YARMOUTH — Many people truly believe that women suffer systemic wage discrimination – a conversation that has gained traction thanks to Patricia Arquette’s sensational comments at last weekend’s Academy Awards, when, at the end of her acceptance speech for best supporting actress, she proclaimed: “It’s time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

But before you jump on the bandwagon, I encourage you to read the new American Association of University Women study titled ​“Graduating to a Pay Gap​.” Take a hard look at the numbers. The facts show us that women are close to achieving the goal of equal pay for equal work. We may even be there already.

The AAUW study (plus previous research by many respected economists) proves that when you control for relevant differences between men and women (length of time in workplace, college majors, occupations), the wage gap narrows dramatically.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

On average, women employed full time actually make at least 93 cents for every dollar that a man makes when working full time, rather than the 77 cents to the dollar figure that is widely, though erroneously, reported.

It’s when marriage and children are brought into the equation that the gap widens by more than 200 percent. This is the elephant in the room, and the issue that must be addressed.

It’s abominable how little we do, as a society, to support families and the women who carry, birth, feed and care for them with their own bodies. Pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing are perhaps the only agrarian tasks left for many families – and, thanks to biology plus longstanding precedent and social structure, females almost always bear the burden.

This conversation is especially relevant in Maine, where as many as 90 percent of businesses have fewer than 50 employees and, thus, are or would likely be exempt from any legislation on the topic. Instead, solutions here in Maine will need to be creative. I propose a top-down and inside-out approach.

TOP-DOWN

It is time for the state’s best and brightest to find ways to support time- and cash-strapped employers, including small-business owners like myself, who want to do right by moms but who may not have the resources or bandwidth to do so.

How does one arrange a successful job share? What are the implications and best practices in terms of telecommuting?

How does one provide disability insurance and/or paid leave to my pregnant team member?

How can a business prorate benefits for a part-time employee? How can I absorb some of the costs of doing so? Where does a business owner find the time in an already crazy day to explore and/or implement these concepts?

INSIDE-OUT

Similarly, there’s a need for more and better options on affordable and quality child care, a barrier for many who would otherwise prefer to re-enter the workforce after having children. Parents often can’t find quality care, especially for their infants, or can’t afford it, or both.

President Obama and I are far from political bedfellows, but he was right to call out, in his State of the Union address earlier this year, that a typical middle-class family often spends more on child care than on their mortgage.

Addressing this issue would also go a long way toward increasing the pool of skilled workers here in Maine, a so-called priority for many of our local elected and appointed officials.

While Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg hires top-notch nannies and jets around the country taunting women to “lean in,” many Maine mamas are still exhausted from childbirth and the sleepless nights, busy pumping breast milk into tubes in the corporate bathroom and doling out almost half of our incomes so our babies can spend the day with 14 other kids and a 20-something who barely earned her high school diploma. There have got to be better options.

The solutions will not be easy or inexpensive. But this is our rallying cry, ladies. Forget about the 77 cents. Let’s circle the wagons around our families – and make it possible for our kids, male or female, to work if they want to.