Tuesday, November 08, 2005

What is a wage? 

Loyal reader (and #1 post idea contributor) jw notes an interesting column in the STrib yesterday on the wages women charge as contractors or business owners. The point of the story: women charge less for their work than men do, both because they like the job more and want to control better who they work for.
Those new to the small, mom-and-pop business world, including women, don't always have a lot of background on pricing, said Harriet Lessy of Buzz Communications, an executive training program in Philadelphia.

"They may charge less to attract new clients and expand their base and then realize they're too busy to handle all of the business due to undercharging. Pricing comes with experience," Lessy said.

That's something that Lee Wile, 39, owner of TLC Electronics Repair in Minneapolis, struggles with. Even Chris Dlugosz of Minneapolis, a longtime TLC customer, says TLC's prices are very reasonable. Maybe too reasonable. He's concerned that Wile may be too generous. He's amazed at her tenacity and her ability to find solutions to problems in vintage electronics pieces.

"Other repair places wouldn't take the time to dive into circuit diagrams like she does," he said. "More people should discover [TLC] for the kind of quality work they do."
So there are a couple of things going on here. First, word of mouth is the best advertising possible, so building a client base that generates buzz about what you do is important. Attracting majors to an economics department isn't done with big posters with cost curves drawn on them. What helps most is word of mouth from other students, particularly when other departments see advising and recruiting as odious tasks, or as taxing their stretched resources.

Second, what if work environment matters more to one gender than the other? We may expect then that female contractors will be willing to "pay" for a better environment by accepting lower wages in return.
Bryson said too many women shortchange themselves by underestimating and underpricing their skills. She charges $60 an hour for small repair jobs relating to bathroom and kitchen tile, but isn't hurting for clients. Nor does she take every job that comes along. "I won't work for everybody who calls. If I'm going to spend time in someone's home and establish a relationship, it should be with people I enjoy," she said.