JENNIFER RICH column | Women take ownership in spite of pay gap

April 25, 2011 

It sounded..... like a paradox.

First, a new Florida census-based report that showed a growth trend in the number of female-owned businesses.

Florida ranks fourth in the 50 states in the overall number of companies owned by women -- 585,500 to be exact.

That’s a 73 percent increase from 1997, while nationally the increase was a bit lower -- 50 percent.

Way to go, I thought. I’m always thrilled when my gender appears to be succeeding in the rough-tough world of business.

Then the paradox.

A week or so later, new figures released by the National Partnership for Women & Families show the gender wage gap is as big as ever. Full-time working women in Florida are paid $7,013 less than their male counterparts. The result: Because 67 percent of women bring in more than a quarter of their families’ income, the unequal wages are costing families $15.8 billion annually.

But a small glimmer of hope: Women in Florida are paid 82 cents for every dollar a male worker makes as opposed to nationally, where women are only paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men.

The numbers were being used to advertise a new legislative push in Congress to get the Paycheck Fairness Act passed, which supporters say would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

Portia Wu, vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, explained away the paradox for me.

Although pay isn’t equal in the workforce, women aren’t buying the subtle message that they aren’t as competent as men when it comes to their careers.

“Business owners of these firms probably felt they didn’t have a fair shake, so they stepped out there on their own,” she said. “That can only be a positive trend.”

Julie Weeks, a business consultant and researcher working with American Express, agrees.

“I think they (women) do turn and create their own businesses when they realize the salary gap, and they are not seeing the advancement or the opportunities that their male peers have been given,” she said. `“They want the control and flexibility” owning your own business can give you.

Evelyn Treworgy knows from personal experience what it’s like to compete in a man’s world.

At the age of 12, Treworgy followed her father around in his world of construction projects. So when she was in her mid-20s and found herself a single mom with a need to financially support a household, her first thought was construction.

“I picked out a career or a direction that paid money,” the Bradenton woman said. “I had to make money like a man.”

So she started at the bottom, hanging drywall and other construction jobs until she saved up enough money four years later to buy her first duplex and remodel it.

Today she is a general contractor and developer, the owner of Coastal Group SW.

“I absolutely love what I do,” Treworgy said.

She has seen lots of changes in her profession.

“There are some wonderful women in this profession now, they’ve added some needed polish and class,” Treworgy said.

One really depressing number in the middle of all the statistics was that the wage gap between men and women has been closing by less than half a cent per year since 1963.

So much for speedy progress. At that rate, women won’t come close to catching up until 2058.

Afraid I won’t be around to see it. Kind of like the legions of Boston Red Sox fans who lived lives of angst waiting for another World Series win, never to see it before they died.

But Treworgy has a much more upbeat outlook.

“My granddaughter’s generation is going to have the run of the world,” she said. “They’ll enjoy a wonderful world where women will be only looked at as people at work.”

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