The most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures continue to show a disparity in average wages between women and men across all categories, except for personal care and service workers. In the U.S., the median pay for women is 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.
The greatest gap is in the financial services sector, dominated by Wall Street personal advisors, agents and securities analysts. For every dollar a man makes on Wall Street, a woman earns only 55 to 62 cents. So why, in an era when women are graduating from financial degree programs at greater rates than ever before, are they still lagging significantly behind their male counterparts when it comes to pay?
As in any historically male-dominated industry, it takes time for change to happen and for women to ascend the ranks to the top tiers of management. Corporate Wall Street CEOs, for example, have been in the industry since the time when there were few women going into the financial services arena. As more young women enter the junior ranks, eventually this wage inequality will cease.
Climate in Wall Street firms
Although the 1987 movie "Wall Street" was fictional, it depicted the inner workings of the financial services and investment industries. The truth behind the portrayal of a lifestyle that includes strip clubs, golf course deals and extravagant parties has been confirmed by many in the industry. Because Wall Street has been male-dominated for so many years, these "networking" opportunities are limited for women, making their ascension in their companies more difficult. In fact, the census data report shows that women are leaving the financial services industry at a faster rate than they are getting on board. With fewer women advancing in their careers, there is little forward momentum in increasing wages.
The financial services industry is all about high stress and long hours. The three-martini lunch is alive and well, as is working through the night. For working women who are still the main caretakers of house and family, this makes it difficult to compete with a man in a similar role who does not have the same responsibilities. If someone is willing to work 70 hours a week, with an almost infinite schedule of flexibility, he is likely to earn more than an employee who must put limits on work time. Reports of discrimination, abusive conduct towards women and even sexual assault, continue to rise, encouraging women to seek out other industries.
Childbirth and child care
Somewhat related to the issue of working conditions is the fact that women are the child bearers. For those who wish to have both career and children, the reality is that time spent on maternity leave means less time training on the job. This often means a slower increase in wages over time. This is also true of time spent away from the job looking after sick children or parents.
Starting in 2008, Wall Street began a massive round of layoffs as it tried to deal with the growing recession and collapse of the financial markets. Statistics indicate that the layoffs affected women more than men. Whether a return to economic stability will once again draw women back into the financial services sector is up for speculation, but may be unlikely until many of the industry's other problems are addressed.
The bottom line
The financial services sector continues to be in the basement when it comes to wage equity, with no positive changes on the horizon. Until Wall Street begins making workplace and employment standards more women-friendly, women's wages will continue to lag behind.