Were you struck when you heard that GM’s new CEO Mary Barra is only earning half of what her (male) successor made?
She may have shattered the “glass ceiling” as the first and only woman worldwide to head up a car maker company. But her pay is another story. In corporate governance filings released yesterday, we learn that Barra will be paid $4.4 million in total comp (base salary is $1.6M, and stock is rest). Her predecessor, Akerson, made $9M last year (base salary was $1.7M).
At one level, I am outraged. She’s getting paid 48 cents on the dollar to what a man got for the same job. And to put that in perspective, my work with the Obama Administrations Labor Task Force on Equal pay taught me that, even today – 2014– women still make only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. In many ways, she’s more qualified than her predecessor so outrage is probably warranted for both her, and the persistent societal issue. Because, to be sure, this is not a “woman’s issue” but a societal one. I would imagine men who have mothers or sisters, wives or daughters could take this issue to heart.
The corporate governance part of me knows that this will probably get fixed. Boards are often procedurally encumbered; they will need to vote on things like stock allocations in a very particular timeframe, making sure enough shares are available, that proper filing of stuff has been done, first voted on by the comp committee and then by the Board. It is quite possible, especially given some of the hints a GE spokesperson made today, perhaps even likely that the stock part of this picture will be adjusted shortly.
But then the question I faced throughout the day was this … is this topic even worthy of agitation? Or is that an overreaction. The Latin etymology of the word agitate is to “do, drive” but I wonder if today it is simply seen as pushing or being pushy, in an unacceptable manner.
In this specific situation, it could be easily argued that if you compare the base salary situation, she’s earning 94 cents on the dollar to Akerson. So good, right? Or, at least, maybe it’s not too bad? Maybe just leave it alone. Close enough.
Yesterday also happens to also be the anniversary of Rosa Park’s birthday. You might remember her as one of our modern heroes. She fought for and achieved civil rights by not getting up from a designated “black seat” so that a white person could sit down. She drew a line in the sand, and effectively said, “No more will I wait”. Her courageous dissent was personally quite uncomfortable – making her seem like a troublemaker, an agitator. But her courage also was the key thing that created change. One person‘s voice – when connected through others — has the power to snap entire groups out of their coma of accepted cultural norms, accepted group think.
Courage becomes contagious. And change happens.
And that got me questioning whether it was worth it to agitate the issue, or to leave well enough alone. When is it worth saying something, and when is it not? On the feminism issue I’ve clearly gotten known for it. If I haven’t seen someone for a while, people tease – “hey you got that feminism issue tight between your teeth don’t you”, they say. I don’t know if I hide it well, but I flinch inside. Enough of those comments and it causes a pause for the next time an issue comes up. Like this. And so the question remains — do you keep quiet even when you can see the imbalance and hope / believe / have faith that it will be solved “some day” by “someone”. Or do you say something. Here, and now. Until the injustice ends.
I guess by writing the post, I’m signaling a personal bias.
But I’m also seeing in myself a reticence to do so. How do you see this issue and what would you do?