Are Vets and Pharmacists Showing How to Make Careers Work for Moms?
The big problem for professional women isn’t old-fashioned discrimination. It’s bigger than that — but there is a way forward.,
Veterinarians and pharmacists may be able to help us with more than our pets and our pills. Perhaps they can also guide America to a society that works better for America’s moms.
Full-time female workers overall get 82 cents for each dollar made by men, and it’s much worse for those who are well educated. The median pay for female college graduates working full time is only 72 cents for every dollar earned by male equivalents, and the figure has barely budged for 30 years.
Women have constituted half of new accountants since the 1980s, but they still make up only 16 percent of equity partners in large accounting firms. Fifteen years after graduating from the University of Michigan Law School, 35 percent of men have made partner but only 18 percent of women.
“Women continue to feel shortchanged,” notes Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economics professor, in a forthcoming book called “Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey Toward Equity,” from which most of the figures here are drawn. “They fall behind in their careers while earning less than their husbands and male colleagues.”
We often assume the fundamental cause of this inequity is old-fashioned discrimination, in the form of chauvinists who pay women less for the same work. It would be simpler if that were true — but Goldin cites evidence that while pay discrimination persists, it is not the central problem.
Early in careers, women earn almost as much as men, and those who don’t have children continue to (mostly) hold their own in the earnings race.
Nor is the gap the result primarily of women choosing lower-paid professions, as some claim. That may explain one-third of earnings gaps, not more.
The big challenge is that for most women, about 10 years into a career, babies make it much more complicated in jobs indifferent to parenting — and that suggests a larger, structural barrier to women’s career advancement.
“It’s systemic,” Goldin told me. “We have to go back to the drawing board and think harder.” She argues that without addressing parenting, the solutions bandied about are “the economic equivalent of tossing a box of Band-Aids to someone with bubonic plague.”
When a child is sick, one parent — it’s usually the mom — has to extricate from work and rush to the pediatrician. In theory, father and mother could trade off these responsibilities, but then neither would make partner. So in practice the man is often the designated career maximizer, while the woman sacrifices career advancement for the sake of family.
“Both are deprived,” Goldin writes. “Men forgo time with family; women forgo career.”
This made me think of my own family. My wife, Sheryl WuDunn, and I believe deeply in gender equity — we wrote a book about it — and yet, looking back, I see this was true of us. I was typically the one who flew off to cover coups, leaving Sheryl (who has more graduate degrees than I do) to deal with the kids’ birthday planning or the bat in the bedroom.
But there is hope, and that takes us to veterinarians.
It used to be that vets, like top lawyers, financiers and management consultants, often worked long and irregular hours. Dogs triumphed; vet families suffered. But 77 percent of new vets are female, and they have nurtured a system of group and emergency practices that is more family friendly: If Rover gets sick at night you take him to a 24-hour emergency clinic.
Likewise, the neighborhood pharmacist often toiled long hours and offered personal services. But today you call in a prescription and don’t expect to see a particular pharmacist. This allows pharmacists to work much more flexibly, so one-third of female pharmacists in their 30s work fewer than 35 hours a week.
By various measures, pharmacy is now one of the most equitable and family-friendly professions in America. And similar flexible practices are reshaping female-dominated fields of medicine such as pediatrics and obstetrics.
Could finance or consulting be structured more like this? If a C.E.O. is willing to trust his sick child to an on-call pediatrician, then why not let an on-call C.P.A. handle a weekend accounting question?
“I’m amazed when a lawyer, accountant, consultant or financier makes a case for nonsubstitutability among professionals in his area, but can’t answer why delivering a baby isn’t the equivalent,” Goldin writes.
The pandemic was potentially transformative, creating an opportunity for corporations to introduce more flexibility and remote work. Likewise, President Biden’s proposals for high-quality day care would be a Godsend for parents.
Goldin argues that we may be at a turning point, but that will depend on whether men embrace systemic changes that allow the flexibility pioneered by pharmacy and vet practices. The critical step, Goldin advises: “Get men on board.”
And that is why I wrote this column.