Friday, December 30, 2011

Pink Collar Ghetto - And Perhaps My Final Dissertation Topic?

"Let's face it, Ladies.  We are in a pink collar ghetto."  Lily Tomlin as Violet Newstead, 9 to 5. 
I was 5 years old when the movie 9 to 5 came out, but I remember watching it with my mom over and over again.  To this day, if it's on TV, I will stop to watch it.  As a girl of the 80's, I grew up with parents who told me I could do anything, even be President.  My mom always worked at home, and my dad didn't get the chance to finish college.  This movie sang to me the message that women have to stick together and confront the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigots of the world.  
At the sunset of 2011, the message is still important.  Why?  Because women, as a whole, make only 80% of what men make.  80%.  In 2011.  Are you listening?  And this is supposed to be such an improvement from 1970, when the gap was less than 60%.  Yesterday I did some research on the pink collar ghetto, coined in 1983 by a woman consultant desperately trying to help women crawl out of it.  Yes, the wage gap is mainly attributable to the over-representation of men in higher-paying occupations, such as engineering, sciences and math, and executive leadership, and the over-representation of women in lower-paying occupations, such as education, nursing, and service industries.  How can we let this happen?  Even when women go to college (now at a much higher rate than men), they still make far less than their male counterparts.  This is a travesty and one I must figure out.

So as my dissertation focus has shaped itself, and changed itself, and driven me - and my advisor - crazy, now I think I've reached it.  I have access to more than a dozen women at work who are breaking down barriers in male-dominated industries and making as much money as the good ol' boys.  I have to tap into them and see what makes the difference and how we can help other women become equal in the workplace, and society as a whole.  

Perhaps a more fundamental mystery is this:  Why are some of the most critical occupations to our society the lowest paying ones?  I refuse to believe that educating our children and healing our infirm and weak take any less skill, education, mental horsepower, and critical thinking than building a power plant, or optimizing a search engine algorithm.  We pay CEO's, athletes, movie stars more money than they could ever spend in several generations.  Now, lest you think I'm a socialist, let me clear that up - I'm not.  I believe people have the right to earn as much money as they possibly can.  But let's be realistic here.  We have created a society in which women are stuck in a pink-collar ghetto with very little hope of rising above.  This creates a cycle of poverty for their children, and thus dominates our social landscape with all sorts of problems - crime, drugs, illness that cost society billions of dollars and insurmountable pain.  Wouldn't it make sense to equalize pay for critical jobs in our country and help women become partners in solving the world's ills?  

Think about it. 

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