I’ve written a little bit here on Recruiter.com about the wage gap. After I wrote Women Are Saying Goodbye, I realized that there are many in the workforce who don’t believe that a wage gap exists and if it does, many of these same people agree (quite respectfully and with some reliable reports) that it is, at least in part, due to women’s own choices and inability to negotiate for more. This again came to the forefront when I read this Bloomberg editorial.

If you are interested in more on this, please read Part 1, which discusses family time, child-care, education and more. This post will deal primarily with how women enter and navigate the workplace and how either workplace culture or their decisions affect their demonstrably lower wages…

One of the first issues raised by those who disagree that the Wage Gap is based on discriminatory practices is choice of industry. What about the fact that women don’t choose jobs in higher paid industries (and/or “male dominated” industries). Surely if we factored that in, then you would plainly see that, the “alleged” wage gap is negligible:

Furchtgott-Roth cites a 2005 study by economists June O’Neill and Dave O’Neill, which found that for the most part “the gender gap is attributable to choices made by women concerning the amount of time and energy to devote to a career.” They continue: “There is no gender gap in wages among men and women with similar family roles.”

In addition to being more likely to seek part-time work, women are also more likely to have gaps in their employment history and to enter lower-paying fields. The consulting company Consad, in a 2009 report for the Labor Department, found that these factors account for most of the pay gap. Correct for them, and men make only 5 percent to 7 percent more than women for the same work.

First, I’d like to point out that 5-7% is not negligible, if you disagree, go ask your boss for a 7% raise. Unfortunately, studies show that even when women choose “non-traditional,” higher-paid majors, a wage gap STILL exists. Women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are paid 86 percent of what their male counterparts are paid.

Okay FINE! The wage gap exists. But isn’t because women are less likely to negotiate, choose better work-life balance over money and aren’t traditionally attracted to the high-risk work that men are? Meh…maybe? Let’s discuss each of these in stride.

The female is unable to negotiate. There are plenty of arguments to debunk this, but we’re focusing on discrimination or a lack thereof here, so let’s zero in on that.

Timothy Judge, the Franklin D. Schurz Professor of Management in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business; Beth Livingston from Cornell University; and Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario, document the effects of gender and “agreeableness” in their study, “Do Nice Guys – and Gals – Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income.”

Cliff’s Notes Version: Women are more likely to be judged very negatively when they attempt to negotiate, while men, get a proverbial boost from both men and women (please note: in one study, both sexes were played by actors reading from an identical script trying to negotiate in a work setting).

On the other hand, there is this study that shows that men are more likely than women to ask for more money, better perks, more vacation etc. The solution to gender disparities, this school of thought suggests, is to train women to be more assertive and to ask for more. But this:

“What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not,” Bowles said. “They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not.”

So if women are asking, but either NOT getting or getting penalized (once again) for identical behavior for which their male counterparts are rewarded :

If women are asking, but are still not advancing as quickly, maybe we need to frame things differently. Perhaps it’s not that women don’t ask—but that men don’t have to.

The females are unable to tolerate or do not move toward high-risk/high-reward job. From the IWF’s website):

Men are far more likely to take unpleasant and dangerous jobs, what Farrell calls the “death and exposure professions.” For example, firefighting, truck driving, mining and logging — to name just a few high-risk jobs — are all more than 95 percent male. Conversely, low risk jobs like secretarial work and childcare are more than 95 percent female.

Yet, there is no evidence (actually there is opposite evidence) that high-risk= high-pay. In fact of the four most dangerous jobs in America, all four are on the lower end of the pay-scale. Even in cases where a “danger premium” exists, economists have found that everyone in the company, even those who are not in physical danger, is awarded the premium. Boom, roasted.

Finally, we settle on work-life balance, arguably the most elusively defined of the three (arguments against the wage gap even existing). Work-life balance may be the ideal but it’s not reality for mothers or women in America. In six out of ten families, a mother is the primary or co-breadwinner, so the wage gap makes a huge difference in a family’s economic security. We do have a measurement for work-life balance for OECD countries and it has this to say regarding hours worked:

Overall, men spend more hours in paid work: in the United States 15% of men work very long hours, compared with 6% for women. {On the other hand,} Men in the United States, spend 154 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring, higher than the OECD average of 131 minutes but still less than American women who spend 258 minutes per day on average on domestic work .

The argument seems to bear weight on this one, in study after study women seem less likely to choose careers that will negatively affect their work-life balance but may be more financially rewarding. However, once again, we find that the female exceptions to the rule who DO take the road less traveled pay a higher cost than their male counterparts for doing so:

In the Harvard and Beyond survey, Goldin and Katz found that female M.B.A.s took more time off after having a child than did their peers with other advanced degrees, and that even after correcting for the amount of time out of work, this group of women saw the largest pay decrease compared to peers who took no time off. Female M.B.A.s who took a year and a half off made 41 percent less than their counterparts who had worked continuously. For J.D.s who took time off, the pay gap was 29 percent. And for M.D.s, the gap (16 percent) was even less than the gap facing women with no graduate degree (25 percent).

While this is the most convincing argument for discrimination being a smaller part of the pay gap, it by no means indicates that the gender gap doesn’t exist. In fact, in this study, some industries are seeing the pay gap INCREASE… yeah, in 2012.

Be sure to continue reading for Part 3 of this series, where we’ll discuss some of the bright spots, like Female CEO pay in the Fortune 500, how the US stacks up in global comparisons and finally what we can do to live up to the promise made over 30 years ago with the Equal Pay Act.

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