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Chamber of Commerce Reenters Dark Ages


Senior director says it's women's choices that have maintained the pay gap.

The year is 1960. Four black college students in North Carolina launch a massive anti-segregation movement with a sit-in protest at Woolworth's lunch counter with a strict whites-only policy, John F. Kennedy is narrowly elected president over Vice President Nixon, and the US Chamber of Commerce proclaims that the solution to women's economic woes is simply to marry rich.

While that last item could fit squarely into an episode of Mad Men, the throwback of a sentiment was actually expressed last week, a whopping half-century into the future. On the anniversary, no less, of the ratification of 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote, Brad Peck, a senior director from the US Chamber of Commerce said women seeking to close the gender pay gap must first look at their own choices: namely the appropriate workplace and the "right partner at home." You've regressed a long way, baby!

In his overly simplistic and bizarrely antiquated screed entitled "Equality, Suffrage and a Fetish for Money," Peck asserts that women need to put down their demure little dukes in this battle for pay equality because, after all, it's their fault. Peck doesn't refute that women make less than men -- on average $0.77 for every dollar men earn for performing the same work -- he just thinks it's a result of their own doing. "Most of the current 'pay gap,' " he says, "is the result of individual choice rather than discrimination."

Of course, Peck speaks nothing of the enormous social stigma that still exists in this 'modern age' for men who choose to be stay-at-home dads. And what about the growing number of women who aren't having children? Should they too continue to be punished with lower wages?

Peck's argument also fails to address the complex economic and social factors involved with a women's "choice" to take maternity leave or extended time off work to care for a child. But why are women typically the ones to stay home while their husbands continue to work? Could it be because he earns more money so it only makes financial sense for him to keep his job -- thereby perpetuating the mom-stays-at-home cycle and another generation of pay inequity?

According to Ross Parke, professor of psychology at the University of California at Riverside and author of Throwaway Dads, men are much less likely to take paternity leave for fear that their careers will suffer. "Offering paternity leave is only half the battle," says Parke. "The real problem is getting men to actually take it."

In his Chamber of Commerce article, Peck goes on to quote a Cafe Hayek blog post that boasts "...I don't suffer from the 'Progressive' itch for income equality... Not only does achievement of such 'equality' require the state to treat people unequally, obsession with income equality also reflects a Scrooge-like fetish for money." So women who want fair pay -- not higher pay, just equal pay for equal work -- are misers matching the likes of the most repellent Dickens character while men who actually attain wealth do so because it's their right?

For those money-grubbing women trying to climb the next rung of the fair-salaried corporate ladder, it certainly pays to know where to apply and what companies to avoid.

24/7 Wall Street ranked the worst Fortune 500 businesses for women based on the number of women in executive positions and serving on the board of directors. Phillip Morris (PM), Icahn Enterprises (IEP), and Virgin Media (VMED) rounded out the top three with only senior-level human resources positions for women and no female board members. Other poorly performing companies for women include Liberty Media (LINTA), L-3 (LLL), EOG Resources (EOG), Cameron International (CAM), National Oilwell Varco (NOV), Emcor (EME), and XTO Energy (XTO).

The best-of list for executive women, produced by the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE), rated companies on a number of factors including female CEO, executive, and board of directors representation, and power and earnings data. Companies that made the top 10 included Abbott (ABT), Aetna (AET), American Express (AXP), Fleishman-Hillard, General Mills (GIS), IBM (IBM), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Marriott International (MAR), Office Depot (ODP), and WellPoint (WLP).

The Chamber of Commerce attempted to save face when COO David Chavern admonished Peck's "wrong-headed" article, saying "The 'glass ceiling' is real and simply blaming it on women's work-life choices is ridiculous." Chavern pulled rank and assured readers that it's his opinion that really matters anyway. Chavern may simply be engaging in half-hearted damage control in order to appease its feminist contingent (considering the COC's less-than-stellar track record on pay equality issues) but his stance does account for something. And it's bound to make the next COC outing and this year's secret Santa drawing considerably tense.

No positions in stocks mentioned.

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