The Glass Ceiling Myth

It isn’t sexism, it’s reality – for the most part.

On Thursday, Bloomberg News ran a piece by Carol Hymowitz lamenting Facebook’s supposed sexism.  “Most of Facebook Inc.’s more than 800 million users are women,” she wrote.  “You wouldn’t know it from looking at the board, whose seven directors are all men.”  Hymowitz pointed out that other companies, including LinkedIn and Google, have at least one female director, and only 11.3 percent of public companies have male-only boards.

So what?  Facebook is hardly female adverse.  Its COO is Sheryl Sandberg, and she’s paid almost $31 million per year.  She’ll likely own $1.7 billion worth of the company after it goes public.  Some sexism!

This is just the media’s favorite narrative about Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook – he’s a female-hating loner, as portrayed in the movie The Social Network.  And it happens to back up another of their favorite narratives: the notion that females have to face a glass ceiling at big companies.

I’m no defender of Zuckerberg – I’m happy to see that outspoken Obama backer facing the wrath of the liberal morals police.  But the glass ceiling is largely a myth.  Normally, feminists point to the supposed pay gap between women and men for doing the same work. But they always neglect to factor in time off women take for maternity leave and life decisions many women make to go into less demanding careers to leave time for family.  Correcting for those factors, there's virtual pay equality.

Recently, the Government Accounting Office did find a pay differential between men and women … in the federal government.  Now, this is a bizarre situation because the government runs on pay schedules, meaning that everyone is put on a certain sliding scale.  There are no arbitrarily-defined salaries or bonuses.  The GAO discovered an unexplainable 7 percent pay gap between men and women.  “We cannot be sure why a persistent unexplained pay gap remains ... but this may be due to the inability to account for certain factors that cannot effectively be measured or for which data are not available," Andrew Sherrill, director of education, workforce and income security issues with the GAO, wrote. "Factors for which we lacked data or are difficult to measure, such as work experience outside the federal government and discrimination, may account for some or all of the remaining seven-cent gap."

In many occupations, including speech pathology and financial analysis, women earn far more than men.  When it comes to college degrees, women outpace men by a fair shot.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “single, childless women between ages 22 and 30 were earning more than their male counterparts in most U.S. cities, with incomes that were 8 percent on average.”

And as for CEOs, the CEOs of Yahoo, Xerox, WellPoint, Sunoco, DuPont, Avon, Pepsi, and Kraft Food -- all Fortune 500 companies -- are all women.

So where’s the discrimination?

Even if discrimination does exist, as it probably does in some cases, the answer isn’t legislation – we’ve tried that.  The answer isn’t affirmative action hires, which run the risk of placing under-qualified people in positions -to fail.  The answer is the free market.

If I could hire a fully qualified woman to do the same work as a man for 93 cents on the dollar, why wouldn’t I do that?  And wouldn’t I make more money than the guy hiring the man based on discrimination?  He’d go out of business.  Meanwhile, my smart competitors would catch onto what I was doing, and they’d hire away my qualified female employee for full pay, leaving me bereft.  This is how economic discrimination disappears – not with public hue and cry, but with individuals making self-interested decisions.

Is there a glass ceiling anymore?  No.  And the more the media plays up false glass ceilings, the more they’ll perpetuate the myth that men are the bad guys and women are the victims, rather than the fact of the matter: that both are economic actors, and that their decisions impact their income.

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