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Harvard professor talks gender equity and pay gap at UMass

(European University Institute Follow/ Flickr)

In a time where more women are seeking professional degrees, and birthrates are also increasing, Harvard professor of economics Claudia Goldin proposed how women can achieve a career and equity while also creating a family.

Touching on recurring societal issues, such as the gender pay gap and harassment in the workplace, Goldin gave her lecture, titled “Career and Family — Collision or Confluence,” in the Marriott room on the third floor of the University of Massachusetts Campus Center on Monday.

Her lecture mainly focused on how a greater fraction of women graduating from college have started families as birthrates have risen. According to the event’s web page, this has raised a question of whether achieving a career and a family “is a collision course or a successful confluence of desires.”

“I’ve raised a difficult problem without a simple solution,” Goldin said during her presentation. “It’s even more imperative we figure things out soon.”

Goldin emphasized three main points that are part of the problem she was addressing: the fact that more women are graduating from college, seeking post-bachelor’s degrees and having children. Throughout her lecture, she used PowerPoint slides and graphs to give evidence to these points, one of which pointed out that women who are currently above the age of 50 had significantly less children than in the years before.

“This is a group that put off having kids, and 27 percent didn’t [have kids]. And that fact was widely noted,” Goldin said, pointing out how Roy Lichtenstein created a print of a woman with a tear drop and a speech bubble that said, “I can’t believe I forgot to have kids.”

Before proposing what she deemed a difficult solution to furthering women’s “twin goals of career and family,” Goldin talked about past efforts societies have taken to attempt to achieve gender equity.

These efforts included programs that aimed to “fix women” by improving their business and competitive bargaining skills, as well as policies that provided childcare and programs that attempted to fix managers by making them less biased in the workplace. Goldin also brought up policies that attempted to “fix daddies” by incentivizing paternity leave.

However, the main solution to the issue, Goldin noted, is something called temporal flexibility. According to her PowerPoint, the term can be defined as the “ability to switch hours, work fewer hours, work your own hours, not be on call.”

While being interviewed on NPR’s segment “All Things Considered” on April 12, 2016 (Equal Pay Day), Goldin described this term in greater depth, arguing that the pay gap between men and women has less to do discrimination than it does with the high cost of temporal flexibility.

“So temporal flexibility is giving someone the ability not just to work fewer hours, but to work their hours and not get a big hit for it or to work hours that are more predictable,” Goldin said while on the show. “And that’s true in a lot of fields. And it’s also as true at the top as it is at the bottom.”

In her presentation, Goldin noted that changing the costs of temporal flexibility is “not going to be easy.” She went on to present a graph displaying the differing ratios of female-to-male earnings by occupations and sector.

In the business and finance sector, the occupations with the greatest divide in earnings were podiatrists, physicians and surgeons, financial specialists, brokerage clerks and securities sales agents, while those with less divide were management analysts, human resources managers, budget analysts and service managers.

According to Goldin, there are a variety of factors that widen this gap, including increases in family and marital status — something she coined the “motherhood penalty.” She also said, “the gender earnings gap greatly increases with age.”

To further explain this phenomenon, Goldin pointed to pressures employees experience in the workplace related to time, establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships and structured versus unstructured work. However, Goldin went back to her main point that the underlying issue is that many jobs provide less temporal flexibility.

Freshman communications major Justyna Seager-Parulski, who attended the lecture for a report for her communications course on how society relates back to communications, noted how this particular lecture interested her.

“I hope to gain an insight about recognizing different aspects in the world and how it relates back [to] media and communications,” she said. “I think [Goldin’s] subject is definitely something people should be more aware about.”

Along with talking at length about the pay gap, Goldin also made some cheeky remarks on the harassment women experience at the hands of men in the workplace. She pointed out high profile examples like Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Hollywood producer and studio executive Harvey Weinstein and a harassment case that she mentioned was sent her that day regarding Fidelity Investments.

“It’s wonderful that it’s called ‘fidelity,’” Goldin said sarcastically.

Jackson Cote can be reached at jkcote@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @jackson_k_cote.

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