Women make considerably less money than men in Maryland: 83 cents to the dollar, according to a study released last week.
Windsor Mill resident Alison Assanah-Carroll was not surprised by the finding from the National Partnership for Women & Families, which showed that nearly a half-century after the federal Equal Pay Act was enacted, women are still paid less than men, not only in Maryland but nationwide.
"It's not just a grave disparity, it's a travesty," said Assanah-Carroll, a former assistant regional census manager, who said that she earned less than her male counterparts even though she had better educational credentials and, in some cases, more experience.
Assanah-Carroll, whose contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce ended in 2010, has struggled to find another senior-level administrative job — a difficulty she attributed to some employers' perception that women managers are more emotional and less commanding than men.
In Maryland, the wage gap is even greater for African-American women and Latinas, the analysis by the Washington-based National Partnership shows.
Moreover, the gap extends to the uppermost levels of management, with women holding just over 10 percent of board seats at Maryland-based public companies, according to a recent study by Network 2000, a local group that works to increase the number of women in boardrooms and executive suites.
The disparities hurt not only women and their families but the state's economy, experts say.
Using 2010 census data as well as 2011 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Partnership analysis estimated that if the yearly gap between Maryland men's and women's median pay disappeared — a difference of $9,842 — working women could funnel that income into living expenses equaling 1.7 years worth of groceries, more than 2,400 gallons of gas or five months' worth of mortgage and utility payments.
Meanwhile, Network 2000 representatives point to studies showing that companies with three or more female board directors outperform other firms in measures such as return on sales and return on invested capital.
"With state economies struggling and women increasingly serving as the sole or co-breadwinners for their families, tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages each year takes a tremendous toll," said Debra L. Ness, the National Partnership's president.
Maryland fares better than the nation as a whole, where women are paid 77 cents for every dollar men make. Its wage gap was the fifth-smallest among the 50 states.
"But that is nothing to brag about," said Sarah Crawford, the director of workplace fairness for the National Partnership. "The wage gap is closing at a glacial pace of half a cent on the dollar each year. At that rate, we don't expect the gap to close until 40-plus years."
Also troubling are comparisons showing that women with children are paid less than women without children, but that men with children are paid more than men without children, Crawford said.
Race is also a major factor: In Maryland, African-American women earn $13,760 less than men, while Hispanic women earn $26,922 less, the data shows. The gap is between the median salary for the women and that of all men in the state.
Crawford said some of the wage gaps could be explained by the types of jobs men and women have traditionally sought and still seek, with women going into lower-paying fields than men.
But even with controls for education, experience and type of industry — all factors that can affect pay — "a significant amount of the pay gap remains unexplained, and that's the particularly troubling aspect," Crawford said.
The National Partnership's research was released to coincide with Equal Pay Day last Tuesday — the day that marks how far into the current year women must work to catch up with the amount men were paid the previous year, according to the group's research.
Equal-pay advocates hope to close what they see as loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 with the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act, which is designed to strengthen workplace protections for women. The federal legislation, which would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who discuss pay, was rejected by the Senate in 2010 but has been reintroduced.
Separate research by the Washington-based Institute for Women's Policy Research looks at gender- based wage gaps on a national level by occupation. The findings show that median earnings for women are lower than men's in nearly all occupations.
Women-dominated fields pay less than those occupied mainly by men, said Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at the institute — who added that even within women-dominated occupations, men still make more.
Hegewisch estimates that as much as 30 percent of the wage gap is caused by discrimination, including subtle forms, such as offering additional assignments or overtime to male employees with families.
Equal-pay advocates say women may not realize they're being discriminated against because their co-workers' salaries are not often publicly available — and it's considered taboo to discuss salary in the workplace. Raising awareness, advocates hope, will lead more women to consider negotiating their salaries.
The idea of a gender-based pay gap had never occurred to Stephanie Eaton, 45, of Randallstown, an out-of-work certified medical coder. In her last full-time job, she earned about $52,000 and never thought to ask how that compared with her male counterparts' salaries.
"I am shocked," Eaton said when told of the recent study results. "I have been under the impression that gender doesn't matter, that experience is the determinant. Men and women should earn exactly the same pay."
That's especially true, she said, in a society where more women have taken on the role of family breadwinner.
Still, given the instability of the workforce, Eaton said, she's not sure how many demands employees or job candidates can make. "When an opportunity is available, you have to hold onto it," she said.
One way to close the pay gap is to have more women in executive positions and on boards, experts said.
In its 2011 survey of Maryland's 84 public companies, Network 2000 found that women held 73 of 715 board seats, an increase of a full percentage point over 2010 results. It represented the highest percentage of women in board seats since Network 2000 started keeping track six years ago.
Ellen H. Yankellow, a past president of Network 2000 and president, CEO and majority owner of Linthicum-based Correct Rx Pharmacy Services Inc., called the slight gain in women-held seats encouraging but said the figure was "way below where it needs to be."
"There's compelling evidence that with diversity on boards where more than 20 percent is made up of women, the revenue and returns for stockholders are both significantly improved," Yankellow said. "There is a need to have boards and organizations reflect the society they serve and the consumers they serve.
"Women in general think differently, they approach problems differently, they ask questions differently," she said. "When you have more diversity, with women participating, and when companies start to see that improves their financial results, you will see companies be highly motivated to have more women on their boards."
Yankellow serves on her company's board as well as on the boards of two other firms. Getting an invitation to serve on a board often takes experience running a company. And getting to the top of a company in many male-dominated fields takes persistence, Yankellow said.
Early in her career, in the 1980s, few women were in top leadership positions, Yankellow said.
"If you were going to succeed, you had to really outshine and outproduce your male counterparts," she said.
State officials say they are taking steps to eliminate gender discrimination.
In a statement, Gov. Martin O'Malley said that as a father of two daughters, he found the need for Equal Pay Day unfortunate.
He noted that a state law passed in 2009 extends the period of time for people to seek back pay for unlawful discrimination and unequal pay to two years. O'Malley added that the state has appointed nearly 2,800 women to judgeships, Cabinet positions, and boards and commissions. And state contracts to women-owned firms have jumped by nearly 59 percent since 2007, he said.
For her part, Yankellow is looking forward to a day when such measures and pay comparisons won't be necessary.
When that time comes, she said, "our daughters or our granddaughters won't even have to think about [pay equality] because it will be commonplace."
Women's work in Maryland, using median figures:
•Pay for a woman working full time: $47,175
•Pay for a man working full time: $57,017
•Women working full time are paid 83 cents for every dollar paid to men.
•African-American women working full time earn $43,257, or 76 cents for every dollar paid to men.
•Hispanic women working full time earn $30,095, or 53 cents for every dollar paid to men.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 figures