The Secret Cancer of Equal Pay

When I started my blog I vowed to always be honest. So today I am going to share my honest opinion about the reason for the gender pay gap. If you are reading this thinking that there is not a gender pay gap in the workforce then you might be suffering from unconscious bias – a condition that has a damaging effect on gender equality. To explain what I mean by unconscious bias, I’m going to use an article that the Dallas Medical Journal published in it’s latest Women in Medicine Issue. In the medical industry research has shown that male physicians earn 20 to 30 percent more than their female counterparts. In the article they asked industry professionals to share their thoughts and potential solutions to the gender pay gap in medicine. In the article was the following quote from Dr. Garry Tigges from Plano, Texas:

Yes, there is a pay gap. Female physicians do not work as hard and do not see as many patients as male physicians. This is because they choose to, or they simply don’t want to be rushed, or they don’t want to work the long hours. Most of the time, their priority is something else… family, social, whatever.

Nothing needs to be “done” about this unless female physicians actually want to work harder and put in the hours. If not they should be paid less. That is fair.

My face felt like it was on fire when I read that article. The first person I thought of was my sister – a pediatric anesthesiologist who has four children, all of which were born hours after she was finishing rounds at the hospital. I’m not sure if there is a better example of working hard, putting in the hours, and prioritizing work.

My conclusion after reading the article was that Dr. Tigges is an ignorant, sexist pig. But is Dr. Tigges an ignorant, sexist pig? Maybe. Or maybe he is suffering from a condition I call unconscious bias. If you look at some of the facts in the medical industry, you too could come to the same generic conclusion Dr. Tigges did. Physicians in most cases do get paid based on the number of patients they see. People with unconscious bias would conclude that because women have more responsibilities at home that equals less time at work which equals less patients seen. BOOM – they have their answer and they move on with their lives. These people are not trying to ignore the issue and they are not all sexist, they have just been raised in a world where most women bear the brunt of the responsibilities at home and no one has convinced them otherwise. And because of this these people with unconscious bias make conclusions and decisions based on the belief that they are doing a good thing by assuming the woman is going to prioritize her home responsibilities over work. Children need to be taken care of and these people think they are doing their part to protect the mom and the family. They take pride in the fact that management offers flexible hours for working moms. And most times these people are smart and kind-hearted and they don’t even realize they are being biased, they actually think they are doing something good. Hence, unconscious bias.

People who don’t suffer from unconscious bias would respond to questions about this topic like this:

Why would a woman with no children see less patients than a man with no children? Their answer: Because women physicians have been proven to spend more time with their patients and have been proven to use their skills to produce better mortality outcomes. More quality time spent with patients equals less patients seen. It’s not about a patient count – success in the medical profession should be about quality not quantity.

Why would a woman who has children see less patients than a man who has children?Their answer: Because women are forced to bear the responsibilities at home due to society norms and the lack of options for quality childcare that line up with long work hours. While male physicians are worrying about how many patients they will see before they leave work at 6:00, female physicians are wondering how much the daycare will charge them if they pick their kids up after 6:00.

When 82% of upper level management are men who most likely suffer from unconscious bias, there will always be a foot on the brake halting a woman’s career. People make many choices in their lives but they don’t get to choose whether they were born a male or a female.  Women also do not choose to prioritize home responsibilities more than men do, society already chose that prioritization for them.

If you want to get skinny but you don’t exercise or change your diet, you’ll end up looking the same.  Most of society wants women equality but it can’t happen without change. Supporting flexible work hours and not blinking when a woman quits to stay at home is not change. Dr. Tigges’ apology after the internet exploded on him is not change. It’s complacency with a hope that things will change with a magic wand. We should all use the roles we have in life to speak up and raise awareness to the secret cancer of gender equality.

Stay tuned for a future blog post on ways I think we can make actionable change (spoiler alert – childcare, childcare, and more childcare…)

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