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Closing the gender pay gap

While daunting, these tips can help you spearhead real change concerning gender disparity across the U.S.


The gender pay gap has been a persistent vexation for women everywhere. The constant overhang of the often-touted statistic of earning 77 to 79 cents for every $1 earned by a man is always present. And even then, that is only part of the equation. Women…

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The gender pay gap has been a persistent vexation for women everywhere. The constant overhang of the often-touted statistic of earning 77 to 79 cents for every $1 earned by a man is always present. And even then, that is only part of the equation.

Women of color earn far less – black and African American women make 61 cents to every dollar and Hispanic women and Latinas make 53 cents on the dollar.

The number of variables contributing to the gap certainly make it a dizzying subject, but learning what we, as women, can do to cross that chasm is a step in the right direction.

See related: The hidden cost of being a woman

What is the gender pay gap?

According to the report, The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap, conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), “the pay gap is the difference in men’s and women’s median earnings, usually reported as either the earnings ratio between men and women or as an actual pay gap.”

All this to say the gender pay gap is the gap between what men and women are paid.

The United States is ranked 51st on gender equality, according to The Global Gender Gap Report 2018 from the World Economic Forum (WEF). That same report emphasizes that at the rate progress is being made, it will take 108 years to close the global gender gap and 202 years to achieve equality in the workforce.

Who the pay gap affects and factors that contribute

So why does the pay gap exist? Unfortunately, the pay gap is a complicated beast with a wide variety of factors playing into its existence. Plus – while it affects all women – it does so in varying degrees.

The pay gap racial divide

Deborah Vagins, senior vice president for public policy and research at AAUW, admits the racial attributions of the pay gap are “just absolutely outrageous. There are many factors that affect the wage gap, but the one I think that might be most relevant … is direct gender and race discrimination.”

The most recent available data from the Department of Labor shows women’s median earnings in 2017 came in at $41,977 compared to $52,146 for men. However, when broken down by race, the median earnings for black, Asian and Hispanic women were $40,038 that same year, whereas the median salary for white women was $46,513.

If we don’t focus on how to make changes – both for ourselves and those around us – the numbers will only get worse.

The pay gap and the nuclear family

Another obstacle women face is the “motherhood penalty.”  This affects a woman’s hiring and promotion potential, as motherhood comes with stereotypes.

A recent study by Bright Horizons, a nationally recognized organization that operates over 1,000 early education centers and provides education advisement, found 41 percent of employed Americans perceived working moms to be less devoted to their work. And 38 percent – more than one third – judge them for needing a more flexible schedule.

Even women who may become mothers face discrimination. In a recent poll by YouGov for the Young Women’s Trust, 12 percent of HR decision makers said they were unsure about hiring women who may become mothers in the future.

While this number has been steadily dropping over the years, Joe Levenson of the Young Women’s Trust says “there can be no room for complacency as ‘dinosaur bosses’ are still found in many workplaces, unfairly overlooking women when it comes to recruitment and promotion and breaking the law in the process.”

Disadvantage from a young age

Even though we may encounter pay discrimination as adults, that’s not where it begins.

A study by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research found that not only do young girls spend more time doing housework than they do playing, but young boys spend about 30 percent less time doing household chores. What’s worse is girls were also less likely than boys to get paid for doing housework.

Location, location, location

Due to combined factors of different job distributions, demographics, state policies and cost of living, the pay gap is not the same across major cities in the U.S. In fact, some cities have a negative pay gap, while others fall far below the country’s average.

How to close the gender pay gap

It’s true, the pay gap is a complex problem, fed by generations of stereotypes, misunderstandings and even direct discrimination. But there are actionable steps we can take every day to close the pay gap.

1. Work to boost your own salary

Whether you’re looking for a new job or think it’s time for a raise at your current one, it’s best to be prepared so you can approach any situation with both eyes open. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant when it comes to these issues,” says Vagins.

When it comes to directly fighting the pay gap in your own life, knowledge is power.

  • Research comparable job titles. What do others in the same position make? Payscale and Glassdoor have great tools to help you figure out what your skills are worth in your desired market and location.
  • Research target salary. Don’t get locked into a low salary that will follow you across careers. “One employer practice that contributes to this problem is … they often base your salary on your past wages,” says Vagins. It “sounds innocuous enough and we’ve all been through an interview process where they asked us what our pay was at, then pay our new salaries to our last pay. Well, the problem with that is if your prior job was tainted by race or gender discrimination, your new employer uses that to set your pay. Even a well-intentioned employer may be carrying forward discrimination.”
  • Before you choose where to work, research the pay gap. You can search the overall gap in the city or state you work in.
  • Before you choose a company to work for, research its pay gap. “One of the very tricky things about employment discrimination is it is notoriously difficult to detect,” says Vagins. “Many women will not know that they are being paid less. This is because, obviously, employers will not announce that they’re discriminating.” One possible strategy is to reach out to current or former employers on networking sites like LinkedIn or research salary ranges for specific positions on Indeed.
  • Learn strategy. The AAUW offers a salary workshop. It’s a free online course that focuses on how to negotiate that raise you most likely deserve.

2. Know your worth, and don’t settle

It can be hard to know what to ask for if you don’t know your true value, especially with decades of history where the value of women’s work is undermined. Nevertheless, overcoming any insecurities and demanding respect are important steps toward beating the gender pay gap.

  • Do your research. Find out how often your company gives raises and when. Have open and honest conversations about pay with co-workers if you’re able. Have a direct conversation with HR (after you’ve done your research) about salary ranges. By understanding the value assigned to your skillset – rather than attributing your own value – you can better understand when you are making less than you deserve.
  • Ignore insecurities. Feelings of inadequacy can affect everyone, but depending on the severity, you might be suffering from imposter syndrome. If this is the case, you’re not alone. What’s imperative to understand is there are ways to combat those feelings so they don’t become all-consuming. Acknowledge your thoughts and reframe them.
  • Take that into work every day. Once you are confident in how much you are worth, ask for it from your employer. Take pride in your responsibilities and demonstrate your value each and every day – then argue for respect for that work from your company.

3. Be an ally

We all have different life experiences, but banding together can help us all. If you find out a co-worker is being underpaid, advocate on their behalf. Show your support – something as simple as offering to help them prep for a salary negotiation goes a long way.

Men can also be an ally as it affects their well-being as well. “Too often, we have seen feminism as a threatening thing [for men],” said Alexander De Croo, deputy prime minister of Belgium, at the South by Southwest festival in March 2019. “And I think it’s not a threatening thing, it’s a liberating thing … If we have a society that has a better balance between men and women, men will also have a better-balanced life … But it’s up to us [as a whole] to do it.”

4. Promote change from the ground up

One alternative way to close the gender pay gap is to support legislation that fights against it.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, for one, is critical to closing the gender pay gap. “The Paycheck Fairness Act would eliminate many of the practices I’ve already talked about,” says Vagins. “It would ban punitive pay secrecy policies. It would ban the use of prior salary history and if an employer is going to pay men and women differently for the same job, it would require the employer to articulate how that qualification was related to the job.”

One step you can take to support this is by becoming a two-minute activist and asking your member of Congress to support the Paycheck Fairness Act.

We’re in this together

Wading through the difficulties we face as women doesn’t have to be overwhelming. As we continue with our series, we will discuss the discriminations we can overcome together, along with steps you can take to ensure you reach your financial goals – whatever they may be.

If you have a story about pay discrimination or about your relationship with finance in general, you can contact us at tohercredit@creditcards.com.

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