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The Gap

By Paula Aven Gladych
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Jan Martin exited corporate America because she was getting a migraine from banging her head against the proverbial glass ceiling.

Working in typically male-dominated fields like transportation, construction and manufacturing, she felt like no amount of education, training or experience would move her up the corporate ladder.

Martin is not the only one with a headache. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the wage gap between women and men widened slightly in 2003, compared to 2002, with women earning 75.5 cents on the dollar compared to men.

In 2002, that figure was 76.6 cents.

As Martin got older, she got tired of hearing excuses about why men, with less experience and education, were getting promoted above her.

“I’ve heard, ‘He’s got a family to support,’” she said. “Well, I don’t care. He’s not doing any more work than I am.”

Martin added that the older she gets, the more vocal she gets and the more “attitude” she has.

“When I was younger, I was afraid to speak my mind,” she said.

Martin decided a little more than a year ago that the only way she was going to change her destiny was to start her own business.

Teaming up with former co-worker Melody Jauregui, the duo started Mountain High Essentials, a manufacturer of homemade, organic candles.

The business is organized as a direct-to-home sales organization and has more than 100 consultants selling candles to people at home shows.

Jauregui’s Longmont gift shop, Essentials Etc ... at 1507 Nelson Road, also carries the candles.

• • •

Cindi Fukami, a professor of management at the University of Denver Daniels College of Business, said she believes the wage gap between men and women is much smaller than most people believe.

“The pay gap is one of the most misunderstood statistics we have,” she said. “It compares wages of all women working full-time with wages of all men working full-time. It is not a comparison of people in the same job.”

Fukami, who spends a lot of time looking at the gender-wage issue, said other factors contribute to the gap. One of the biggest factors is occupation, she said.

“Women tend to be concentrated in lower-paying occupations. It is such a widespread phenomenon we call it ‘women’s work,’” she said. That includes jobs such as clerical, elementary education and day care.

Women have made inroads into three typically male-dominated fields: law, computer science and accounting, she said.

In the past, women would be bookkeepers instead of accountants, but that trend is shifting around, Fukami said.

Another factor affecting pay is work experience.

“Women tend to exit the labor market to have children, and when they re-enter the labor market, their years of experience are relatively lower than men’s,” she said.

Which college degrees women choose to earn also factors into the wage game.

“There are fewer women getting degrees in technical areas like math, science and engineering,” Fukami said.

Women also choose to work for smaller employers who pay less, she added.

Wages for men and women tend to be more equitable when people first get out of school, she said.

There’s no doubt some discrimination is still occurring, Fukami said, but she believes the wage gap is closer to 90 cents on the dollar.

“You have to look at it on a case-by-case basis, or look at patterns within a particular company,” she said.

• • •

In 2003, a U.S. Census Bureau comparison of chief executives’ pay showed men earning a median weekly pay of $1,172, compared to $849 per week for women. In the computer fields, women’s pay comes closer to men’s than in other industries, with the average gap in the median weekly earnings hovering around $200 per week, according to Census Bureau statistics.

Julie Weeks, executive director of the National Women’s Business Council in Washington, D.C., said that while it’s true the wage gap “hasn’t changed an awful lot over the years,” a lot more women are “moving past the realm of employee to employer.”

“The number of women-owned businesses is growing at twice the national average,” she said.

According to Weeks, many women are saying, “There’s a pay gap. OK. I can make my own pay. Let me start my own business. Let me get rolling and pay myself what I choose.”

According to a report by the National Women’s Business Council, there are an estimated 10.6 million privately held businesses in which a woman or women own at least 50 percent of the company. Among those, 6.7 million are majority-owned by women.

Between 1997 and 2004, the number of women-owned and equally owned firms grew by 17 percent, compared to 9 percent among all other privately held firms, the report said.

Financing for women-owned businesses continues to be a problem. According to the business council, only 5 percent of the $89.8 billion in venture capital investments in 2000 went to companies with women chief executive officers.

In 1998, 34 percent of women with bank credit had $50,000 or more in credit available to them, compared to 58 percent of men business owners.

Lisa Schafer, president and owner of Rocky Mountain RAM, a Louisville-based manufacturer of random access memory for computers, said that after more than a decade in business and with more than $7 million in annual revenue, she is still unable to get bank financing.

“It is hard to get loans. This country does lip service to small businesses and especially minority small business,” she said. “If you were born in America and you go to a U.S. bank for help, you are not going to get it. I think the programs set up for women-owned businesses are failing miserably.”

Schafer added that unlike the dot-com companies in which everyone was so eager to invest during the 1990s, her company has a “solid product and solid market with solid customers. We do business one day at a time. We’re worker bees.”

Her advice to women? “You have to be willing to stick with it. You have to be willing to ride it all the way out.”

Schafer adjusted her business plan to take into account the male-dominated business she was entering when she founded her company in 1989.

For one thing, she buys her semiconductors from the Pacific Rim, a traditionally male-dominated region of the world.

When she first started her business, she found that none of the Pacific Rim companies would do business with her.

“Asian men don’t like women. They don’t respect women. I can’t buy my own product. I need a male buyer,” she said.

“I don’t do my own buying anymore. Most of our vendors have no clue who is in charge of this company. They think it is my male buyer downstairs.”

She added that “if you want to win, you have to learn how to play the game. You can fight it, but it is just not going to work.”

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at pavengladych@times-call.com.