Women Get Short Straw for Pay on Capitol Hill

PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol building stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on April 5, 2011.Bloomberg/Getty Images
The U.S. Capitol building stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on April 5, 2011.

Testifying on Capitol Hill as a woman can be tough (just ask Sandra Fluke). But being a woman working for the Republican leadership can also be tough -- on your pocketbook.

Men who work for House Republican leaders -- as chiefs of staff, legislative aides and in other jobs -- earned an average of $68 more per day of work than women in the House GOP leadership, according to 2011 salary data analyzed by the non-partisan Legistorm. That means men earn about $24,000 more per year than women within the House's Republican leadership. The gender pay gap in the Democratic House leadership was about $1,500 yearly.

In the Senate, the gap was even larger. Men working for the Senate GOP leadership earned, on average, $73 more for each day they worked than females in the GOP's Senate leadership, or about $27,000 more per year, according to the analysis, which was first reported by the National Journal. Female staffers in the Democratic Senate leadership earned about $5,000 less than men.

"Nowadays women are as equal as men, they are equally as smart as men and we know in Washington, D.C. they are equally interested in politics, so if you find a gap, it's cause for concern," said Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Legistorm founder and president Jock Friedly said the data showed that when men and women held the same job title, they made "relatively the same amount." The issue, he said, stems from promotions.

"Many more men were making it into the higher ranks on Capitol Hill, and therefore overall pay for men was much higher than for women," Friedly said.

When taken together, women held fewer senior positions and thus had lower pay. But there are plenty of exceptions to the rule. For example, the highest ranking Republican in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has a female chief of staff, as does Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

And for four years the highest ranking person in the House was a woman, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

"When I was speaker, I was the highest-paid person on Capitol Hill, and women took great joy in that," Pelosi said at a news conference in May. "But I can't speak to what the Senate - it's, needless to say, it's another world."

The Senate has never been led by a woman.

Both parties are guilty of this promotion gap, but it is much more prevalent among Republicans, where all male staffers earned about $10,000 more on average than female GOP staffers in both chambers. There are four times as many male chiefs of staff in Republican offices than there are female chiefs of staff. Democratic chiefs of staff are split fairly evenly down gender lines, with 184 men and 135 women.

But while women on Capitol Hill seem to be getting the short straw on pay, they are still doing better in Congress than in their private-sector counterparts. Nationwide, women earn about 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. That is a wider gap than on Capitol Hill, where the Legistorm analysis showed women make 86 percent as much as men.

Hegewisch argued Congress does better on than the private-sector on gender pay gaps because of the transparency of Congressional salaries.

Congressional staff salaries are a matter of public record, a fact that Hegewisch said reduces inequalities in bonuses or pay raises. She said the smaller pay gaps in Congress could also be due to the overall lower pay of Congressional staffers.

While CEOs and vice presidents of public companies, only about 16 percent of whom are women, can make millions, the chiefs of staff in Congressional offices earn around $150,000.

"I think very few people deliberately discriminate," Hegewisch said.

But, she said, since every Congressional office sets its own rules for pay structures and promotions, the process is "pretty deregulated, and the more deregulated the process is the more likely you are going to get some kind of discrimination."

"Even our Congress people, that should be fair and above it, they all have different rules and different preferences and then discrimination creeps in," she said.

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