap

But this is not the war to which I am referring in the title. A little prefatory explanation is in order. Last week, the Census Bureau reported that the gender wage gap is now 22 cents — not the 23 cents we thought last year. That’s the right direction, but the wrong analysis.

It’s right in that the gap has narrowed slightly. It’s the wrong focus since it accentuates a symptom and not the real problem. To analyze the wage gap through numbers is a game of three card Monte — the focus is always shifting and subject to the slight of data manipulation. The larger issue and I believe the correct analysis is how we value people — not just women although women are the primary beneficiaries of this view.

The traditional liberal thinking on the wage gap is typified by the Center for American Progress. Hoping to remedy the wage gap, the CAP addresses the gender wage gap with seven proposals:

1. Raise the minimum wage
2. Raise the tipped minimum age
3. Support fair scheduling practices
4. Support pay transparency
5. Invest in affordable, high-quality childcare and early child education
6. Pass paid sick days legislation
7. Pass a national paid family and medical leave insurance program

Are these worthwhile goals — yes. Will they help narrow the wage disparity — yes. Will they address those who are low-wage workers, who are disproportionately women — yes. Will it cure the larger problem of how we value women and in larger measure, all working people in our society — no.

Without question, all of the above goals are laudable, worthwhile, and should have been implemented the day before yesterday — that is if Congress ever gets back in the law-passing-business. But while these goals would shrink the wage gap to some degree and boost women’s pay, the underlying question of why women make up nearly two-thirds of people working at or below the minimum wage is a more productive and far-reaching inquiry.

The U.S. is in a tie for 5th highest gender wage gap...

The U.S. is in a tie for 5th highest gender wage gap…

When you look at the opponents of the seven proposals and the tactics they employ to resist the inherent fairness embodied within them, they manipulate the data and invariably wind up talking about the scary lady parts of which they know so little. Childbearing, as if by immaculate conception, and child-rearing, as if by June Cleaver Stepford clones, are the excuses always trotted out, but what goes begging is why women are systematically disadvantaged up and down the economic job ladder — not just at the lower rungs.

Here are some of the better questions: Why do women suffer such a penalty for taking time off after having children and men do not? Why is insufficient childcare a woman’s problem and seldom if ever a problem affecting the men folk? And instead of asking why women are taking lower-paying jobs than men, perhaps the question is why women, who now are clearly more educated than men, are dissuaded from studying math and science?

There are thought pieces about incentivizing girls to study in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) areas, rethinking paternity leave, retooling scheduling, and actually reinventing positions so the jobs are more conducive to lifestyle choices, but none of these address the fundamental undervaluing of people, particularly women, in the workplace. Women obviously need to be paid more, but the real point is how we, as a society, value them and their work.

I’ve seen this first hand in my consulting with businesses. You have probably heard the tired old hiring motto about “getting the right people on the bus”. That’s only half the analysis — what is important is “getting the right people in the right seats on the right bus“. It is about value hiring and paying that person in terms of world-class performance.

Here’s a quick example: A world-class hotel chain was consistently scoring low on its housekeeping services. The recommendation to the hotel: Study those within the organization who consistently outperform and then hire more of them. The CEO resisted by saying, “They are just housekeepers why do I need to spend the money to study them? Just hire some more housekeepers.”

Having identified the hotel chain’s world-class housekeepers, the CEO was challenged to spend a day doing the job of a housekeeper. He was a miserable failure — a world-class failure. On average, it took him three to five times longer to do the same job and his results were poorer. As so many people do, the CEO failed to realize the inherent talent associated with cleaning a room.

In only three fields do women earn more than men -- baker is one, the other two are purchasing agent and a miscellaneous computer field...

In only three fields do women earn more than men — baker is one, the other two are purchasing agent and a miscellaneous computer field…

In those world-class performers, cleaning a room translated into a strategy of attack, the inventiveness to place themselves in a guest’s mindset, and the overwhelming pride of ownership in creating a spotless room. The CEO relented and began hiring for talent, began paying for the talent, and most importantly, came to respect the value these employees represented.

Imagine a world where DMV workers were filled with positivity. Imagine a help line where the workers were filled with a love of actually solving problems. Imagine a police officer who understood the art of listening. While we are imagining these worlds, imagine these people were not only respected, but paid for their value.

That is a world where the wage gap would not exist. That world is perhaps a couple of generations away from where we are now, but nonetheless a world to which we should aspire.

It’s not exactly rocket science either: Where we respect, value, and reward the individual, it’s society that collectively benefits. It’s just that simple.

Take the conversation wherever you like since this is an open thread.

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3 Responses to "The Value War…"

Good post Prolix and thanks for explaining why just the “traditional” proposals aren’t enough.

To add to your example, I’ve spent a good amount of time in hotels. Hurricane coming? Time to bug out for a few days. Then also, when I needed a break from care-giving duties, I would frequently line up a getaway weekend in the French Quarter. As nice as front desk staff can be, it’s the work of the housekeepers that made the more important impression on me. And, if those housekeepers aren’t happy or satisfied you will surely notice it when you check into a room. Further it’s not an easy job physically. There’s a lot of lifting and tugging and stretching involved. I couldn’t do it and I’m not surprised the CEO couldn’t do it either.

I fear that I stand with Charlie Rangle – if we are to be at war, set up a draft and a war tax.

Nursing is a female dominated profession, but silly us – we pay males equally.

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