Here's How NOT To Argue For Equal Pay

Rampell: Don't hire women for their talent and productivity boost. Hire them because they're cheap. 

In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell argues that "an even better reason" to hire more women besides the "many feel-good, fairness-based reasons to hire and invest in women," in addition to "women's lib and girl power and something about Half the Sky," is that companies can pay them less

[P]erhaps the best argument for why hiring women will help your firm's bottom line: They still, amazingly, come a a discount. At least for now...Whatever the reason, the fact that women's pay is lower does mean they're a better deal for employers. Smart employers will recognize a bargain when they see it and scoop up the undervalued talent. 

Setting aside the crass disregard of the feminist and equal rights movements as merely "feel-good" rather than based on human dignity and self-determination, I have to disagree with the idea that the best argument for hiring women is because you can pay them less than a man for the same job. 

I understand what Rampell is trying to say (at least, I think I do). But arguing (days before Equal Pay Day) that instead of taking steps to eliminate pay inequality, companies should take advantage of it while they still can to increase their profit margins does a disservice to hardworking women everywhere and legitimizes the economic and social exploitation of half the population. Pay inequality is a social and economic ill to be solved, not a "bargain" to be exploited. Women are valuable employees who positively contribute to their respective organizations, they are not "deals" to be snagged before it's too late.

Ironically, Rampell proceeds to discuss the different occupations in which women are still underrepresented and undervalued. 

Indeed, law firms, Wall Street banks, tech companies and other big male-dominated businesses have all sorts of outreach programs to identify and nurture female talent (especially, it seems, when the stuff is about to hit the fan: witness the unfortunate timing of Mary Barra's coronation at General Motors). And yet, female representation across these industries and occupations - especially in management positions - is alarmingly low. 

Wait for it.

That's because lip service isn't enough. Corporate policy matters, too. As long as firms are resistant to changes that will help attract and retain female talent - like more flexible work arrangements, which can actually boost worker productivity - they will be limiting their own potential as well as that of female workers. 

First, what helps attract and retain female talent? Equal pay for equal work. Second, what boosts worker productivity? Equal pay for equal work. And third, what limits a company's potential as well as the potential of its female employees? Not being compensated as well as their male colleagues for the same work. 

Yes, it is amazing that women still make less than their male colleagues for the same work. And Rampell is correct, lip service isn't enough. Corporate policies do matter. But encouraging employers to hire more women because they are cheaper in an attempt to remedy workplace and pay inequality is misguided at best, and exploitative at worst.