Last week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and several Democrat colleagues reintroduced the Equal Pay Fairness Act to supposedly fix the so-called wage gap. Not only is the bill based on a false premise—there isn’t a wage gap, there’s a choice gap—there’s nothing wrong with women making choices about their job so they can also raise a family.
In fact, rather than assume legislation like this will make their lives for them, women should be strategic and create the work and family life they want.
Equal Pay for Equal Work Already Happens
To help women understand why smart women are strategic about their jobs and families, it’s important to understand what legislation like this is supposed to accomplish. When Democrats unveiled the bill, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave a speech.
In front of a crowd of women who applauded nearly every time she paused, the representative from the Bronx said, “We cannot ask people for their salary history and pay people on their salary history anymore. It is time that we pay people what they are worth…[The bill] makes it legal and totally permissible to share your salary information at your workplace. That’s incredibly important, for all those people who say the wage gap does not exist and that it’s a myth, they should have no problem proving that.”
Two things make Ocasio-Cortez’s favorite aspects of the bill somewhat pointless: First, salary history helps employers know what a person is worth as a jump-off point. “Worth” is a concept based on what employees and employers negotiate. It’s not discriminatory to pay a person what he can accomplish based on previous positions, at least to start with.
Second, the 1935 National Labor Relations Act already makes it legal for salary information to be shared, so that’s moot too. However, the broader point is that there isn’t a wage gap at all. When men and women with the same background, education, effort, hours, and performance work the same job, they do get paid the same. In some cities, in fact, women are paid more.
The biggest difference in disparities in pay between men and women is their different life choices. Of course, many women take time “off” to raise children, sometimes as long as ten years. Harvard scientists have called this inherent biological dynamic simply a choice gap.
Women also tend to choose careers that pay less, and to work fewer hours in those positions. A recent study of Uber and their so-called wage gap, for example, found that men earned more than women drivers. Gasp! A closer look, however, found that the men drove faster and put in more hours. So they made more—because they put in the work to earn more.
So if you do the same thing men do, equal pay already exists, and it’s a great thing. If you’re doing things differently than men because you’re a woman, guess what: equal pay still exists, and you’re being paid equally to those who work fewer hours, because you’re doing something else that is also quite valuable: raising kids.
Women Now Can Live In Both Worlds
Women like Ocasio-Cortez exploit the power of the myth to play the victim when really, women have come farther than ever. We might not only be at parity with men’s opportunities, but beyond, as they can’t enter the world of childbearing like we can. Not only are women earning more degrees and increasing their presence in many fields—like law, politics, and science—where men used to dominate, they can now pursue a career and raise children.
Except, of course, this turned out to be much harder than many women anticipated. Children and employers are equally demanding, time-consuming, and stressful, yet also highly rewarding, enjoyable, and fun. Since more women work than ever before—according to Pew Research Center, they make up almost half the workforce now—this Harvard Business Review report shows they are also more stressed than men. It’s really hard for one person to bear all the children and try to provide for them financially. This explains the push for bills like the Equal Pay Fairness Act, even if it’s counterproductive to women’s options.
While it’s certainly tempting to step into some heels and try to elbow your way to the top of the ladder, if you still took a decade off to raise your kids or you still work fewer hours because of the kids’ sick days or soccer tournaments, chances are that getting the same pay as a man who stayed in the workforce consistently all those years may never happen. That’s not the job market’s fault, that’s just reality. This is where the power of more choices and strategy for flexibility comes in.
Choices Have Consequences Far Beyond Money
It’s impossible to know your life trajectory, of course, but around college (or even before), women should start to ask themselves to define their life purpose, goals, and dreams. One of those questions is: Do I want to have kids? If the answer is yes, then the next question: Do I also want a career outside of that? If so, what?
Many women choose careers that are inherently difficult to do while raising children. In many ways, they need to be. Do you want your heart surgeon frustrated about missing her son’s soccer game?
Some fields are going to need 110 percent devotion, and that’s just the nature of the field, not the fault of feminism, children, or society. But the key to juggling work and children is flexibility, since children are, by nature, unpredictable.
Now, I can feel some women already staring at me through the screen and I can almost hear the groans: No way is this lady going to limit my life choices. My mother said I can be anything! Hear me out: Your mother was wrong. You cannot be anything, and you cannot do anything you want to do.
You can be and do a few things well. If you don’t really want to be a mom, fine. But if you do—and about nine in ten American women do—and if you also want to work while the kids are growing up, seriously consider careers that are family-friendly. By that I mean they offer flexibility and are ideally in a field you like and are naturally inclined toward doing well.
For example, I decided not to go to law school after taking the LSAT and getting into school because I wanted to have kids. At the time, many female attorneys I knew didn’t think it was a family-friendly field. That’s now shifted quite a bit, thankfully, so if you’re a lawyer and a mom looking to find something more flexible, check out those flex jobs for lawyers. But you get my point.
Look: Some Jobs Just Aren’t Simpatico With Kids
Another illustration: Recently a former female news anchor wrote an essay for The Atlantic about how hard it was to be a news reporter and a mother. It just tore her up to try to balance the two. She concluded with a plea that hopefully more women at higher positions in the news industry will make the lives of female reporters with kids more flexible.
Perhaps that will happen. Yet at the same time, she pointed out many mothers in news were morning anchors, a notoriously more fitting position for moms because of its stability. (I think all of Fox News’ female morning anchors have recently had a baby!) I couldn’t help but see the irony: Those women loved the news business but had either purposely or accidentally chosen a field with a specific position that would enable them to be flexible and do both the things they loved.
This list at Forbes proposes several booming jobs for moms that offer flexibility and good pay, including a data scientist, an account manager, a nurse practitioner, and more. “Typically, the top three career fields for remote jobs are medical/health, computer/IT and customer service, but remote opportunities in government and finance career fields have increased since 2016 as well,” the author writes. Other vocations that tend to be more flexible are journalism, dentistry, self-employment (in really, almost any field), and interior design, to name a few. Easy? Not really. Flexible? Almost always.
While the concept of equal pay is great, it doesn’t really apply any more. Mothers who have taken breaks to raise kids need not worry any more about fighting a problem that doesn’t really exist. There’s no sense raising kids and wondering why society hasn’t allowed you to be the CEO of Apple, the kind of position that requires round-the-clock work for many, many years that mothers simply are not willing to do—and for a very good reason: their kids’ well-being.
If you’re still young and want kids, try to be strategic with your education path. If you’re already a mom and want to tiptoe back into the workforce, compare your education to the flexible vocations out there and choose one that works for you. By doing this, women actually widen the workforce, raise happy families, and help society much more than any faux-helpful legislation Pelosi co-sponsors.