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NOW on the News
4.27.07

NOW on the News with Maria Hinojosa

Transcript: Ellen Bravo on Women's Pay
4.27.07

» More about this interview

HINOJOSA: Hi, everyone. This week we're talking to Ellen Bravo. She's the author of the new book, Taking on the Big Boys or Why Feminism is Good for Families, Business, and the Nation. Bravo is the former director of Nine to Five, the National Association of Working Women. She now teaches at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Welcome, Ellen.

BRAVO: Thank you.

HINOJOSA: So, you know, I have to say, first, when you—when you think of a book like this, Taking on the Big Boys or Why Feminism is Good essentially for Americans, you know, there might be some people who say, "Oh, what an old issue. Feminism is so passe, and women are making enough money, and stop complaining." Yet, your book has gotten a lot of positive reviews because people feel that you're raising essential questions.

BRAVO: Absolutely. You know, there is some good news obviously. We're really delighted to hear that we have a woman Speaker of the House, and a woman viable candidate for president, and a new woman as president of Harvard, and that women are gettin' equal pay at Wimbledon. That's good news.

But we have to be very careful of what I call abracadabra arithmetic, thinking that one or a few equals plenty. The—only two percent of Fortune 500 C.E.O.s are women, only 16 percent of congress, top earners, six percent, and three-quarters of Fortune 500 (UNINTEL) have no women among the top earners, and so on. Where are we plentiful? We're 90 percent of people who earn under 15,000 a year. How about this category? We're 70 percent of the new entrance in moonlighting, people who have more than one job.

HINOJOSA: So, Ellen Bravo, what would you like to see? What do you think would be the most effective thing that could happen now to essentially move to, not only issues of pa—better pay equity between men and women, but in general the status of working America?

BRAVO: We want companies to take a stand. The problem is waiting for the big boys to do this all themselves is like expecting two year olds to tell us when they need a timeout. The most important thing right now for people to do is to get involved in organizations that will influence what happens in the 2008 election and say to candidates, "We're going to hold you accountable. We're gonna vote based on where you stand on this. And then we're going to hold you accountable for what you do on it." We can have a focus of influence in the outcome of that election that really can make a big difference in our everyday lives.

HINOJOSA: And should it be only women who are making these calls? Who do we call? Who do we start with?

BRAVO: Well, absolutely not. We—that's why I say, feminism is good for families and good for men as well. And we want them to be part of this fight because they too should want time to bond with their children. These laws are gender neutral. And, you know, the big boys like to trivialize and say, "Men will just go hunting and fishing." But many more men would be good fathers, and sons, and husbands if they didn't get punished for it at work or if they didn't take a hit financially that would hurt their families.

The first thing to do is to find out who your state legislator—and your federal congressional and senators are. They all have e-mail accounts that you can send. But the thing that really helps is when you say something personal. Say something about your own experience and why this matters.

HINOJOSA: Part of the problem is that there are some women who don't act. You know, and people would say, "Look, pay differences are in part the fault of women because they don't ask for money." For example, the author, Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University, in her book, Women Don't Ask—basically, men ask for more and they get more. So, you know, is this just the fact that women don't like asking for a raise? They don't like entering into that negotiation with their bosses, and so, they stay quiet.

BRAVO: There—it—it is true that men ask more than women in those jobs, and women can learn how to do that. But the o—bigger truth is the majority of women work in jobs where they're not allowed to negotiate about anything having to do (NOISE) with their pay. And many of them are threatened with firing if they talk about their pay.

HINOJOSA: There are some business executives who would say women earn less. There's this pay inequity. Because look, you've got women who take time off to go take care of their kids. They're not as committed to their career because they've got other things going on. They're not willing to work the long hours that it's gonna take for them to get the big salary. So when you hear that, you say?

BRAVO: The big boys say, "Oh, well, women make less because they trade income for flexibility." The truth is the lowest paying jobs are the least flexible, both for women and for men. This is a myth, but really its problem is that the ideal worker paradigm doesn't work anymore. The man with the wife at home who can give endless hours. And you know what? A lot of men don't want it either. And after 9/11, there are a lot of men, as well as women, who are saying, "We want something else."

HINOJOSA: When you say, "Let's take on the big boys," who are these big boys? And aren't there some big girls that have now gotten mixed up with the big boys? And so, where do we differentiate?

BRAVO: Well, you know, there are some—girls among those big boys. But the majority of the big boys, who are actually a small number of people, are male. And they're the people who own the power and wealth—what some people call the powers that be or the rule in class. They are the people who have a lot to say about how we do our work and also what the public policy will be.

HINOJOSA: But you say that these big boys, these power brokers, have a stake in maintaining gender discrimination. And I'm sure that people will say (SIC) that and they'll say, "Oh wait a second, Ellen Bravo. You're saying that there's some kind of conspiracy where these small group of men get together and say, 'Hey, let's come up with plans that we maintain gender discrimination and where women are always gonna be on the second rung.'" And I'm sure some people say, "I don't buy that."

BRAVO: I don't either. I think the big boys don't—have a secret handshake, and they don't meet in cigar smoke filled rooms. But they do have a community of interest, and they operate from that interest. Let's take this for example. Pay—who benefits when women make less money? When women don't get it, it doesn't go into their husbands' or their brothers' pocket, or their sons'. It goes into the pockets of the big boy. That's what I mean that they have a stake in maintaining gender discrimination. Men will gain when women get fair pay, and men will gain, obviously, when women don't get fired for having a sick kid, and kids will gain as well as women.

HINOJOSA: But is it realistic right now, Ellen? This is an economy where a lot of people, men, many men as well as women, will be feeling like I just can't risk anything right now. So, you're asking people to change the whole t—paradigm of working America at a time when a lot of people are feeling profoundly insecure about their economic futures and their jobs.

BRAVO: They can afford to make these changes, and there are elected officials who want to. There are people who are becoming responsive, including people who are running for president who have come to groups like ours and said, "Tell me how I can make these issues more central in my campaign." They will especially do that if they hear from voters, "I'm gonna vote for people who have plans (NOISE) for how to change this." This isn't about can we afford it. It's about political will, and we the people can create that political will.

HINOJOSA: All right, the paradigm before, Ellen, essentially was that women needed to become power brokers. So, what you're saying is there's—right now, your vision of where feminism needs to be is that it's not about getting more women into those power suits, and into the power lunches, and playing the power golf games. Or are you?

BRAVO: Well, it's not—w—w—we—obviously, we want more women in those positions, but more than that we wanna redesign the building. Not just shatter the glass ceiling, but redesign the building. And the truth is only by looking at the people who are most affected by discrimination and injustice can we find solutions that are systemic enough to help even those at the top.

Let me give you an example, the pay gap. The pay gap is largest for women who have the most education and work the longest hours, just the opposite of what the big boys would have us think. The—take the issue of—of that flexibility for family care. Half the work force right now and three-quarters of low wage workers have no paid sick days.

Not only could you loose a day's pay for being sick or staying home with a sick kid, but you could actually loose your job. But at the top, people have paid sick days, but they're pressured not to use them. They can take leave for a new baby, but they're seen as uncommitted and incompetent if they do. What's going to change that corporate culture will be to raise the floor and make visible these minimum labor standards for everybody.

HINOJOSA: do you think, Ellen Bravo, though that—that there are many—many—many women who think, "Okay, things aren't perfect, but I've got a good job." Is there a lack of anger? You know, one of the statistics that you bring out is that the average working American woman in the United States essentially looses half a million dollars over her lifetime because of pay inequities. Do you think if (CHUCKLE) all working women knew, "Hey, I'm making half a million dollars less in my lifetime because I'm a woman," that that anger would kind of propel forward this movement that you're talking about? But most people don't know that.

BRAVO: I—I do. I think if women had the facts, they would not only be angry, they'd wanna act. But you know what? I think there's a lot of anger already. What—what's lacking isn't rage, isn't a sense of injustice. What's lacking is a sense of what we can do about it.

HINOJOSA: But there might be some business leaders who say, "If we have to pay women more, then ultimately that money is coming out of our earnings and ultimately that means that if we're taking it out—out of our earnings, the entire economy could shrink."

BRAVO: And—and businesses will flee, and the sky will fall. That's exactly what they say. I held a shorthand for how the big boys operate. Here's the truth. When we value people appropriately, what—what do we do? We keep them on the job longer. That improves productivity, and quality, and customer s—service. Will business go under? No. Will some people make less money? You bet.

Who should be getting $220 million for failing? That's just how our system works right now. That we have C.E.O.s leaving because they did a bad job getting these huge payouts. Some people would get less, but most people would get more.

HINOJOSA: So, do you have people who are part of the big boys who are listening to you? Do you have people who are part of the small boys, the small businesses who are listening to you? Or at this point—is this just an uphill battle and you're working with the grassroots to start?

BRAVO: The good news is there are some progressive employers—who (A) have model—companies that we can look at, like Sass Software Company in North Carolina. I love this place because not only do they have several onsite childcare centers, and lots of flexibility, and a—a healthcare facility, their workweek is 35 hours. Nobody works more than 45 hours including the C.E.O. The gates are closed at six.

And he said, "I don't expect people to take work home," 'cause he knows that relaxed workers do a better job. They have never had a down year. Even when the high tech industry went bust, they didn't. They have a 98 percent renewal rate from their customers because of the relationships their customers have with staff who never leave. Why would you when people invest in you like that?

HINOJOSA: So, Ellen, let's say you have a young woman who's getting ready to graduate from high school or from—from college, and she is terribly afraid that she's gonna end up being one of these women who makes 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. What is she to do as she's getting ready to move into the—the work world?

BRAVO: Do your homework. Research which companies are more family friendly. Go deeper than who's just on the best places to work list because often times people buy their way on those lists by making big contributions to the organizations that make these lists. I always encourage people to do the bathroom and lunchroom check, meaning if you're going to work someplace, be sure to eat lunch where people who work there eat, and be sure to use the bathroom and chat with folks. Ask them, "Well, what's it like to work here?" And if they laugh in your face, pay attention. But if they say, "Hey, that's exactly why I'm here. This is a great place to work," that's good to know.

And one of the things that happens to women is they don't get—pay that much attention to the first salary 'cause they're so eager to get there. And then the next job, they ask right away, "What'd you earn on your last job?" Well, that's a hard question 'cause on the one hand, you know you shouldn't lie. On the other hand, you don't really want that to be what determines your pay. And that's the way to answer.

What seems to me a fair starting salary for me given my talents, and experience, and the kinda contributions I'm going to make is such and such. And know what that figure should be. This new study by the Association of University of Women found that for women college graduates in the first year, they were making only 80 percent of what men make. And after ten years, it was 69 percent.

That lower pay partly is from not asking, partly it's from not getting the promotions, the raises, the training, the mentoring, the opportunities. But also, this is really important, it's from women's work being undervalued. I want more girls to go into math and science, but I also wanna know why we value the people who work with numbers so much more than the people who work with broken families.

HINOJOSA: Thanks for speaking with us on Now in the News.

BRAVO: My pleasure. Thank you so much.

HINOJOSA: Ellen Bravo is the author of Taking on the Big Boys or Why Feminism is Good for Families, Business, and the Nation. We've posted the first two chapters of Ellen Bravo's new book, Taking on the Big Boys. Visit our website at www.pbs.org/now. That's www.pbs.org/now. This program was produced by Karin Kamp. I'm Maria Hinojosa. Thanks for listening, and we'll talk to you again next week.

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