Episode 123: Fair Pay, part 1: It Begins with Babysitting

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…probing the pay gap. Which starts a lot earlier than you might think. 

“For 12 and 13-year-olds we don't have a wage gap but once they hit 14 we see the first emergence of the first wage gap.” 

And you might assume the best educated among us would command a decent raise. But… 

“Female MBAs who were asking for raises just as much as their male counterparts got the raise far less often.”

Women and the fight for equal pay, coming up on the Broad Experience.

So as I record this show Equal Pay Day is less than a week away. It’s on April 10th this year. This is the day when women’s earning supposedly catch up with what men earned last year. It symbolizes the pay gap between men and women. In the US women earn on average about 80 cents for every dollar a man does. But of course there are plenty of variations depending on the woman and the job, and we’ll get into some of that.  

Women’s pay is a big topic so I’m splitting it into two shows – this one and a short show I’ll release next week.

In these shows we’re gonna talk about women receiving equal pay for equal work, why pay transparency can be so hard to come by, the so-called motherhood penalty and a lot more.

But first, I want to introduce you to someone who thinks about the gender pay gap from a bit of a different perspective.

Yasemin Besen-Cassino grew up in Turkey, but today she’s a sociology professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Her research has always focused on gender and work. And one day several years ago she was sitting in a coffee shop in New York, thinking about the pay gap and some of the theories behind it… And as she sat there sipping her skim latte, she began to notice something…

“In the coffee shop I was surrounded by you know kids and teenagers who were working, and in that moment it occurred to me that a substantial portion of our workforce are teenage workers and we just don't study them.”

Research on the pay gap had always focused on working adults. But in America lots of teenagers work as well – some kids start as young as twelve. As she looked at the young workforce in the café, Yasemin wondered, is there any difference in what teenage boys and girls are being paid?  Or is everything fair and equal?

So she began to study teenagers’ wages. And she didn’t just want to look at people in their mid-late teens, she wanted to look at tweens as well.

“…and that's what I found –  for 12 and 13-year-olds we don't have a wage gap but once they hit 14 we see the first emergence of the first wage gap.”

AM-T: “So what is happening at 14?”

“Well at 14 I think a lot of jobs are becoming available, more employee-type jobs or retail jobs, service sector jobs. And at 14 boys quickly move into them and girls kind of stay in freelance jobs.”

AM-T: “And when you say freelance jobs, what do you mean?”

“Mostly babysitting. But also snow shoveling and doing yard work. Working for mom and dad.”

OK, but why are teenage girls staying in those less formal jobs around the neighborhood while boys are moving on?

“I think that is an interesting question. We're not so sure why that is. But I think they take advantage of the available things on the market. But it is not to say that’s the only source of the wage gap even within freelance jobs. We see a lot of gender inequality between boys and girls. Girls are just getting paid less for their freelance work.”

AM-T: “Well yeah talk about that a little bit. Let’s take that example of babysitting. Because I have a feeling many of my listeners, their first job will have been as a babysitter.”

“Oh, absolutely. Many girls work as babysitters. But today there are a lot of boys who do as well, and boy babysitters are actually in demand, especially babysitting for smaller boys and doing sports with them or being just older brother figures for them. But if we compare their wages, girls are paid much less for their work. When they negotiate they tend to be turned down more, but they also do more care work and more unpaid work. They stay after their shift to talk to the mothers, they come in a little bit early to talk to parents and they have a lot of out-of-pocket expenses. They buy work sheets for the children and in their free time, I've seen a lot of babysitters who study math so they can teach the children.”

AM-T: “Wow, so typically dedicated female workers.”

“Oh absolutely. And I've spoken to some male babysitters as well and their experience seems to be vastly different. They don't have any unpaid hours, their time is respected. They don't have any unpaid expenses and parents are more likely to negotiate with them. They respect their time and they give them more money.”

How much more? She spoke to teenagers in the New York/New Jersey area and she says most of the girls got paid in the $10 an hour range. The boys – they got closer to $15 an hour.

AM-T: “That is so interesting.”

“I found that very puzzling that most of the time mothers did the negotiating with the babysitters. But even they had biases about what to pay men and women.”

But if you think about it, it’s not that surprising. We all marinate in the same societal broth and society has entrenched views about what women should be and how we should act. We absorb those views as well. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere but if you’re interested in learning more about women’s bias against women there’s a great podcast on this by the BBC show Analysis. I’ll post a link to the episode at TheBroadExperience.com.

Back to the parents who were reluctant to pay teenage girls as much as boys for their services, Yasemin says that points to another long-held belief about women…

“It goes to our assumptions about how much we value women's time especially when it comes to care work. You know, these young babysitters should really care about the child so why do they ask for money? It's almost like love and care is in opposition to money.”

Whereas they probably don’t expect the same caring instincts from a guy. They understand that for him, it’s a job. And they reward him accordingly.

“And it is interesting, a lot of the male babysitters I talked to were talking about how the parents saw them. They were respected more. They were seen as more entrepreneurial because they started their babysitting business, whereas the girls were just, you know, individual girls just doing babysitting. So even the social meaning attributed to the same job was different.”

I wondered if the boys themselves noticed these differences…

“For some things they did notice. And when I asked some of the questions they thought they were ridiculous questions, like for example I asked them, do they cook for the family or do they run errands? And they thought this was incredibly strange because they never did those things before. Whereas almost all the female babysitters said at some point they ran errands, they cook for the family.”

Again, we’re conforming to female stereotypes here – we’re hardworking, we want to please, we enjoy helping people. And employers love it. Why wouldn’t they?

But Yasemin didn’t just look at neighborhood jobs like babysitting. Quite a few teens and young adults work in retail part-time. And Yasemin found some differences here too. Male and female teens are drawn to brands that reflect what they feel is their persona. They already like the brand’s look, and they want to be associated with it. But she says there’s a difference in how men and women progress at these stores. For one thing, there’s the pressure to keep up the look – to represent the brand on the shop floor. To wear the clothes, use the right makeup.

“Young women are getting in a lot of debt to be able to get the jobs they want and keep the jobs they want, and they are told, ‘You are here for the brands, you care for the clothes. Why do you need a raise?”

She says the attitude managers had with young women was basically, you’re lucky to be here in the first place. And she found young women have another issue to contend with. Many are told they’re good with people, and put into jobs on the shop floor. Jobs that involve a lot of customer contact…

“Most of the time they ended up being shouted at.”

Because customers, you know, we can be…difficult. The guys were more likely to be funneled into jobs with less people contact, and better prospects of promotion. She says a lot of the young women she spoke to became demoralized.

“It's all about the language and the little messages we give young people when we tell them you know, you're so good with people. Are they really hearing a positive message? I mean a lot of the women were hearing, ‘you're not good for management’ or ‘you're not good with money,’ if you're just good with people.”

Yasemin contends all this has a long-term effect. She spent time both interviewing teens and looking at data that tracks young people’s lives. There’s this study called the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. It follows American teenagers into their adult years. 

“We could see the teenagers, the female teenagers who worked as teens. When they get to be 29 and 30 there is the cost of being a girl and there's a cost of being a working girl. So they did make a lot less. Approximately $2,000 a year less than their male counterparts.”

Yasemin says being a working teenage girl contributes to that wage gap.

AM-T: “Why is it that that early work experience has this effect? How do its tentacles reach out over the years, how does that manifest itself? Why are they earning less?”

“Well that's an interesting question. And I was interested in how it happens and one of the reasons I could come up with was as we go to work we don't just learn about the world of work or how to go to work or time management or work ethic, but we also internalize the gender dynamics of the workplace and the problems of the workplace. And I think one of the things that we teach young women from an early age is that their time is not valued, that when they negotiate they're not going to be paid more. And it was discouraging to talk to all these young women, who were wonderful, but they had this learned helplessness of when I ask for more pay, I'm not going to get it.”

AM-T: “And when, because that’s not something I asked you earlier, taking babysitting as an example, had the women asked for more pay? I’m curious how many 14, 15- year-old girls do try and negotiate?”

“Oh, a lot of them did negotiate and after a while they asked for more pay. But they were really surprised and discouraged that they didn't get it. And many of them, there were different reasons why they were turned down. But many of them have this idea that oh if I ask for money I'm just not going to get it. Some of them had even unpaid hours. Most of them talked about the fact that they worked for people they knew. So usually we find jobs through our networks. But knowing the person that you work for it, it makes it harder to ask for more money.”

AM-T: “Absolutely, yeah, it’s very awkward.”

“It is very awkward and many of them talked about this awkwardness of they just didn't know how to talk about money or there wasn't the culture of talking about money. And for some of them it wasn't even the negotiating, they didn't know the starting point. And there was this lack of information, especially about freelance jobs, about how much to ask for.”

A lot of you probably started your work lives babysitting OR you’re a parent of a teenager who babysits. Or you hire local teens to babysit your kids. Does this ring bells for you? While I was making this show I came across a few articles from 2016 about a North Carolina mother who posted on Facebook that she likes to ask teenagers their hourly rate and the girls usually reply, ‘whatever you want to pay me is fine.’ She went on to say that this was NOT OK and that young women needed to learn to negotiate, including her own daughter.

But who’s teaching them these skills? Not schools and usually not parents either. But someone’s talking to the boys about how to set up their babysitting businesses, as they think of them, or encouraging them to move into the more formal workforce at 14. Maybe because we still think of men as the providers, we still socialize boys to expect that’ll be their role? That’s one theory I have. And maybe this is part of the same thing, but I think this goes deep into the area of money as a discussion topic with girls vs. boys – studies still show parents are more likely to talk about money with their sons than their daughters, and that helps normalize money for young men.

Which is perhaps why male babysitters…

 “…even though there were very few of them they magically knew how much to ask for and they felt more comfortable talking to each other about money, and asking about money, and going into the job interview. They just knew how much male babysitters got paid, whereas even though there were so many female babysitters, they just didn't know.” 

Yasemin Besen-Cassino. Her latest book is The Cost of Being a Girl.

But listen, I am a big believer in the power of negotiation and I’d hate this discussion about teenagers to put off anyone who’s already wary of negotiating. Yes, we know some studies show women are penalized for negotiating because we’re bucking the stereotype of the nice, pliant woman when we ask for more money. There’ll be a bit more on that later in the show. I don’t care. I negotiate anyway. There are ways to do it that work – take it from someone who really hated the thought of it and became better at it – and it is so satisfying when you take part in a successful negotiation. I haven’t ever done a full show on this partly because in the past few years this topic has taken off and there are loads of articles you can find about it online.

But if you’d like an episode of The Broad Experience on negotiation let me know – if enough of you hit me up I’ll do it. Negotiation is such a useful skill in so many areas of life – it is not just about asking for money.

In a minute…why pay transparency should matter to employer and employee…

“When people better understand why they’re paid the way they’re paid, we’ve found they’re more likely to stay at their employers longer.”

Don’t go away.

So one thing I’m going to say right off the bat is that I’m not going to do a deep dive into all the reasons for the pay gap in these two shows. There are great resources online and other podcasts that talk about that in depth – I particularly recommend a recent episode of the Harvard Business Review podcast Women at Work. The episode is called Mind the (Wage) Gap.

But to talk in broad strokes for a minute – the number we hear a lot – and I’m taking a US number here because that’s where I live – is that women earn on average about 80 percent of what men do. So 80 cents on every man’s dollar. That number, what economists call the uncontrolled pay gap, is calculated by looking at all working women and all working men in all jobs, and some of what contributes to that – women doing so-called gendered jobs – jobs that pay less because they’re female-dominated, women working fewer hours than men, and the fact that so few women are in positions of power. And there may be a good dollop of plain old discrimination but we can’t measure that. We’ll come back to that in a bit.

But let’s talk about the so-called controlled pay gap for a minute. That’s when you look specifically at the pay of men and women doing equal work.

“…that gap is a lot smaller when you control for job title, location, years of experience, skills, all those things that might impact pay, rightfully so, the gap shrinks.”

That’s Lydia Frank, a vice president with Seattle-based Payscale. They do lots of research on everything related to compensation.

“We’re trying really to help companies understand how to pay their people and to help individuals understand what they’re worth in the current market.”

So what Lydia said just then is that when you look at men and women doing equal work the pay gap is far smaller – but it is still there. And…

“The gap actually increases every step up the ladder. It’s smallest for individual contributors but it actually gets bigger for those in management, at a director, at an executive level…and

it’s also bigger in specific industries, so oil and gas for example has a 7% gap, finance also has a relatively large gap, and that’s for men and women working in the same jobs.”

Now some of you may know the work of Harvard researcher Claudia Goldin – and she’s featured in that HBR podcast I just mentioned. She’s devoted years to studying the pay gap and she’s found one big issue contributing to it is flexibility, or the lack of it. She says employers reward long hours and face time. And women still carry most of the caregiving responsibilities in their partnerships.  They tend to work fewer hours than men. She says women in industries with more flexible hours, where they have the leeway to just get the work done but don’t necessarily have to be in an office between 9 and 6  - their wage gaps are a lot smaller.

Which leads us to the topic of motherhood.

And as some of you raised with me in a discussion about pay on Facebook, there is a motherhood penalty. Payscale has done some research on that.

“That’s something we looked at a couple of years ago to better understand what was happening – we saw what’s been shown in other studies, which was women with children made less, not only than women without children but also we saw for men, when they had children they made slightly more than men who didn’t have children, so there was that daddy bonus, mommy penalty effect going on.”


“I think one argument around that tends to be, oh, mothers often make less because they have to take more time off, or they choose to take time off to care for children, they don’t work as many hours, right. That tends to be a common argument. We did dig into that a little bit and we asked both men and women how often they were taking off time from work in order to take care of family responsibilities. And we saw when we compared the women and men taking the most time off, men did not see an impact to their compensation for taking time away for family, but women did.”

So the more often a woman told them she prioritized family over work, the larger the pay gap became – even when compared to men who said they prioritize work over family just as often.

And it seems to me this is just plain old prejudice – the idea that women are less dedicated to work if they have kids. But men are just as dedicated. It’s a mindset thing and I think it’ll only change over time if much larger numbers of men – including bosses – get and take parental leave and split those home responsibilities equally. Cos that’s the only way men are going to be seen differently. As we talked about in a recent show society has a little trouble catching up to where men and women are themselves. It takes a long time for views to change.

Another topic that came up with some of you on Facebook was pay transparency. Why is there a silence around who earns what, and why do we feel like we’re engaging in subterfuge just trying to work out how much our peers earn so we can be paid fairly?

I said to Lydia, you know, the #MeToo movement has raised a lot of women’s voices and not just on sexual harassment and assault. Women are more willing now to challenge their employers on lots of things – including pay. But are companies willing to talk?  

“You know we talk about pay transparency here at Payscale quite a lot. I think often people and organizations fear that transparency means all or nothing, it means everybody knows what everybody makes or you know only what’s on your paycheck. And we really feel like there’s several steps along the way, that it’s really a spectrum. So there are opportunities for organizations to be a bit more transparent. We really do believe that fosters trust with employees, when people better understand why they are paid the way they are paid, we’ve found they’re likelier to stay at their employers longer, and to be highly satisfied.

Their research also found that understanding the pay process, feeling like it was fair…that has more of an effect on people’s intent to stay in a job than being paid at or above market rate.

“Which is startling in some ways, you’d think oh, the more money you throw at someone the more they’ll be loyal to the company, right, if they’re making good money, but that was not as impactful around those engagement metrics for employees as really feeling like they understood the process and feeling it was fair and transparent.”

She says as for women’s recently unleashed frustration – really a boiling over of years of frustration at the inequities of working life. 

“I do think it’s all interconnected. When we are seeing a disparity around pay and men and women so much of it, that big 80-something cents on the dollar we’ve been talking about, it has to do with the fact women aren’t in power, they’re not CEOs of companies most often, they’re not founders in great numbers, they’re not getting funding when they do try to found companies.”

She says when Equal Pay Day arrives this year her company is naming it Equal Power Day, because so much of the pay gap is down to women having less powerful roles.

But even then, as Lydia said earlier, the data shows that as women become more powerful and earn more, the pay gap with men doing the same work actually widens. Instead of two or three percent…

“What we found is for C-level women it was more like 6 or 7 percent. The gap grew up every stage. And part of that could be that if women typically get less in terms of raises then over time that starts to accumulate, or it could be that when you get to those big powerful positions that there is just even more bias coming into play, whether conscious or unconscious.”

She says it’s tough to completely dissect that without doing more research. But listen to this. A couple of years ago Payscale did a survey that looked at who was asking for raises, and if they got the raise or not. And if they didn’t ask, why didn’t they ask. 31 thousand people took part in this survey. 

“And one of the things we saw that was really interesting was when we looked at it by degree level, and female MBAs who were asking for raises just as much as their male counterparts got the raise far less often.”

Yup. 48 percent of women with MBAs got the raise they asked for. 61 percent of male MBAs got their raise. 

“And you’d think of anyone of any degree level, an MBA, they’re taught to negotiate, right, that’s a key part of MBA curriculum. And the fact that women so often were seeing poor results around receiving a raise if they asked for it was definitely interesting, because we weren’t seeing that same impact across other degree levels.”

AM-T: “I mean that really does suggest it’s just plain old bias at play there, right?

“Yeah, I mean we can’t say for sure, because there’s more study that would have to go into that, but it certainly points that way.”

Now I know I have plenty of listeners with MBAs. When you hear this what do you think? Does this reflect your experience – have you had more difficulty getting the raise you want as you’ve climbed the career ladder, or not at all? What do you think lies behind these figures?  

Lydia says the difficultly highly educated women seem to have negotiating as they progress – it could lead to the disparities that exist right at the top.

“You know, we think about who typically is gonna rise to a CEO position, it’s often somebody with an MBA, right? So the fact that female CEOs are seeing lower pay than their male counterparts is not terribly surprising given that female MBAs in general tend to not get raises when they ask to the same degree their male peers do. And part of it could be the industry, we did see that certain industries, finance was a big one, that tend to be male dominated, tend to have the largest controlled pay gaps between men and women…there are so few female CEOs it’s difficult, but if you dug into it by industry and the disparity in pay between the male and female CEOs to try and see if industries have an impact on that gap, that would be interesting too.”

AM-T: “Yeah.”

“We just have to get more women in the CEO position so there’s enough data!”

In next week’s show we’ll talk more about pay transparency – how to get it and how not to go about getting it. And we’ll pay a visit to Iceland, where a new gender pay law just went into effect.

“Men in Iceland are used to the claims of women and accept it and support it in many ways, but at the same time we’ve had a rather polarized debate. Maybe that’s because of the strong women’s movement. You mobilize the resistance when women raise their voices.”

That’s coming up next time. If you enjoy the show please share it with your friends – send them a link to the website so they can have a look around.

Talking of which, as usual you’ll find show notes and a transcript under this episode at TheBroadExperience.com.

I will see you next week for part two. Until then, I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.