40 years after the pay act was signed into law, women still make less than men

Equal pay still a battle of the sexes: 40 years after the pay act was signed into law, women still make less than men

Sarah E. Lockyer

Equal pay for equal work–that was the promise made to working women more than 40 years ago when the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was signed into law. Yet more than four decades later, many women–including those in foodservice–continue to earn less than their male counterparts who perform the same jobs and work the same number of hours, according to the most recent government data.

In fact, most women would have to work for 16 months to earn the same wages men earn in 12 months, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity, or NCPE, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition that works to eliminate gender- and race-based wage discrimination. For that reason, April 19 is “equal pay day,” the day women’s earnings catch up to the salaries men realized in the prior calendar year, according to NCPE.

But even as most women in businesses nationwide continue to pocket smaller paychecks than those of their male peers, progress has been made–albeit slowly and, in foodservice, not without plateaus or slippage, according to data from the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“When you’ve gotten into detailed occupational roles and you still find those wage differences, it is pretty powerful evidence,” says Robert Nelson, the director of the American Bar Foundation and professor of sociology and law at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. “People say, ‘Oh, that was yesterday,’ or ‘Everything has changed,’ but that is not the case…. You have to point out disparities to get people to think there is still a problem. They see the numbers and say, ‘Oh, wow.’ “

Nelson also is co-author of the 1999 book “Legalizing Gender Inequality: Courts, Markets and Unequal Pay for Women in America.”

Across all industries, median weekly earnings for women who were full-time wage and salary workers were $552 in 2003, or 80 percent of men’s, up from 78 percent in 2002. In 1979, the first year comparable earnings data was tracked, women earned only 63 percent as much as men, according to the BLS.

In 1983, the first year the BLS began tracking comparable earnings by detailed occupation, female full-time foodservice workers earned 86.2 percent of male full-time foodservice workers, based on median weekly salaries and wages. Twenty years later, in 2003, the latest available data, women’s wages had grown only slightly, putting them at 87.2 percent of men’s wages. Specifically, among all full-time wage and salary workers ages 16 and older employed in food preparation and serving-related occupations, men were paid a median weekly salary of $373 in 2003, according to a September 2004 BLS report. Meanwhile, women were paid a median weekly salary of $326, the report says.

But the difference between men’s and women’s earnings in foodservice has grown in the past five years, even as the trend toward parity across all industries has continued. For example, in 1999 female full-time foodservice workers earned 91.8 percent of men’s median earnings, but that figure has fallen about 1.5 percentage points each year until 2003. The report’s standard error is 1.6 percent.

Nonetheless, female foodservice managers have made bigger strides toward narrowing the gender wage gap. In 1992, the first year the BLS differentiated managers of foodservice establishments from other foodservice workers, female managers earned 76.4 percent of men’s earnings. By 2003 that ratio had risen to 82.7 percent of men’s earnings.

Progress in wage equality varies by profession, according to data from the BLS. Across all industries women working in management, business and financial operations positions earned 69.9 percent of men’s median salaries in the same fields in 2003. Female foodservice managers fared better, earning 82.7 percent of the wages taken home by their male counterparts in 2003. The median is the midpoint of the earnings distribution.

The estimates in the BLS report are based on the Current Population Survey, which is conducted monthly for the Bureau of Labor Statistics by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey uses a national sample of about 60,000 households in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

As women climb the corporate ladder, salaries–including those proffered in foodservice–tend to even out, as shown by wage figures found in the proxy statements of select companies filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

In the past few years, many women have climbed into leadership positions at major restaurant companies, helping to bring about a degree of wage parity. Among them are Julia Stewart at IHOP Corp. in Glendale, Calif.; Sally Smith at Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. in Minneapolis; Linda Lang at Jack in the Box Inc. in San Diego; Paula Shives of Darden Restaurants Inc. in Orlando, Fla.; and Kerrii Anderson at Wendy’s International Inc. in Dublin, Ohio. Not only do those women hold high-profile roles as chief executives, general counsels and in operations and finance, but they also are among the top earners at their companies.

According to the most recent available proxy statements filed with the SEC, those women, and other women who hold top positions like them, are being paid salaries and bonuses on par with, or at least within close ranges of, their male counterparts.

“You find in the senior ranks, for the most part. women are pretty darn close to men,” says Joan Ray, executive vice president at Elliot Associates, a search firm in Tarrytown, N.Y., that specializes in the hospitality and retail service industries. “The challenge, I think, is at the lower to intermediate ranges.”

The trouble companies and recruiters face, Ray continued, is that roles in the intermediate or even upper levels of management can have annual salary swings of up to $50,000.

That large swing is clear when looking at salary data from HVS Executive Search, a division of hospitality services firm HVS International, based in Mineola, N.Y. The research shows that the 2004 annual salary of a unit general manager, for example, fluctuated from a minimum of $35,805 to a maximum of $113,300, with the median falling at $50,461.

Even among restaurant companies of similar sizes, salaries range dramatically. Unit general managers at companies with systemwide sales of less than $100 million earned a minimum of $35,805 and a maximum of $72,100 in 2004, the data show. Unit general managers at companies with systemwide sales of more than $500 million earned a minimum of $36,070 and a maximum of $61,267.

The report of HVS, the annual Hospitality Compensation Exchange, is based on data from 127 restaurant companies and covers 25 executive positions.

While it is difficult to gather gender-specific salary data for intermediate positions, the number of women rising to middle- and upper-management roles is increasing, according to Alice Wheelwright, vice president of industry marketing at Ecolab Inc. and incoming chair of the Women’s Foodservice Forum.

“Looking at our own membership, our female members who have been with the organization for a long time have been promoted and are seeking and achieving higher positions,” Wheelwright says. “The published [salary] data that is out there is for publicly traded companies only, and secondly, it is for women at the officer levels. But if you look at some of these larger companies, there are women running huge pieces of the businesses, and they would be CEOs at a smaller company.”

Women in those positions include, for example, Carin Stutz, executive vice president of operations at Overland Park, Kan.-based Applebee’s International Inc., parent of the 1,600-unit Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar chain; Laurie Burns, president of 32-unit Bahama Breeze, a division of Darden; and Jean Birch, president of Dallas-based Brinker International Inc.’s 220-unit Romano’s Macaroni Grill.

A woman’s place is inn line kitchen … or is it?

According to the BLS report, there is not a significant enough base of female chefs and head cooks to meaningfully compare the salaries of men and women. The report shows that there were only 42,000 female chefs and head cooks compared with 199,000 male chefs and head cooks. In fact, that occupation was the only occupation within foodservice, other than dishwasher, where women numbered significantly fewer than men.

Anecdotal industry statistics echo the low number of women heading up kitchens. According to Kevin Ryan, executive director of the International Corporate Chefs Association, or ICCA, just 16.8 percent of the group’s members are women. The ICCA is an association that represents the highest-ranking culinarians at the largest 200 restaurant chains.

Some of the disparity could be attributed to the time needed for women to gather the experience necessary for leadership roles, explains Ann Cooper, a certified executive chef and chef consultant who also serves on the board of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, a group that promotes the professional development of its 2.000 members.

“Going from an entry-level job to the top takes about 20 years.” she says. “The first female Culinary Institute of America graduate was in 1970. Now at least 35 percent of grads from culinary schools are women…. Let’s just say we were slow getting out of the gate, but now you will see more and more women getting to the top.”

Oona Settembre, executive chef at Dallas-based Dave & Buster’s Inc., operator of 43 casual-dining and entertainment restaurants, echoed that sentiment. Progress already has been made, she notes, by women like Kulsoom Klavno, head of the fresh food research and development team at Dallas-based 7Eleven Inc.: Lori Estrada, vice president of research and development at Wendy’s; and Leah Evans, senior vice president of research and development for Pizza Hut Inc. in Dallas, a subsidiary of Louisville, Ky.-based Yum! Brands Inc.

However, Settembre adds, companies will need to continue to change their mindsets about women and their capabilities as leaders of restaurant kitchens.

“There is a reluctance to advance women in the kitchen,” she says. “That was a major problem for me moving up. I was fiat out asked by a guy, ‘Who’s going to look after your babies while you’re at work’?’ … or ‘How are you going to lift a big pot’?’ and I told him, ‘With my two arms.’ “

Despite such biases, barriers continue to be broken. Jean Stone was promoted in February to executive chef of The Palm Restaurant in Denver, making her the first female executive chef in The Palm’s nearly 80-year history and among its 29 steakhouses.

“It is overwhelmingly awesome: I am so excited to have this position,” Stone says. “‘It was my goal to be the first female executive chef, and I let it be known to as many people [as possible that] I wanted to break this barrier.”

Stone challenges other female chefs to be similar trailblazers in their own right by finding chefs, kitchens and companies that are willing to be supportive and encouraging.

“You need to make sure you’re working for the right kind of chef, and if you’re not, leave that place,” Stone says. “I started with The Palm because I knew this is what I wanted to do. I knew I would be the first [female executive chef], and they were very encouraging.”

Scott Vasko, The Palm’s vice president of human resources, says Stone’s appointment is only the beginning for the restaurant group because six female sous chefs out of a total of about 30 sous chefs currently are climbing the ranks.

In addition, there are countless female chef-owners of independent restaurants following the footsteps of chefs like Alice Waters and Odessa Piper, particularly in urban areas like New York, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago.

The Possible Solutions

While progress has been made, salary discrepancies will not go away simply because the number of women in top posts is increasing throughout foodservice, sources say. Instead, women need to assert their rights–something some industries already are witnessing in the form of lawsuits from women demanding a fairer share of pay and promotions.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation’s largest retailer, currently is facing the largest private civil-rights case in U.S. history. Last June a federal judge approved class-action status for a sex-discrimination lawsuit that could represent as many as 1.6 million current and former female employees. The suit alleges Wal-Mart fostered a system that pays its female workers less and passes over women for key promotions. Wal-Mart has appealed the class certification order and is awaiting a hearing date.

Female workers demanding gender equality also have stung the investment banking community. Last July Morgan Stanley paid $54 million to settle with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission a lawsuit that alleged the New York-based investment bank discriminated against women “with respect to promotion, compensation and the terms, conditions and privileges of employment.” Morgan Stanley denied the allegations.

“We should make good hiring decisions to make good hiring decisions,” says Dr. Steven Hunt, chief scientist at staffing services firm Unicru Inc. in Portland, Ore. “Companies have to get serious about the clear, increasing shortage of high-skilled, high-talent labor. If you discriminate against 50 percent of that pool, you will have a problem.”

Hunt says companies need to implement specific systems that will hire and retain the most effective people, regardless of gender, race or ethnicity.

“If you look at the most successful organizations promoting women, they have defined cultures,” he says. “That doesn’t mean they have a feminine culture, but they say. “We want people to do these specific things,’ and they have clear hiring practices and strong mentoring.”

Hunt also says the best place to start looking for an effective workforce is within a company’s own system.

“Tap into the existing high-potential female workforce,” he explains. “A tremendous amount of casual-dining waiters are working their way through college–grab those people and pull them into those management ranks. Find the women you know are high-potential.'”

Unfortunately, salary inequality will continue as long as people are unaware of or ignore the problem, Hunt adds.

“Women will work for these lower salaries, and companies are able to get away with it,” he says. “Negotiations are inherently secretive, and it is hard to get a good benchmark.”

Julia Stewart, chief executive of 1,186-unit IHOP Corp., says every chief executive must be accountable for the company’s hiring, pay and promotion practices.

“There is a very simple sentence that a CEO can say to executive recruiters: ‘Bring me qualified, diverse candidates,’ “she says. “If you don’t expressly say this and have a culture that commits to that, what are the odds you are going to get a diverse group?”

Stewart continues: “Twenty or thirty years ago there was no talk of [diversity]: today there is certainly an awareness and a mindset that didn’t exist then. Having said that, we all know it is sometimes lip service–it is good talk and people know the right things to say. If you want to change the culture at your company so that people throughout your organization support women and minorities, it starts at the top. That will never change.”

Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers

2003 annual averages


All food preparation

and serving occupations $373 $326 87.2

Chefs and head cooks $490 * *

First-line supervisors/

managers of food

preparation and

serving workers $486 $391 80.6

Cooks $348 $317 90.9

Food preparation

workers $334 $310 92.7

Bartenders $466 $361 77.4

Food preparation

and serving workers

including QSR * $319 *

Counter attendants,

cafeteria, food


coffee shop * $271 *

Waiters and

waitresses $385 $318 82.6

Food servers,

non restaurant * $368 *

Dining room

and cafeteria

attendents and

bartender helpers $353 $306 86.6

Dishwashers $290 * *

Hosts and

Hostesses, restaurant,

lounge and coffee shop * * *

* Data not shown where base of workers in survey

was less than 50,000.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of

Labor Statistics, September 2004

Women in Foodservice

Do you think women are represented

well in the top ranks of restaurant

and foodservice companies?

A. Yes, the industry has 11%

made sufficient progress.

B. Yes, but women are not 6%

paid as well as their male


C. No, but gender equality 38%

is making progress.

D. No, women still are grossly 45%

under-represented in the top

ranks of foodservice.

Source: NRN Online Poll (conducted March 14-21), www.nrn.com

Advice for women, from women

Data show that more women work part-time than do men, more mothers leave the workplace than do fathers and more women than men take on lower-paying positions in lower-paying sectors like communications, marketing or human resources. Some experts contend that those facts account for at least part of the documented salary gap between men and women.

Yet because women are expected to make up 62 percent of the restaurant industry’s 13.5 million employees by 2014, according to data from the Women’s Foodservice Forum, industry members and observers note that companies will need to pay increasing attention to gender diversity, inclusion and equality. However, they also note that women, too, will have to increase the risks they take and their stakes in their own futures.

“You have to be willing to take risks and sometimes make a physical move. When I look at my male counterparts, it is those who are willing to take risks who succeed. Another key component is seeking mentoring and feedback from superiors–developing mentoring relationships is really important to helping women grow.”

–Alice Wheelwright, incoming chair of the WFF

“More and more companies, executives, management teams–all levels–they tend to talk in hyperbole. The WFF or Catalyst, any group, you and I, all of us should challenge [the industry] to publish information. I can’t tell you how many restaurant company executives say to me, ‘I think I’m underpaid,’ and I say, ‘Well, what do your data say?’ We have a tendency to talk in hyperbole. Get me the facts; get me the information.”

–Julia Stewart, president and chief executive, IHOP Corp.

“Search for the best companies to work for, research your local market, look at local papers that do surveys, ask who sits on the board–are there men and women? The other thing you really have to look at is the opportunity–is it a company that is growing, and can I grow with it? I took a significant pay cut to come here. I had been at a larger company, but I saw the opportunity.”

–Sally Smith, president and chief executive, Buffalo Wild Wings Inc.

“Women are terrific in negotiating for other people but not good at negotiating [salaries] for themselves. The gender gap with wages is not women’s fault, but look at the National Association of Female Executives’ list of competitive salaries, know what men are getting, and do not settle for the lower numbers.”–Betty Spence, president of National Association of Female Executives

“I do think the best way to end up running a company is to come up through operations… it does layer a whole different side of you, develops leadership qualities, forces accountability. Having said that, finance is the language of business, and you need to have [knowledge in finance] to run a public company.”

–Cynthia Jamison, chief financial officer, Cosi Inc.

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