Last Tuesday marked Equal Pay Day, a symbolic day for advocates in the U.S. to show support for women in the workforce, and draw attention to the gender pay gap. This year’s observance, on April 4, represents how far into the year women must work in order to earn what men earned the year before. And according to the National Committee on Pay Equity, Equal Pay Day also usually falls on a Tuesday, demonstrating how far into the next workweek women have to work to earn what men earned the week before.
According to the Institute of Women’s Policy (IWPR), women are on pace to reach pay parity in 2059, which is 93 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, and which made gender-based pay discrimination illegal. For women of color, the rate of change is even slower: Hispanic women will have to wait until 2248 and Black women will wait until 2124 for equal pay. Today, the gender pay gap for full time, year-round work remains around 20%, and it hasn’t moved in over a decade. The good news is the conversations to close the gap (and abide by the law) are actually happening throughout organizations, which bodes well for changing the tide.
A number of studies have recently proven that the gap can no longer be dismissed with simple observations that women outnumber men in lower paying jobs like teaching and social work. In fact, Claire Cain Miller recently wrote in The New York Times that it may come down to this troubling reality – work done by women simply isn’t valued as highly as work done by men.
A new study from researchers at Cornell University found that the difference between the occupations and industries in which men and women work has recently become the single largest cause of the gender pay gap, accounting for more than half of it. Another study takes that even further and shows that when women enter fields in greater numbers, pay declines – for the very same job that men were doing before.
For example, the gap that is evident in jobs requiring similar education and responsibility, but divided by gender. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the median earnings of information technology managers (mostly men) are 27 percent higher than human resources managers (mostly women). At the other end of the wage spectrum, janitors (usually men) earn 22 percent more than maids and housecleaners (usually women).
According to the study, Occupational Feminization and Pay, occupations with a greater share of females pay less than those with a lower share, controlling for education and skills. This gap is explained by two dominant values – devaluation and queuing. Using census data from 1950 to 2000, the study found that when women moved into occupations in large numbers, those jobs began paying less even after controlling for education, work experience, skills, race and geography.
Sure, sometimes women voluntarily choose lower-paying occupations because they are drawn to fields like caregiving or nonprofits, and sometimes they want less demanding jobs because they have more family responsibilities. That’s a different subject altogether. These studies simply prove that not only do women get paid less for taking on the same types of jobs that men do, when they join men in the exact same fields, the pay gap remains. Men and women are paid differently not only when they do different jobs, but also when they do the same work.
What’s a woman to do? Ask for what she wants, and demand to be treated fairly.
My Leading Women co-author Gloria Feldt recently summed it up nicely at Motto.com and wrote, “We have to change the culture by knowing our value and insisting upon getting paid fairly for it. All that programming that taught us not to ask for certain things, really just taught us to value ourselves less than we value others. The remedy – the one and only thing that ultimately can close the pay gap – is right under our noses, in our mouths and informed by our hearts: the courage to speak up.”
Not only do you need to speak up, you need to know your worth. Women often start negotiations at a lower spot than men seeking the same job. The jobs site ZipRecruiter discovered in a study last fall that women underestimated their worth on average by $11,000. That’s a lot of money, and you know you’re worth at LEAST that! Keep in mind that she who doesn’t ask is guaranteed not to get.
Look at the data and information available online for average salaries for your profession in your region and consider the value you’ll add to the company. Do you go above and beyond? Try to find the number that you truly feel reflects your worth as an employee. Once you find the number that sounds and feels right, stick to it and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Doing so shows that you have confidence in your abilities to contribute value to the company.
The fact we are still observing Equal Pay Day and discussing the gender pay gap is both good and bad. Good in the sense that it is making top of the mind awareness nationwide, and bad that it is still an issue at all. We need to ask for what we want, and settle for nothing less than what our male counterparts are earning. Ask until it feels normal to you, and as Feldt says, “Flex those asking muscles and they will grow. Create a new stereotype – one that says – you bet women ask.”