By MATT BLOIS
Women in Williamson County make far less money than men do.
According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau in 2016, a typical adult woman working full time makes 63 percent as much as an adult man working full time.
Women make less money than men in almost every occupation throughout the United States, but the gender pay gap in Williamson County is especially large.
In Tennessee, women made about 81 percent as much as men in 2016. The number is 80 percent for the whole country.
Jennifer Clark, the Director of Communications for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said part of the large disparity could be due to the county’s wealth. The gender pay gap tends to be larger in areas with high average incomes.
“There is no upper limit on how much someone can be paid, so in higher wage jobs women can make a lot, but men could make much more,” she wrote in an email. “The gap could be wider than in lower paying jobs.”
That appears to be the case in Williamson County, where both men and women tend to earn high salaries. The average man in Williamson County makes about $82,000 a year while the average woman makes about $52,000 per year.
That’s a big gap, but income for an average woman in Williamson County is higher than the income of an average man in the U.S. The median income for men working full time in the U.S. is about $50,000 and the median income for a woman is about $40,000.
Shelby County, which has a median income of about $31,000, has a lower gender pay gap than Williamson County. Women there earn $0.77 for every $1 that a man would earn.
Sherrie Whatton, the president of LBMC Staffing Solutions, said that she hasn’t noticed the gender pay gap in her work. Her company recruits new hires for businesses in Middle and Eastern Tennessee.
“That number to me doesn’t make sense. We just don’t see that today. We do quite a bit of recruiting in Williamson County,” she said. “We even have initiatives that focus on women to provide them support to get them into leadership positions.”
Whatton said LBMC recruits hundreds of candidates each year, focusing mainly on businesses in accounting, human resources and information technology.
She said the salaries those candidates get can range from $50,000 to $350,000 depending on where they are in their career. She’s never crunched the numbers to find out if male candidates earned more than similar female candidates.
The pay gap varies by occupation, but in virtually all cases men earn more than women. For the state of Tennessee, women in law enforcement earn close to 90 percent of what their male colleagues make. Female educators in Tennessee earn about $0.83 for every dollar a male educator makes.
The numbers for specific occupations at the county level are harder to compare. The sample size is smaller and the margin of error is much larger.
There’s no doubt about the existence of the pay gap in the county. The overall wage gap of 63 percent for all professions has a 2.7 percent margin of error.
Unfortunately, getting more education doesn’t eliminate the pay gap. According to a report from the American Association of University Women, the pay gap is actually slightly larger for women with more education. Although, both men and women earn more money when they get more education.
Dia Cirillo, the president of the Murfreesboro chapter of the American Association of University Women, said perception is a big part of the problem. She says employers often unwittingly assume that men are more knowledgeable. It’s a bias that’s baked into everyone.
“If you go and ask someone how to change the oil for your car, or where you go to get a good mechanic who do you talk to? Do you turn to the guy you know or do you turn to a woman?” Cirillo asked. “We are making an assumption about what people know primarily based on their gender.”
The Murfeesboro chapter of the American Association of University Women organizes negotiation workshops for women entering the workforce. Cirillo said that kind of preparation can give women a leg up.
But ultimately, she said it’s up to employers to fix the problem. She said companies have to look carefully at the wages they pay their employees and actively purge the pay gap.
Paying men and women equally is the right thing to do, but she said it’s also just good business.
“The real question is why aren’t more companies cleaning their payroll,” she said. “That would increase loyalty. We know that recognition via compensation does a number of things for the workforce. The fairer a work environment is the more likely employees will stick around.”