Miss Utah Whiffs on Income Inequality Question at Miss USA Pageant

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: July 10, 2013

The gender wage gap is an issue we at Salary.com have covered extensively over the years, because we believe in equal pay for equal work regardless of who you are. So when the topic arose during the nationally televised Miss USA beauty pageant in Las Vegas earlier this week, our ears perked up immediately.

Miss Utah (whose real name is Marissa Powell) was asked "A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?" Then she started talking and -- well, see for yourself.

Her complete answer was "I think we can relate this back to education and how we are continuing to try to strive to...figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem and, I think...especially the men are seen as the leaders of this, so we need to try to figure out how to create education better so we can solve this problem.”

Yup. "Create education better" is what she said. I'm left to assume we do that by sending young people to the "Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can't Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too."

Look, we understand it's live TV and there's a lot of pressure and in the grand scheme of things, a 30-second answer from a Utah pageant contestant probably wasn't going to solve this complex issue. Granted. But her answer was just so incoherent that it makes me believe she has no clue how important income inequality is between men and women. Powell doesn't necessarily have to know that women currently earn 77 cents to a man's dollar, but she should know that women should be paid the same amount of money as men performing the same job. So either she succumbed to stage fright, or -- and this is the scary part -- she doesn't know the severity of the problem. And unfortunately I'm sure she's not alone.

She mentioned education as a solution, but unfortunately that's not the answer. More women than men are graduating with college degrees, yet the wage gap persists. With layoffs the last few years hitting men especially hard, women slightly outnumber men in the workforce and more of them than ever are breadwinners, yet there's been no recent improvement in bridging the wage gap.

What Powell could've said that would've been of use is to research what you want to do and how much that job pays before you spend all that money on college. And while you're intereviewing for that all-important first job out of college, women everywhere need to realize the importance of negotiating salary. According to a 2012 Salary.com survey, nearly one-quarter (23%) of women never negotiate salary, mainly because they feel they are less skilled and more anxious to negotiate compared to men. But women should know that failure to do so could result in leaving as much as $2 million on the table over the course of a working career. So while a college degree is certainly worthwhile, women also need to educate themselves in the art of negotiation and be sure to confidently ask for salary increases at the appropriate times.

It's also vital to continue shining a light on the importance of paid leave when couples have children, because women who leave the workforce to raise kids are often at an earnings disadvantage when they do come back to work -- an issue most men do not currently have.

So are we being a little hard on Miss Utah? Maybe. But beauty queen or not, the only way the wage gap is going to improve is with broader knowledge of the issue and keeping it in the spotlight. Unfortunately, Marissa Powell turned a golden opportunity to discuss a serious issue on national TV into a punchline forever etched into the beauty pageant Hall of Shame.