Pinksourcing: What Kristen Bell Didn’t Say About the Pay Gap

Forget sending jobs overseas. Pinksourcing – hiring women and then paying them less to do the same work as men — is the new way for companies to save on labor costs and increase productivity, at least according to actor and comedian Kristen Bell.

“Why outsource all your production to faraway countries like India, China, and Narnia when we have the cheapest and best workforce right here in the good ole U.S. of A.: women,” Bell says in the video, the first installment of Celebs Have Issues, a 10-episode comedy series where famous faces take on issues that matter to them.

In the 2-minute video, Bell strolls through a generic corporate office, explaining that companies can save big money by replacing their workforce with women, since they only have to pay them 77 cents on the dollar. Women also don’t ask for raises and don’t complain about their working conditions, she says. Plus, they smell nice and can be counted on to bring baked goods into the office.

The satirical video was obviously designed to get people talking about an issue that matters a lot to Bell, and in that respect it definitely succeeded. Many commenters praised her funny take on a hot-button topic. But others didn’t hesitate to jump on what they saw as flaws in her argument.

Bell’s “pinksourcing” video “further misleads American women about the facts regarding pay in the workplace,” Karin Agness, the founder and president of the Network of enlightened Women, an organization for young conservative women, wrote in Forbes. The National Review declared her argument “nonsense.” If the wage gap were real, these critics say, businesses would be falling over themselves to hire more women, since they could save so much money by doing so.

The pay gap: Myth or fact?

equal pay

Democratic National Committee (DNC) women host an Equal Pay Day event with a lemonade stand on April 12, 2016 | MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images

So, is Bell telling the truth about the pay gap? Well, sort of. Full-time female workers make 80 cents for every $1 earned by men, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The gap in wage exists for all female workers, though it’s larger for women of color and increases as women get older. Even having a degree from an elite college doesn’t make the pay gap disappear – it may actually make it worse. Female graduates of top-tier colleges experienced a larger gender wage gap than graduates of less selective schools, even though their average earnings were higher overall, a recent study by the Center for American Progress found.

But when it comes to differences in how much men and women earn, you can’t chalk it up to simple discrimination (though that plays a role). It’s not just that employers see a women walk in the door for an interview and automatically decide to pay her less.

“Women absolutely do earn less than men in the American workplace — but while it’s tempting to say that’s strictly based on gender, the reality is more nuanced,” Emma Plumb, the director of 1 Million for Work Flexibility, told The Cheat Sheet.

“Research from Harvard economist Claudia Goldin shows that it’s not so much that women are paid less than men, but that people who work the longest and least flexible hours make the highest salaries — and those people tend to be men,” Plumb added. “Women are more likely to be the ones juggling caregiving with working, and as a result, are less likely to be able to work those inflexible, longer hours that come with the highest pay.” Embracing flexible work hours and ending the expectation that people must work long hours to be successful will help close the pay gap, Plumb said.

Others have pointed out that women are more likely to work in jobs and industries where the pay tends to be lower, such as teaching and social work, and that accounts for at least some of the gender pay gap. When Glassdoor analyzed salary data by gender, they found the pay gap was much smaller – 94.6 cents on the dollar – when they compared workers who had the same job title, employer, and work location.

computer operator

An operator at the control desk of the world’s fastest calculator in IBM’s New York offices in the 1940s |  Keystone/Getty Images

But when the Glassdoor researchers drilled down into salary data by occupation, they made some troubling discoveries. Even after adjusting for differences in job titles and other factors, women who worked in certain professions made significantly less than their male counterparts. Female computer programmers, chefs, dentists, executives, and psychologists all had salaries 25% lower on average than men who held equivalent positions. (In a few professions, like social work and merchandising, the gender pay gap cut the other way, with men earning less than women.) Leaning in, it seems, might not be enough to close the pay gap, at least for some women.

gender pay gap

Glassdoor

The real pinksourcing?

Companies might not actively seek out female employees because they can pay them less than men. But researchers have long noted that salaries are lower in fields dominated by women, and that when women do move into occupations in large numbers, wages tend to fall. Once women take over a particular occupation, “It just doesn’t look like it’s as important to the bottom line or requires as much skill,” Paula England, a sociology professor at New York University, told the New York Times. “Gender bias sneaks into those decisions.”

England’s research found that as more women took jobs as designers, biologists, and recreation workers in the past decades, average salaries in those fields dropped by double digits – an example, perhaps, of pinksourcing in action, though in a more subtle way than suggested by Bell.

Or take the example of computer programming. Now, people are frantically trying to figure out how to get more women and girls interested in careers as coders and software engineers. But back in the 1950s, computer programming was a field dominated by women; at the time, the job was considered similar to clerical work. Once men started to move into the field en masse, wages rose and the job became far more prestigious.

woman with baby

A woman holds a baby while working on her laptop | iStock.com

The “Pinksourcing” video touches on a raft of issues that affect women’s career paths and how much they earn, including inadequate maternity leave policies, pressure to perform “office housework” like taking notes in meetings and planning birthday parties, and the fact that women are less likely to be promoted than men. To be sure, Bell doesn’t provide a comprehensive analysis of what causes the gender pay gap – it would be pretty much impossible to do that in a 2-minute comedy video. But it touches on a number of very real challenges women face in the workplace, many of which have less to do without outright wage discrimination and more to do with society’s ideas about women, work, and family.

Half of Americans still believe it’s better for kids if mothers stay at home and don’t work, a Pew Research survey found; only 8% of people said kids were better off if fathers stayed home. When a significant chunk of people cling to the assumption that a woman’s place is at home rather than in the workforce, is it any wonder that the pay gap persists? “After all,” as Bell says at the end of the video, “women don’t even really want to be working anyway.”

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