Sexism in the American workforce doesn’t look like it once did. "Mad Men"-era bosses — in tailored suits and mild inebriation, chasing secretaries around their desks — are no longer prime suspects. No, discrimination has become much more subtle. It’s in the over 97 percent of male chief executives running the country’s largest companies. It’s in the promotion nods for him over her. It’s in your wallet.
The gender wage gap persists almost five decades after the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963. There are just a handful of jobs in which women earn slightly more than men (counselors, food preparers), compared to hundreds of occupations in which they make less. On average, women earn about 80 percent as much as men. In some jobs, they earn just over half as much as male peers, stunting their lifetime earnings by millions.
“Statistically we control for a variety of factors like experience, education, occupation and industry,” says Francine Blau, a professor of labor economics at Cornell University. “Those factors can explain some of the gap, but there is about 10 percent that can’t be explained and could be due to discrimination. My personal feeling is that discrimination has declined significantly but still exists.”
ForbesWoman analyzed the median weekly pay of full-time workers by sex and occupation in 2010, collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, to pinpoint the jobs with the largest gaps in men and women’s earnings. The result: What we consider the 10 most sexist jobs in America.
Personal finance advisors come in at No. 1. Women in this position earn a median of $962 per week, compared to men’s median of $1,647. Women are one-third of all personal finance advisors but earn just 58 cents on the dollar. Over a 35-year career, this discrepancy will cost women $1.25 million in lost earnings.
Blau says the severe disparity may be explained by a greater concentration of men at larger, more aggressive firms with high-value portfolios. Of course, why fewer women work at the big firms is less clear. There may also be some existing gender bias ingrained in the product: financial advice. “Does the customer stereotype that the woman doesn’t know as much?” she asks. “And does the employer not want to take that chance?”
In fact, quite a few sales positions surfaced at the top. Female securities, commodities and financial services sales agents (No. 2) earn $531 less than male agents each week, or about 63 percent as much. That will result in lifetime losses of $966,000. Similarly, women in retail sales (No. 3) earn 65 cents for every dollar earned by male peers, despite being 42 percent of retail employees. Women are also the majority of insurance sales agents (No. 7) but receive weekly paychecks that are $324 lighter.
Are women less convincing salespeople? “Every piece of data we have suggests that there is not a significant performance gap (between men and women),” says Matt Wallaert, lead scientist at compensation website GetRaised.
However, Wallaert’s research shows that women tend to be more “fairness oriented.” When women sell products with variable prices, like cars or securities, he says they may be more likely to negotiate a mutually beneficial sale with a fairer price. This might cut into their commissions or bonuses, but they end up creating a loyal, return customer.
“Women may be creating a long-term outlook that is better for the business,” says Wallaert, “but we incentivize short-term outlooks. That short-term orientation destroyed our economy. If more women went into financial services positions, we would likely not be in the situation we’re in.”
Non-transparent pay structures also contribute to stark gender discrepancies. For positions like marketing and sales managers (No. 6) and financial managers (No. 7) — jobs in which women will make nearly $1 million less over their careers — there’s more of an opportunity for what Wallaert calls “fuzzy” pay adjustments. Base salaries, raises and bonuses likely result from the subjective reasoning of the supervisor rather than a clear pay structure.
“The surest way to fight the gap is with an exacting formula,” Wallaert says. If companies introduced narrow pay ranges for each title and clear metrics for performance-related bonuses, he believes compensation would be fairer. However, Blau notes that this wouldn’t solve the problem of women at smaller firms or in less profitable sectors or the issue of their slower promotion rates.
One thing every woman should do today, says Wallaert, is figure out what they should be making — based on position, industry, location and their contribution to the bottom line — create a detailed presentation of why they deserve a raise, and then ask for one. Asking for more may not solve the issue, but it helps.
© 2012 Forbes.com