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Reflecting the wage gap, store charges women 76 percent of men's price (+video)

The Less Than 100 project seeks to highlight the US wage gap by asking men and women to "pay what you're paid." Will letting women pay proportionately to their wage spark constructive conversations or controversy?

With a recent study showing US women still make 78 cents for every dollar men make, what would happen if they also got to pay that percentage?

One small pop-up store in Pittsburgh has made that a reality, charging women customers less than men proportionately to the wage gap. Creator Elana Schlenker dreamed up the Less Than 100 project about a year ago, and said the goal is to bring the not-for-profit pop-up store to different cities around the US and charge women based off the wage gap in that location.

“We’re only at 76 percent right now in Pennsylvania. I want people to come into the shop and talk about that. I want to raise the visibility of the project locally so people see it’s still an issue,” Schlenker said, reported MSNBC.

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The store sells ceramics, textiles, prints, publications, and stationery, all made by women artists from around the US. Most items fall under $50, with all sales going towards featured artists. The pop-up store also holds events throughout the month that aim to empower and connect local women and girls in the community.  Since the project is not-for-profit, it is supported by grants and donations.

The gender wage gap in Pennsylvania, 76 percent to every dollar, is reflected in the store’s name: 76<100. According to the Less Than 100 project’s website, the store will be open until the end of April. Schlenker then has plans to hit the road and take the store to New Orleans this fall.

A study conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research showed Louisiana falls in the bottom three states for the wage gap, with women making about 66 percent to every man’s dollar. The store will then take on the name 66<100, and women will pay 66 percent of the full retail price.

Schlenker said that while women will be charged under this “pay what you’re paid” pricing model, the actual payment is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. She said that more than being a store, the purpose of the project is to provide a platform to address and talk about the wage gap.

“I've read article after article about the wage gap and the ways in which women are perceived (and undervalued) in the workplace,” Schlenker told the Huffington Post. “And when I had the idea to do a shop with this 'pay what you're paid' pricing, I felt like it could be a really powerful, positive and fun way to approach this issue and also connect with other women whose work I admire.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report in 2012, and found that nationally, full-time wage and salaried women earn 82 percent what men make. The other statistic — 78 percent  — is also correct, but includes self-employed women and excludes seasonal workers. Regardless, the number has increased significantly from the 64 percent that was cited in 1980.

The pay gap has narrowed significantly for younger women, those between the ages of 25 an 34 were at 92 percent of what men earn in 2012. However, as women get older, the gap continues to widen. The US is one of the few countries in the world that does not have guaranteed paid maternity leave or subsidized childcare costs, making a difficult decision for women in the workplace trying to act as both worker and mother. Women are also more likely to stay at home with sick children or family members, impacting their role in the workplace. There has been progress, but there are still challenges.

So far, Schlenker said the project has been well received. Critics have argued that charging women and men separate prices is sexist in and of itself, but she points out that shopping at a location is a choice, not institutionalized like pay inequality. Multiple men have come into the store, some unaware of the purpose of the project.

“They are more than willing to pay full price,” Schlenker said to MSNBC. “A few men who’ve come in individually and weren’t aware of the project until I explained it to them have responded by telling me about the women in their lives – mothers, sisters – who they value and respect.”

If the US continues on its current trajectory, by one estimate it will take 43 years for the gender-based wage gap to disappear. By pushing the conversation in a unique way, Schlenker said she hopes the store will encourage society to find ways to speed up closing the gap.

“It’s incredible how deeply unconscious biases still permeate the ways in which we perceive (and value) women versus men,” Schlenker told Refinery29. “I hope the shop’s pricing helps to underscore this inherent unfairness and to create space for people to consider why the wage gap still exists.”

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