In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama spoke of the gap between the average wages of men and women, saying “Women deserve equal pay for equal work.”
He’s used this issue before to bolster his image and to suggest he and his party are fighting for women.
But the truth is the president is all talk.
While he calls for equal pay for women, he doesn’t pay women equally in his own White House–at least not by the standard he used in the State of the Union. Female staffers earn less than their male colleagues.
Last year, the American Enterprise Institute examined payroll data and found that “in Obama’s own White House, female staffers make 88 cents for every dollar a male staffer earns.” That’s a pay gap of 12 percent.
In 2012 the fact-checking organization PolitiFact also ran the numbers and reached a similar conclusion at 87 cents for every dollar.
Nowhere in America does the president have more power to close a wage gap than in his own White House. But five years into his administration, he hasn’t. He’s happy to try to score some points talking about the issue, but he doesn’t seem to have lifted a finger for the women who work directly for him.
When confronted with this fact, the White House says that women are indeed paid equally for equal work. They say that using median salaries to show a wage gap is misleading. Of course, that’s exactly the standard they used in the State of the Union, when the president said women make “77 cents for every dollar a man earns.”
So is it a problem or not?
Either way, wages aren’t the only challenge facing women in the White House. In 2011 Ron Suskind’s book, “Confidence Men,” documented the hostile work environment that women endured at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue during President Obama’s first term in office.’
The “New York Times” summed up the book’s takeaway on the subject. “In this rough-and-tumble environment…female staffers often felt bruised,” and women like former Communications Director Anita Dunn and former Council of Economic Advisers chair Christina Romer were “talked over in meetings by male colleagues” or “cut out altogether.”
Dunn reportedly told Suskind, “This place would be in court for a hostile workplace.”
“It actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women,” she noted. And Romer said she “felt like a piece of meat.” It’s not surprising the president’s first communications director, Ellen Moran, left after just 92 days.
Women on the staff raised their concerns with the president at a dinner with him in his first term. He listened to their concerns, but he didn’t do anything about it. Suskind writes that the women were disappointed and felt the president acknowledged and tolerated the problem, instead of trying to fix it.
So as Amy Sullivan wrote in “TIME“ in 2011, “Obama himself is responsible for a work atmosphere that marginalizes and ignores women.” He’s created a “boy’s club” culture in the White House and apparently has no problem with it. He just has a problem when people find out.
When “The New York Times’” Mark Leibovich was working on a article about the “boy’s club,” the president was so concerned about getting a bad reputation that he was personally dictating talking points to be given to reporters.
The best way to counter a “boy’s club” reputation, of course, would be to treat women equally. But instead of offering women equal time—and equal pay—the president offered talking points. He offered only words.
Which brings us back to the State of the Union. Last week the president said “I believe when women succeed, America succeeds.”
Now, I’ll agree with that! But it would be nice if the president would prove it with his actions because repeatedly pandering to women doesn’t help anyone succeed.
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