Paula and Pay Equity.

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by Leslie Morgan Steiner

 

I never imagined cute, ditzy Paula Abdul as a feminist. Shame on me for assuming that a Los Angeles Lakers cheerleader and music video diva couldn’t also be strong, smart and gutsy. Because Abdul’s dispute over women’s pay equity – an issue that affects all women in the U.S. and around the world -- seems to be the back story behind last week’s departure from American Idol, eloquently justified by National Public Radio’s Michel Martin and other pundits. Give me an A, Paula!

 

Celebrity buzz brings another teachable moment for our kids, who can certainly learn an interesting lesson in fairness from the fact that Paula quit because the men on the show were paid far more than she was. Entertainment pay packages are tough to verify, but the New York Times reported that Abdul made $2 million per year in salary and another $1.5 for wardrobe and expenses. Idol host Ryan Seacrest’s pay recently doubled to $10 million a year, and flame-thrower Simon Cowell earns in the range of $30 million per year. Abdul asked for $10 million per year, with the show countering $5 million.

 

Heady numbers, for sure – but that’s not the point here. Statistics prove that inequal pay for equal work is the reality for most women in most professions in the U.S. whether you earn minimum wage or millions. According to Catalyst, women in Abdul’s age bracket (45-54) make 74.5% of men’s earnings. The 2008 median income for women hit only $638 a week vs. $798 for men. Over the course of a career, some studies show that women earn only 38% of what men make. The situation is widespread and serious enough that President Obama made it illegal to pay women less than men back in January as his first law signed while president.

 

Paula Abdul was offered 50% less than her male peers despite the fact that her very ditziness is critical to the show’s unique, Twitter-worthy appeal. Abdul, who’d been with Idol for eight seasons, gave the show’s producers plenty of chances to make it right; she negotiated as all career coaches tell women to do; she stood up for herself and asked to be paid what she was worth in terms of the media attention, viewers and ratings she brought to the show. I think Abdul had few respectable choices but to walk away from the top-rated Fox program, even if walking away kills what’s left of her strange and varied career in entertainment. (Fortunately early reports indicate she’ll be fine, with ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and other shows reportedly pursuing her.)

 

sexyMama
08.21.09

Leslie, picture this: Two individuals have the same job position. Let's say they're both phlebotomists for a high-profile hospital. One person brings his drug problem to work. The problem effects his performance, and he also talks about it publically, which affects the publicity of the hospital. He also just goes through the motions with each phlebotomy procedure, never really delineating between the needs of each patient. The other phlebotomist is far more on top of it -- no drug problem, nothing in the press that gives the hospital bad publicity, and he takes the time to notice the differences in each and every patient, adjusting his procedure slightly for each situation.
Should they get paid the same, just because they're both phlebotomists? If the former gets paid less, is it discrimination?
The smallest minority is the individual -- a minority of one. If you can't stand up for the individual, you can't stand up for minorities. All you're really standing up for are groups. If that's the case, no child -- black, white, male or female -- stands a chance at success through his own merit.
Discrimination will only stop when we decide not to see people as "a gender" or "a race" or "a social class," but as individual people.

genymom
08.21.09

Hi Leslie,
I work with a good number of young women who are bright eyed and ready for the world, but one thing that I have heard repeatedly is that they don't believe that there is a glass ceiling anymore or inequality (even though the top two positions in our company are both men). I loved this article and the idea of paying boys more allowance. I will write this down and remember to try this when my children are older. Great idea. Anything we can do to just make people think about this issue is helpful so thank you for your article.

auntdeen
08.20.09

Listen, I am dying to get Paula back, but you can't really compare her salary to either Cowell or Seacrest. Simon Cowell is also a producer and he helped create the show. Ryan has a much bigger job than Paula. Now if she makes less than Randy Jackson, that's a valid complaint. They should have comparable contracts because they do the same job.

leslie morgan s...
08.20.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Yes, thank you, aimpell!

I can't truly get worked up about some celeb i've never met.

But what is enraging is how moms, all moms but most egregiously the ones at the lower rungs of the economic scale, are discriminated against. If women like Paula, and frankly like most of the mommy blog audience who are educated and have access to computers, are discriminated against, we have to acknowledge that we are the tip of the iceberg. Other women who can't fight back or walk away so easily are really in trouble. And that means their kids are in trouble too. It's one of those "for whom the bell tolls" situations...any woman who is discriminated against could be one of us.

aimpell
08.20.09

Now we're getting somewhere. Paula is only a vague reminder of the real issue. Women make less than men in the real world, but moms make even less. And maybe, just maybe, that fact makes it hard to get all worked up about the Paula Abdul saga.(http://www.myworkbutterfly.com/profiles/blogs/the-great-paula-debate). (Although I agree that the discrepancy in numbers - on the surface - is outrageous and I have not found support for the premise that Simon Cowell executive produces American Idol although he does indeed produce other programs.)

leslie morgan s...
08.20.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

I really disagree, SexyMama! It's wishful thinking that "we're all human and we try to negotiate the best we can..." It's not a level playing field. Would you tolerate a black person being paid less than a white person, and let someone hide behind "well he's not as qualified in our opinion?" People who would never in a million years tolerate racial bias seem to tolerate gender bias.

This is what I want you to imagine: it's not Paula Abdul, millionaire diva choreographer, being discriminated against. It's the single mom with five kids who's being paid less than half her male colleague. Because I've seen exactly that happen, again and again, at fantastic Fortune 500 "Working Mother's Top 50" companies. Pay discrimination against women, particularly mothers, is widespread and rampant in the corporate and legal and government worlds. We simply don't live in a fair society. It's up to us to bitch about it, call it unfair, and try in our own way to change it. It doesn't do anyone -- including me, you, our sons and daughters -- and good to excuse it away as a "human issue." You are RIGHT it is a human issue -- bias and prejudice are human. That does not make it okay.

sexyMama
08.19.09

Leslie, I didn't mention Randy's bass playing as though that's how he "proved" himself; I just mentioned it because you'd said you didn't know who he was. It was just background, is all. :)
We can't compare Paula's salary to Simon's, because he's the show's exec producer. We also can't compare her salary to Ryan Seacrest's because he's not a judge -- he's the show's host. So Randy's the only one we can compare salaries with, and if the show doesn't think Paula's as good of a judge as Randy, that's their call to make. They shouldn't have to be forced to pay her what they don't think she's worth. Likewise, if she thinks she's worth more but her bosses won't pay, she should quit. But that's not really a feminism issue, it's a human issue. Women AND men should both be actively negotiating the best possible salaries. We should all be our best cheerleader and our best contract negotiator. We are each responsible for our own career advancement. :)

Coby
08.19.09

Wow -- who knew this topic would inspire such a response. Wonder if there is a SAVE PAULA petition going around? Should we start one?

leslie morgan s...
08.19.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Thank you! These recent posts remind us all of why she is actually MORE qualified and "proven" than the other judges.

I also want to reiterate that it is illegal to pay women less than men for the same job. Period.

Now of course there could be mitigating circumstances -- the producers could find her difficult behind the scenes, a liability because of her alleged substance abuse, etc...but that does not seem to be what this debate is all about.

Samantha
08.19.09

I actually thought she redeemed herself when she started doing choreography with the contestants this past season -- reminding everyone what her true talents and qualifications are. I thought she was really on the road to losing her wack-job reputation and proving she was way better than Kara. Still hoping this is all tactics to get her salary raised. I bet she's back for the next season.