Why Pay Equity Statistics Dupe Brands Into Mad Men Marketing

As busy marketers, we rely on statistics and analysis to develop communication strategies, create PPC campaigns and identify which markets are best suited for our product.  Sometimes statistics are simple enough that anyone can understand them. Let’s say you have two bags of apples. 25 percent of the apples in the first bag are bruised compared to 50 percent of the apples in the second bag. The best bag is obvious.

There are other instances, however, in which statistics are complicated enough that it takes a professional to translate them into a meaningful statement. It takes years to develop the skill necessary to dig deep and analyze a variety of statistics and then present them in a cohesive and useful manner.

If you do a search for “pay equity for women” you’ll find a lot of articles reporting numbers in the 70 to 80 percent range. Those numbers suck, but the grains of salt to take with those reported wage disparities are numerous. What follows is a more realistic picture of the situation.

I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

In most of these doomsday accounts the number given is not even an average, it’s a median. If you were to take 101 apples from the previous hypothetical and arrange them from ripest to the most bruised apple 51 would be your median. If more than half of the apples are more or less in the same shape that median is a good stat. If however apples 52 through 101 are in much better shape than the median, it has less significance.

Averages can be just as imperfect. If you have an even split of perfect apples and beat to hell apples, the average is going to paint a picture of 101 pretty decent apples even though half of them a horse wouldn’t eat. That’s the problem with using only averages and medians on pay equity. They don’t tell even half the story.

The Good Apples

Currently, for women between the ages of 20 and 34 pay equity is 92%. It’s only after age 34 that things go dramatically downhill and really screw up the average and give a near-meaningless median. The pay range for women between the ages of 35 and 64 is from 75 to 78 percent. That is a huge drop, obviously.

Once women reach retirement age they have 80% the income of their male counterparts. The reason for this won’t require much more elaboration than you get out of retirement what you put into it, and women historically worked fewer hours for less money several decades ago.

That’s not the case anymore and there’s no reason to expect women to ever return en masse to “stay-at-home” status. This should make a huge difference for many male-focused brands that have ignored women because of the perception that they simply don’t have the income. Big mistake. Not only do they have more income today, they’re heads of more household than men, making purchasing decisions up to three times more often. If you’re continuing to ignore women, you’re marketing to a last of its kind generation on its way out. In another decade your brand may only be well known to a handful of misogynists and a lot of crickets.

The More You Learn, The More You Earn

Simply put, the more education, the higher the wage. The worst pay equity out there is not male to female, it’s high school graduates to college graduates, where the former make a little bit more than half the latter.

A few decades ago fewer women were getting degrees. Now more women than men are getting bachelor’s degrees, masters, and doctorates. Within the same field with the same education women have in many respects nearly gained pay equity.

Forbes recently ran an article on 15 fields where women are now making more than men, with ten additional fields where pay is virtually equal. Any pessimist pointing fingers at those median income numbers for women are going to be just as surprised as the analysts in the nineties who said Apple Computer should just sell off their assets and concede defeat to Microsoft.

Even traditionally male brands could find themselves in the cold if they don’t start focusing on women. Women buy cars and power tools more often than men go to the grocery store to do the weekly shopping.

“Male” and “Female” Careers

Nurse. Doctor. Construction Worker. Secretary. All of these careers have a stereotype that pops into your head and with good reason. Those professions are still dominated by the gender most people assign to them without thinking. But that’s changing too. More men are entering into traditionally female fields than ever before and more women are entering into traditionally male fields at the same rate. The divisions of the past accounted for much of the pay inequity, and they are disappearing.

Construction work, for example, is still 97% male, but the women working in it have one of the highest pay equity ranges of any other field at 93%. And that’s a median no less, meaning women at the higher end of the profession are already making equal pay.

Statistics Don’t Lie, Partial Ones Do.

So that’s a more accurate picture of the pay equity scene. As men and women enter careers typically held by the other sex and women continue to earn more higher degrees than men, the pay equity situation will only improve.

Discrimination Is Real, But Is Running Out Of Places To Hide

Is discrimination still a reality? Absolutely. But the world has become too litigious a place for people to discriminate outright. In the past biased hiring practices could be disguised with a job title, but as work becomes gender-neutral pay will have to be equal. If you want to call Bill an “executive assistant” instead of a “secretary” you better call Janet the same thing if she’s doing the same job, and you better pay them the same. You can put it on a paycheck, or pay it in the out of court settlement for a discrimination lawsuit.

If you’re in sales and an increasing amount of customers are women they’re going to buy from your mixed sex competitors if you show up to the pitch with a bunch of dudes and a boys-only clubhouse attitude. As romantic as the world of “Mad Men” is, in today’s reality Don Draper would be just as likely to pitch to big companies headed by women as men. It’s also likely Peggy Olson would be heading up the pitch meeting and Don would be bringing her coffee.

Not Your Mother’s Workforce

The overall career landscape is going through a radical transformation. That nearly 20 point drop in pay equity from age 34 to 35 isn’t as much about the age of the workers, but the times we are living in. Technology and politics are forever altering and leveling the playing field. In an increasing number of occupations not only are women as qualified as men, because of a greater percentage of higher degrees, they are more qualified.

Discrimination will continue to decline because many people want to do the right thing, but everyone will change because it effects the bottom line. If you want to be competitive you need the most qualified people, and that’s going to increasingly be women, on both sides of the conference table. If you need to be marketing to women, and for women, it better be by women too. If you don’t hire them, you can bet your competitors will.

View more statistical data on Pay Equity by age