A Florida Higher-Education Official Said the Gender Wage Gap Is ‘Genetic’

Jun 22, 2017

Edward Morton, a Florida college official, said that the gender pay gap is caused by genetics.

During a board meeting on Tuesday, Morton, a State University System of Florida board member, said that women may make less money than men because they genetically lack the skills to negotiate for a better salary. According to Politico, Morton made the comment while board members were discussing ways to close the wage gap between males and females who graduate from Florida's public university system.

Here's exactly what he said, according to Politico:

“Something that we’re doing in Naples [with] some of our high school students, we’re actually talking about incorporating negotiating and negotiating skill into curriculum so that the women are given — maybe some of it is genetic, I don’t know, I’m not smart enough to know the difference — but I do know that negotiating skills can be something that can be honed, and they can improve."

He continued: “Perhaps we can address that in all of our various curriculums through the introduction of negotiating skill, and maybe that would have a bearing on these things."

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Morton is a retired investment manager from Naples, Fla. He also chairs the board’s Strategic Planning Committee.

Morton later apologized for his comments in an email, saying that he "chose his words poorly."

"I would like to apologize for my comments this afternoon regarding the pay disparities between the genders of recent graduates of the State University System. I chose my words poorly. My belief is that women and men should be valued equally in the workplace," he wrote, according to a copy of his statement obtained by Fortune.

Morton was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), according to Politico. But as a father of two daughters, the governor "absolutely does not agree with" his appointee's comments, Lauren Schenone, a spokeswoman for Scott, said in a statement.

According to Politico, board members were reviewing new data during the meeting that found that the majority of 2015 graduates from the university system either got jobs or pursued more education after obtaining their degree. But while male graduates typically earned a median salary of $42,500, female graduates earned a median salary of $37,000. Women accounted for nearly 60% of the graduating class, according to the report.

But despite the pay discrepancy, Morton suggested during the meeting on Tuesday that the wage gap will be "self-correcting," Politico reports, because more women are graduating from the university system than men. In his email to the board, Morton walked back that comment as well.

"One outcome we hope to achieve resulting from the baccalaureate study is to provide all students with an additional tool to assist them in effectively negotiating their starting salaries," he wrote.

The gender wage gap prevails for a variety of different reasons. And while women's hesitation to negotiate salary is, in part, a reason the gender wage gap still exists, research does not suggest that this is a genetic issue. Instead, women's mediocre negotiation skills can be blamed on a lack of confidence or guidance. What's more, further research has shown women avoid negotiation because doing so can present a socially awkward situation—a phenomenon called the "social cost of negotiation."

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