In a recent national study by The College for Behavioral Health Leadership (2016), female peer specialists made an average of $2 less than their male counterparts at $14.70 per hour compared to $16.76, respectively. This gender pay gap varies by region. The largest gender pay gap is in the middle of the country in the region including Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri where female peer support specialists are paid $4.14 per hour less than their male counterparts. The second worst offender is in the Southwest region, which includes California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii where female peer specialists are paid $3.15 less an hour compared to their male counterparts. And the best place for women and gender equality? New York, where the gender pay gap is the smallest, and in fact, female peer specialists make $0.39 more than their male counterparts.
For those of us who don’t live in New York, the gender pay gap is something that affects our lives whether or not we realize it. The gender pay gap is especially disheartening in 2016 in the peer movement, a field whose values are purported to include transparency, mutuality, respect, and shared power (International Association of Peer Supporters 2014). So what does the $2 an hour difference look like? “Based on these figures and assuming full-time employment, the total annual salary differential for men would be $4,284 higher than their female counterparts,” the study revealed (The College for Behavioral Health Leadership 2016). Over the span of a 45-year career, that’s a total of $192,780 in lost wages because of gender discrimination.
There are individuals who believe the gender pay gap is a myth. Consider the Yale research study where identical resumes were given to Science professors with the one difference being the applicant’s gender as was signified by the name John or Jennifer. The professors decided to pay the male applicant $4,000 more per year on average than the female applicant with the same exact qualifications and resume. Notice that this extra $4,000 male bonus is roughly the same amount as the $4,284 extra that mental health agencies are paying their male peer specialists compared to female peer specialists.
Earlier this month, April 12, 2016, was Equal Pay Day (National Committee on Pay Equity [NCPE]). “This date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year” according to NCPE. But the gender pay gap is not solely a female issue. With more women graduating college (Feeney, N., 2015) and more women than ever being the family breadwinner (Council of Economic Advisers Issue Brief, 2015), the income that a woman brings in has a larger effect on her family, her significant other, her children, and the family’s overall quality of life than ever before. Any household income that includes a female earner is negatively impacted by the gender wage gap in less money for food, clothing, debt, rent, college, retirement, health costs, etc.
As the old adage goes, the first step is admitting you have a problem. The peer specialist field has a problem, it needs to realize and identify the gender pay gap issue before it can come to a solution. We need to spread awareness about the gender pay gap. Tell your coworkers, colleagues, and management about the recent study about the gender pay gap in the peer specialist field. Email the study out, insert it in coworkers’ mailboxes, pin it up on bulletin boards, and mention it in meetings. Another step, suggested by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research is to advocate for pay transparency (2010). Their study found that in workplaces that have pay transparency, there is more pay equality (2010). As President Obama said, “Pay secrecy fosters discrimination and we should not tolerate it” (2014). Pay transparency can happen on an organizational level with transparency of salaries and/or salary ranges and it can happen among employees with transparency of compensation. Many companies discourage employees from discussing their compensation, but these pay secrecy policies are illegal. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 states that employees have the right to engage in “concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” The National Labor Relations Board “has long held that these pay secrecy policies that many employers have in writing violate the National Labor Relations Act,” said New York University Professor Cynthia Estlund (according to National Public Radio, 2014).
Another step would be to urge the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to review The College for Behavioral Health Leadership findings and contact those agencies that have been found to be discriminating against their female Peer Support Specialists and work with these agencies to rectify this injustice. There are many ways to address the gender wage gap and this is in no way a comprehensive list of actions, but rather a few steps to get us going in the right direction and thinking about solutions. With a concerted effort, we can ensure pay equity for peer support specialists.
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- Council of Economic Advisers Issue Brief (2015).
- Daniels, A.S., Ashenden, P., Goodale, L., Stevens, T. (2016). National Survey of Compensation Among Peer Support Specialists. The College for Behavioral Health Leadership.
- Feeney, N. (2015). Women Are Now More Likely to Have College Degree Than Men. Time.
- Institute for Women’s Policy Research (2010). Pay Secrecy and Paycheck Fairness: New Data Shows Pay Transparency Needed.
- International Association of Peer Supporters (2014).
- Midura, Margaretta (2013). John Vs. Jennifer: A Battle of the Sexes.
- National Committee on Pay Equity
- National Public Radio, All Things Considered (2014). ‘Pay Secrecy’ Policies at Work: Often Illegal, and Misunderstood.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.