Don Keelan: Wage discrimination has no place in Vermont

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I recently read, in the September issue of Accounting Today, an article titled, "The 100 Most Influential People." Upon perusing the bios of all 100, I could not help but be proud to see the write-ups on two women out of the score of women profiled in the article.

Specifically, Lynne Doughtie, 53, and Cathy Engelbert, 51, had their personas next to each other. Lynne is the CEO of KPMG, while Cathy holds a similar position at Deloitte. And for those who may not be familiar with their organizations, they are two of the "Big Four" international public accounting and consulting firms (not too long ago it was referred to as the "Big Eight").

At about the same time that I was reading Accounting Today, I read a piece by Erin Mansfield in VTDigger titled, "Summit spotlights financial woes faced by women." Mansfield was reporting on a summit that was held by the Vermont Commission on Women and the Women's Legislative Caucus. The two organizations sponsored the first Women's Economic Security Summit at the Vermont Statehouse.

The keynote speaker at the summit, Latifa Lyles, the director of the Women's Bureau at the U.S. Dept. of Labor highlighted a host of issues that women face in the workplace, such as unpaid maternity leave, high amounts of college debt, and little if any time off for personal and family matters. But the most significant issue that caught my attention was the disparity in pay between male and female employees.

According to Lyles, women in the workplace earn on average 78 percent of what their male colleagues receive for doing the same job. To put this in quantitative terms, if a male was to receive $50,000 annually his female co-worker would get only $39,000. How can such discrimination be occurring in Vermont? Do women face a 22 percent surcharge for being concerned about family obligations?

I have to wonder if Vermont employers – in business, government, and nonprofits – are aware of what is going on nationally where female executives have made great inroads by heading up national and international companies, agencies, and nonprofits. I can't imagine any one of these executives would tolerate a compensation spread noted by Director Lyles.

Is it possible that Vermont companies and organizations are so far behind the times in recognizing that salary discrimination is a thing of the past? If not, why not? It has no more standing in the workplace than does discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, race, religion, or disability challenges have – and for good reason.

The reason I was so excited to see Doughtie and Engelbert in their leadership roles at two of the world's largest CPA and consulting firms is for an incident that took place many years ago. It was at my college, in New York City, in September of 1963. I, along with several classmates, was being interviewed by partners from the "Big 8" CPA firms. When my female classmate came into the interview with me, partners from separate firms immediately informed her that they do not hire women – it has taken awhile to change that practice.

I have four daughters, a daughter in-law, and two granddaughters. I have no patience for what might be taking place here in Vermont or elsewhere. Wage discrimination and to those who practice it, get over it. Its time has long passed.

Speaking about the discrimination at FIFA (international soccer association) Senator Patrick Leahy made this point:

"Taking an overdue but important step toward pay equity will send a resounding message not just to women and girls, but also to men and boys across the world", he said. "Equal pay for equal work should not just be an ideal we strive for, but a reality."

— Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington


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