Pitt Gender Wage Gap Conference Explores National and Regional Pay Inequality

Issue Date: 
February 9, 2009


Wages for the average working woman in Southwestern Pennsylvania trail those of her local male counterpart and of her female colleagues in most of the nation’s large economic regions. Even so, women in the United States are still pushing for equal pay, as evidenced by the recent passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the pending Paycheck Fairness Act now before the U.S. Senate.

To explore the regional—and national—disparity’s roots and remedies, the University of Pittsburgh will host a daylong conference of nationally recognized wage-disparity scholars and advocates of equal-pay policy Feb. 20 beginning at 8:30 a.m. in Teplitz Memorial Courtroom, Barco Law Building. Titled The Gender Wage Gap: Strategies for the Future, the conference is sponsored by Pitt’s School of Law, the University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR), the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA), and the College of General Studies (CGS).

The program begins at 9 a.m. with a keynote address by Jocelyn Frye, the newly appointed director of policy and projects for First Lady Michelle Obama and deputy assistant to President Obama for domestic policy. Prior to this appointment, Frye served as general counsel of the National Partnership for Women and Families, which advocates for working parents on issues ranging from equal pay to family leave. She also directed the partnership’s Workplace Fairness Program and was actively involved in securing passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act signed into law Jan. 29, the first bill signed by President Barack Obama. The law reverses the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., which required Title VII complainants to challenge any pay discrimination under the statute within 180 days of the time the discriminatory decision was made, even if the discrimination was ongoing and not discovered until years later. A companion bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act—which would strengthen the 1963 Equal Pay Act’s guarantee of comparable wages for men and women who do the same job—passed the U.S. House in January and is now pending in the U.S. Senate.

The first panel begins at 10:15 a.m. and will survey some of the latest research into gender wage disparity. The panel includes Lise Vesterlund, a Pitt professor of economics, who studies the small number of women in top corporate positions; Duquesne University economics professor Charles Wilf, who launched a survey of graduating college seniors that found that female students expect to earn less than males; Sabina Deitrick, a professor in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and codirector of UCSUR’s Urban and Regional Analysis Program; and Chris Briem, an UCSUR regional economist. In March 2008, Deitrick, Briem, and Pitt political science professor Susan Hansen released a report to the public revealing that the wage gap between men and women in the Pittsburgh region exceeds the national average (www.ucsur.pitt.edu/publications.htm). Deitrick will moderate the panel.

Linda Babcock, coauthor of the book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide (Princeton University Press, 2003), will deliver the second keynote address at noon. A Carnegie Mellon University professor of economics, Babcock studies gender differences in negotiations and dispute resolution. Her book—coauthored with writer and editor Sara Laschever—found that women are much less likely than men to use negotiation to improve their circumstances, costing them lost wages and delayed career advancement.

The second panel begins at 1:45 p.m. and examines legal and public policy responses to wage disparity. The panel includes Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation and a Pittsburgh Public Schools board member; Pitt law professor Deborah Brake, a nationally recognized scholar on gender discrimination who testified before Congress in 2008 in support of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; Pennsylvania State Senator Jane Orie (R-McCandless), who has advocated for pay equity in the Pennsylvania legislature; and Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields, who has supported research into equal wages among city employees. Susan Frietsche, a senior staff attorney at the Women’s Law Project, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization for women, will moderate the panel.

The third panel, beginning at 3:30 p.m., features successful female graduates of Pitt’s College of General Studies offering strategies for women to succeed in the workplace and close the wage gap. The panelists include Mary Francis Gargotta (CGS ’79), executive vice president and chief executive resources officer of MARC USA in Pittsburgh; Terri Marts (CGS ’81), president of URS Corporation’s Washington Defense Group, a $600-million business unit that contracts with the U.S. government; and Anna Roman (CGS ’82). Hansen, who studies women and politics, will moderate the panel.

For the conference schedule or to register, visit the Pitt Law School Web site at www.law.pitt.edu/genderconf or call 412-648-7796.

Brief biographies of the conference participants can be found at www.pitt.edu/news2009/gender_gap_conference_bios.html.