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Female graduates face pay discrimination



It’s better times for those entering the workforce. But despite the year’s increase in job prospects and starting salaries for newly-minted college graduates, the news is not so promising for graduating females.

According to a report issued by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, women fresh out of college are offered starting salaries that are, on average, 17 percent less than their male counterparts.

The study surveyed over 50,000 2010 college graduates nationwide, finding that females with new bachelor’s degrees received an average starting salary of $36,451, while their male peers were offered an average of $44,159.

It’s a largely inexplicable phenomenon, explained NACE researcher Ed Koc, except that men might be placing more emphasis on a higher starting salary than women.

“There’s nothing in the survey data I have that would suggest this should occur,” Koc said. “There is some argument that part of the problem is women do not value the starting salary at quite the same level (as men), and therefore don’t negotiate as effectively.”

It’s a common rationale. Executive coach Marcia Reynolds told Fortune.com the disparity was a matter of female self-promotion.

“Women don’t negotiate their pay when hired, as if they’re happy just to get the job,” Reynolds said.

University graduate Jocelyn Young majored in history, and currently works as an office assistant at a nonprofit. She reports making far less than most of her male friends, and she is not alone. @@http://www.facebook.com/jocelynjean@@

“One of my male friends has a degree in philosophy and makes around $30,000 a year, whereas most of my female friends with degrees in business, architecture, etc., work hourly,” Young said. “I think employers have more faith and trust in the quality of work that men do.”

Though some might think men are naturally geared towards higher-paying majors, the discrepancy cannot be explained by graduates’ chosen fields. Although salary offers are predominantly determined by academic major, even when salary was adjusted for this, men still came out ahead.

One exception: engineering, where women — who comprise just 18 percent of graduates — are more sought out in the field.

“But, in virtually every other field, there were significant discrepancies,” Koc said. “It’s a prima facie case for discrimination towards women on the part of employers.”

Like engineering, the field of computer science sees significantly less participation
from women. Yet, in 2010, women’s starting pay averages $4,000 less than men.

The same holds true for fields largely dominated by women. In education, for instance, where women compose 80 percent of the workforce, females earn an annual income that is, on average, approximately $10,000 less than males’ salaries.

For Koc, the most realistic explanation for this discrepancy is supply and demand.

“The majority of graduates these days are women, so there’s more of them out there in the workforce,” Koc said. “Women might be getting lower salaries because they are now competing more for the same types of positions.”

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Deborah Bloom

Deborah Bloom