Ronnie Steinberg discusses future efforts in pay equity reform

The pay equity reforms of the 1970s and '80s were groundbreaking for their time, but new ideas need to be implemented to address contemporary pay equity issues, according to Ronnie Steinberg, sociology professor at Temple University.

Steinberg discussed pay equity and its attempts to address the assumptions in gender compensation practices that result in low wages for employees performing historically female jobs in an April 22 campus address sponsored by the sociology department. The recipient of this year's Award for the Promotion of Human Welfare, given jointly by the Southern Sociological Society and Emory's Department of Sociology, Steinberg also discussed her ideas for a new compensation system.

"It's no longer news that there's a gender gap between the full-time working man and the full-time working woman," Steinberg said, noting that in 1995 women made an average of 71 cents to every dollar a man made. She highlighted the losses in pay women would receive over a lifetime for this inequality and described the Policy Referendum of Pay Equality instituted by the federal government, which prohibits wage discrimination where women and men are doing essentially equal work.

Problems in pay inequity surfaced because "unconditionally, the work women do is paid less," she said. Pay scales were adjusted in accordance with several factors to determine equality of work: complexity, responsibility and conditions. This system, however, "carries sex bias in both its design and application," Steinberg said. "In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, assumptions were built into the first job evaluation systems." Men were considered the main source of income for a family, whereas women's income was viewed as supplemental.

Thus, the system weighs traditionally male factors in the workplace on a higher scale than traditionally female factors. Steinberg cited one example from the system that dictated that the skills and responsibility of a dog catcher were considered higher than that of a nursery school teacher.

To address such problems, Steinberg has been working on a gender-neutral job classification system, which she first developed for the Ontario Nurses Association. "As I saw it, I needed to develop a new system to value job content in the range of female work," she said. Steinberg studied several focus groups of employees who did a variety of both traditionally male and female jobs, then developed 16 different job content categories under four headings: skill, effort, responsibilities and working conditions.

Despite her award-winning work, Steinberg said that not a single pay equity initiative has appeared that addresses this type of gender bias. However, at least 20 states have spent millions in wage adjustment, so "the picture is not all dismal. It's just a picture that needs to go the extra step.

"I would hope that the results of the study would have some impact," Steinberg said. "It's a tried and tested alternative for those who perform traditionally female work."

--Danielle Service

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