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Tenn. college students graduate into new beginnings — and a pay gap

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

Amanda Freuler, Studio M staff writer

This month, as thousands of students in Tennessee graduate and head into the workforce, female college students will step into a 7 percent wage gap at their first job after graduation.

Data collected in 2014 showed that women in Tennessee made about $34,009 a year, while on average men made $41,661, resulting in an 18 percent pay gap statewide. Currently, 70 percent of women in Tennessee are in the workforce, and two-thirds of households in Tennessee have a mother or wife who is employed.

According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), women on average nationally earned 79 cents to every dollar a man earned in 2014.

“The data is taken from the U.S. Census, and it’s based on just the simple math of the ratio of median women’s earnings to men’s earnings,” explained Dia Cirillo, the AAUW President for Murfreesboro.

At Middle Tennessee State University, students like Myranda Carmany are attending Start Smart negotiation workshops hosted by the AAUW of Murfreesboro to learn more about the gender pay gap and how to negotiate against lower wages. Carmany, a junior in community and public health, is from a family of 12 children, 10 of whom are boys.

“Just knowing that they could potentially be making way more than me and my little sister was pretty interesting,” Carmany said. “After I graduate, workshops like this will be very beneficial to me.”

The Start Smart negotiation workshop was held April 12, which marked this year’s Equal Pay Day for white women.”Equal Pay Days” acknowledge the dates when women from different ethnic backgrounds have caught up to the 2015 salaries of white men in their profession. Age, ethnicity and type of profession each affect the pay gap a woman might experience in her career, but her ethnicity determines how much longer she will have to work in order reach a white male’s salary from the year before. April 12 signified that white women had to work an extra three months in 2016 to meet the average 2015 salaries of white men.

“When you take a look at a report like Graduating to the Pay Gap, what you can see is once the data has been cut, once the evidence is there, and all variables have been factored in, including major and occupation, we still get a 7 percent wage gap,” Cirillo said. “Which demonstrates that this is not a reflection of women’s choices.”

According to Cirillo, research done by AAUW shows that as a woman tries to negotiate raises from her original salary, the 7 percent gap she began with after graduating from college will grow over the span of her career.

Teaching the workshop at MTSU was Veronica Bosnak, the Chief Financial Officer & Director of Operations at the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring, and Board of Directors member of the MTSU Alumni Association.

“There are four steps to salary negotiation, and the first one is to know your value,” Bosnak said. “The second part is to identify your salary and benefits package. The third one is to know your strategy, and the fourth one is practice, practice, practice.”

Throughout the workshop, Bosnak spoke to students about knowing their value, and having a clear idea of budgets and desired wage range. Wage gaps affect every aspect of a woman’s finances, but earning less money also causes women to require more time to pay off student loans.

AAUW found that between 2009 and 2012, men were able to pay off 44 percent of their student debt, while women could only pay 33 percent of their student debt in the same amount of time.

“There is a gender bias in this, and the only way that we can overcome that is through policy change and by educating yourselves and learning how to negotiate a higher salary,” Bosnak told the group.

Pay gaps vary depending on profession, but the highest pay gaps affect women with masters, doctorate or juris doctorate degrees in law and business. For instance, full-time, female financial managers only made 67 percent of their male colleagues’ salaries in 2014, which resulted in a 33 percent wage gap.

Even in professions that are historically known to employ more women than men have wage gaps as well. In 2014, female secretaries worked with a 16 percent wage gap, and secondary school teachers had an 11 percent wage gap.

“In occupations that women congregate in, there’s still a wage premium on male candidates in the field,” Cirillo said.

“The pay gap is not only between genders, it’s between races as well,” Jennifer Crow, the MTSU AAUW chapter president, told workshop attendees. “We want to bring awareness to the issue and train you to negotiate that first salary,”

The first Equal Pay Day for 2016 was held on March 15 for Asian-American women. African-American women will wait until Aug. 23, and Native American women will have their Equal Pay Day on Sept. 14. Latina women have to wait the longest, as they won’t reach a man’s pay until Nov. 1, 2016, which is almost an entire extra year of work.

Pay gaps between women of different ethnicities aren’t as wide when you compare them to the wages of men within their ethnicity. When compared to white men, however, the pay gap can be as high as 46 percent.

In Tennessee, two bills have been proposed that would work to diminish the current pay gap.

Last month the Tennessee Equality Pay Act, which aimed to minimize the state’s pay gap, was voted down for the second year in a row by the Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee in the House. The vote was four Republicans to two Democrats.

Another bill in the legislature, the Tennessee Equality Pay Transparency Act, would allow employees to openly discuss their wages without being penalized by their employer.

“Wage transparency is removing that gag rule. Most employers, particularly in the private sector, can stipulate to their employees that they are not allowed to discuss salary among the ranks,” Cirillo said.

The bill is currently waiting to be reviewed in the House by the Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee, and was assigned to the General Subcommittee of Senate Commerce & Labor Committee in the Senate.

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