In the battle of the sexes, Warren Farrell takes no prisoners. In his opinion, "It seems like a simpler solution to blame men for the pay gap than for women to engineer their own bridge to higher pay."
Outspoken and often controversial, Farrell has been writing and speaking about the correlation between gender and pay for decades. A pioneer in the belief that modern men face their own unique challenges and types of discrimination, Farrell has, in fact, been called "the first masculinist."
In the early 1970s, he championed feminism, serving on the board of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and becoming the only man ever to serve three terms on NOW's board. However, he left the organization within a few years, frustrated by what he saw as its female exclusiveness and disregard for men's issues.
Since then, Farrell has written several books, including The Myth of Male Power which poked holes in the popular belief that men are generally the more powerful gender. "Pay is not about power," Farrell says. "Pay is about giving up personal power in order to get the power of pay."
His latest book, Why Men Earn More, examines what he sees as the underlying reasons for the gender "pay gap." Farrell disputes the conventional wisdom that men automatically earn more than women for the same work. In fact, he says the opposite is true. All factors being equal, women actually will earn more, Farrell says. "If a man and a woman are in the same situation--for example, single with no kids and equivalent experience and education--the woman will earn more than the man in the majority of cases. On average, Farrell asserts, she will earn 117 percent of what a man earns in the same situation."
The big gender divide--in which the unequal pay balance favors men--comes into play when working people become parents, Farrell asserts. "When children come along, women usually move into juggling-act mode," he says, "whereas men tend to move into 'intensifying-act' mode."
Farrell offers one simple sounding solution for women who aspire to become high earners: "If you're a woman who wants to 'have it all'--a very successful career, a happy marriage and well-raised children-- marry a man who is happy to raise the children while you raise the money."
Indeed, Farrell believes the real solution to balancing out income disparities often boils down to a simple process of role reversal. "If a woman says to the man [in her life], 'I'd like to focus on making money. Are you interested in focusing on raising children?' Many men will say yes to that, as long as they know the woman will not lose respect for them. I'd estimate that if they held their work identity up against their desire to please their wives, about 80 percent of men would say yes to that."
Farrell believes the majority of men would be willing to put their career on the back burner for the sake of their family's well-being and their wife's professional goals.
"Most men know 'If Mama ain't happy, nobody's happy," he says." Most men really want to make their wives happy. Most men are willing to switch gears for five or 10 years, if they know that would make the woman happy."
This role-switching approach offers some great benefits for everyone involved, Farrell says. "One reason why men do better raising children, and women do better raising the money is because those are not the default positions. People who reverse roles," he says, "tend to be exceptionally motivated."
It may sound wonderful in theory, but Farrell admits this strategy is easier said than done.
"Many times it's a communication problem. A lot of couples would probably like to do this, but just never address it. Many men don't even think of bringing it up, and the women often don't offer that option. Because we haven't made it comfortable socially, it is not something that many people are eager to suggest."
Unfortunately, says Farrell, role-switching couples will continue to be viewed as rebels until society becomes more encouraging of such non-traditional arrangements. "The bad news is that there hasn't been a change in the underlying way that we select men for marriage. The majority of women still expect that, when they get married, the man will earn as much or more than they will. We haven't shifted psychologically in our social expectations to being okay, for example, with the man staying home raising the children while the woman is the breadwinner. And yet role-reversing is a very viable option for many people."
Moreover, while women with lofty career goals are often supported and encouraged nowadays, men who opt for a non-traditional role face their own form of discrimination, "A lot of people think men can't be full-time parents," Farrell says. "If a stay-at-home father goes to the park with his children, there are generally all mothers there. They have their little group, and they may not immediately be receptive to this father. So you always have a transition period when you are trying to change an established mindset. The fact that women were able to get laws enacted to protect them from discrimination helped to speed this transition [for them]."
But Farrell argues that these laws--originally enacted to protect women in the workplace--have ended up hurting them in the long run. "I think the focus on discrimination against women was helpful for maybe 20 years or so because there was a lot of [discrimination]. Many people didn't think women could do certain jobs simply because, historically speaking, they hadn't done those jobs. After a certain point, though, it became a different issue."
"The good news is, in the last 30 years, women have become enormously empowered to go into virtually any area that they would like to venture into. The bad news," he adds, "is that women perceive the pay gap as being a reflection of discrimination against them, and that has created an attitude where, if they aren't getting promoted as quickly as they feel they should, they decide it must be discrimination."
Farrell believes this attitude had a negative impact on women. "The loss that came from focusing on discrimination started to exceed the gain," he says "When you focus on discrimination, you sometimes miss all of the opportunities that are out there that allow women to earn more than men."
Opportunity is Knocking
Farrell believes that the ability to seize opportunities is key to women's fulfilling their ultimate earning potential. And one critical step is selecting the right career field. "Engineering is the biggest missed opportunity for women," he says. "In almost every field of engineering, women earn more than men. This is especially true if they can combine engineering with sales or travel." In fact, according to Farrell, "A female sales engineer makes 141 percent more than a male sales engineer."
Health is another field filled with opportunities. However, Farrell says it is important to choose wisely when narrowing down your sub-field within such a broad area. "Being a pharmacist, for example, is a great choice for women interested in the health sector. Pharmacists make almost as much as medical doctors now," he says, "but their environment is far more conducive to life sanity. They have controlled hours, and they can psychologically check out at the end of the day."
"Nursing is another area of the health field that is very positive for women," Farrell adds. "Nurses have a huge variety of ways to make money. If they want to travel, for example, they can do very well financially. And after a while if [a nurse] decides she does not want to travel anymore, she now has an enormous amount of experience to use for other types of work."
Farrell also points out that many of the "worst" jobs--that is, the most physically demanding or dangerous-- may pay well, but are less attractive to women. This, he points out, skews the overall gender/pay average. "Of the deaths that occur in the workplace, 92 percent are men." And the fact that women are less likely to pursue these high-risk jobs ends up hurting everyone, Farrell says. "There is what might be called a Catch-22 of hazardous occupations. The more hazardous the job, the more men who work in that field. The more men, the less we care about making the job safer. This creates a kind of 'glass cellar'--a level of unappealing jobs that women are not interested in pursuing."
One solution, Farrell says, is for women to seek relatively low-risk opportunities within dangerous fields--administrative positions within the military, for example. "Women can then get equal pay for less-than-equal hazards."
Farrell believes that the focus on perceived gender income discrepancies often overshadows the more important issue: Achieving optimal work/life balance, which he considers key to happiness.
"The most important thing that has not changed very much is that people haven't understood that there is no such thing as 'work/life choices.' It is all life choices, and work is just a portion of life. People talk about work and life decisions, as if work and life were at the same level. Women seem to understand this more than men," he says. "Men still have their value tied too closely to their ability to earn money. And, unfortunately, women still value a man who can earn a high salary more than, say, one who is reading I'm OK, You're OK.
"One of the things we need to do is to confront that 'Mommy track' issue. The primary issue is living a good life. Rather than saying that children make it more challenging for women to earn more, we should say children make it more challenging for men to have a balanced life."
Farrell believes the key to attaining the perfect work/life harmony is deciding which sacrifices one is willing to make in order to pursue professional success. "What one must do when deciding how good of a life one wants is to make the best decisions possible as to the trade-off you're willing to make. Some people thrive on working 90 hours per week because they just love their work. Others thrive on yoga, being with family and friends, and having a spiritual life. That's what makes them whole. Each person must look inside him- or herself to and figure out what the journey to a successful life is."
Bobbi Dempsey is a freelance writer and the author of several titles in the "Idiot's Guide" series.