By Maggie Gordon
The number of female billionaires in Connecticut grew significantly this year, up to three women from one in 2014, according to the annual list issued by Forbes magazine. But the increase isn’t exactly enough to elicit chants of “Girl power” through the streets of Hartford. Because while all of the 13 Connecticut men named to the list control self-made fortunes, with titles like hedge fund manager and energy investor, all three women shared one title – heiress.
“The fact that there are three billionaires in Connecticut that are all heiresses, that doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Fran Pastore, president and CEO of the Connecticut’s Women’s Business Development Council.
“Years and years ago, women were never encouraged to go out and do things on their own, especially in fields like math and science,” she said. “And it takes a very, very long time to get over social stigmas. It’s very, very hard to get out of the way of those social dynamics that plague us.”
It’s been decades since women began joining the American workforce in large numbers. And while the national share of women who work outside of the home has soared in recent decades – up to 58.8 percent now, compared with 33.9 percent in 1950 and 43.3 percent in 1970 – there is still a large gap between men and women in the workplace, both in their presence and paychecks.
That’s true throughout Connecticut, but in wealthy towns like Greenwich, especially.
“I can tell you, in a study we published last year, the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women found that the wage gap is largest in this part of the state,” said Greenwich resident Mary Lee Kiernan, a commissioner of the PCSW. “Women here on an aggregate basis make 50 percent of the median annual earnings of men.”
But in a world where women are no longer confined to cherry-printed aprons, there’s one big question: Why?
“There are two factors we cite in the report as to why that wage gap exists: The first factor is occupational segregation. Women tend to cluster in lower-paying occupations, and men tend to cluster in higher-paying occupations, and some economists think that counts for half the wage gap,” Kiernan explained.
Women are more likely to be found teaching in local classrooms or answering phones at a receptionist’s desk than men in Greenwich, while men are more likely to manage assets at a hedge fund or work in the technology sector, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And it’s no secret that hedge fund employees take home a significantly bigger paycheck than a Greenwich Public Schools teacher.
“When we look at the kind of work and how they’re being rewarded, we wouldn’t care if men and women happened to go into different fields if they were valued equally,” said Christin Munsch, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. “But because we don’t see as many women going into the male-dominated fields, that’s problematic, because then women don’t have access to the highest-paying jobs.”
Katie Flaherty, director at Merrill Lynch’s Stamford complex, spends a considerable amount of time actively recruiting women to join her in roles as financial advisers, a job that has traditionally attracted more men than women.
“I think that overall, we are starting to see more women come into our part of the business, on the individual and family side of wealth management,” Flaherty said.
Even with more women coming in, her field is far from 50-50. “In my complex, where I have 125 financial advisers, roughly 20 percent are women.”
But occupational segregation is just half of the story. Kiernan points to the fact that men and women are also paid differently for the same job. In fact, she noted, when the commission examined 19 different occupations, they found men made more money than women in all but one role: secondary school teacher.
“You have an enormous share of our workforce who are not reaching their full potential as salary and wage earners,” Kiernan said.
Often, that turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially in wealthy towns. If a husband earns the median salary for men in Greenwich of $103,000 and the wife earns the median $47,000 recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau, the woman is much more likely to leave the workforce than her partner after their family expands to include children, simply because it makes financial sense.
“It’s called ‘opting out,’” Munsch said. And it’s more likely to happen in a town like Greenwich than other places around the country, despite the fact that there is a larger percentage of women with college and advanced degrees in town than the rest of the nation.
“Women say, ‘Once I had my kids, my boss wouldn’t send me on assignment to Chicago anymore,’ and there’s all these subtle ways that they’re being pushed out, and people aren’t expecting them to do as well at the job they were doing before,” she said. “And because their husband is making so much money, they could save a lot of money if they stay home with their kids.”
So the percentage of women in an office declines even further, and so does the aggregate earning power of women when compared to their male counterparts.
“Having more women in the workplace is not just a women’s issue,” Kiernan said. “It’s an economic-development issue, and it’s smart business.”