Research from the American Association of University Women shows that one year out of college, women are paid 7% less than men – controlling for factors such as occupation, college major and hours worked. Ten years after graduation, it’s a 12% difference.
These numbers are important because they control for all of those factors that many lawmakers use as an excuse to dismiss pay equity issues. It’s true that college-educated women are more likely to pursue careers that are on the lower end of the middle-class pay scale, such as those in the fields of education or social science. And as their careers progress, women are more likely to take time off or cut back on work hours to take on caregiving responsibilities.
But the AAUW’s Graduating to a Pay Gap study shows that gender absolutely plays a role in how much people are paid:
“Yet, when we control for each of these factors [college major, career choice, hours worked], women still tended to earn less than their male peers did. Within a number of occupations, women already earned less than men earned just one year out of college. Among teachers, for example, women earned 89 percent of what men earned. In business and management occupations, women earned 86 percent of what men earned; similarly, in sales occupations, women earned just 77 percent of what their male peers earned.”
Women are behind men right out of the gate, which damages a woman’s immediate financial situation – especially in this time of high student loan debt – and can be devastating when it’s time to retire and she has tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars less in her retirement account and in Social Security, a common problem that contributes to the crisis of poverty among older women.
The federal Equal Pay Act was enacted 50 years ago and was supposed to abolish wage disparities based on gender, but it has too many loopholes. First and foremost, it does nothing to empower a woman to find out about other employees’ salaries or to prevent her employer from retaliating if she asks for such information.
And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission needs more resources so it can investigate the growing number of charges of sexual discrimination. On AAUW’s website, one woman tells her story of going to the EEOC:
“The infrastructure for protecting women is really lacking,” she said. “The EEOC is so backlogged. You have to ask yourself: Why is the EEOC so backlogged? It is cheaper to pay for the silence of the few women who figure it out and sweep them under the rug as if nothing happened rather than pay all women equal compensation for the same work done by their male counterparts. Businesses are not held accountable, so you have a large volume of complaints going to the EEOC.”
Women can fight to close the gender pay gap in their own lives. As Sheryl Sandberg and the other career women on the LeanIn.org website keep reminding us, women have to be willing to negotiate for higher salaries. There is no question that is a challenge. Any woman who has ever pushed for more money can tell you that even if you are unapologetically confident in your work and your value, the process leaves you feeling that you’re not being a “team player” or worried that your boss will think you care more about money than the mission.
It takes a focused effort to learn those skills – through mentoring, classes like the $tart $mart Salary Negotiation workshops, and videos like the one by Stanford Business Professor Margaret Neale, which starts with this:
“You got a job offer, and now you have a choice – negotiate or not. If you decide not to, and your buddy who got the same offer, negotiates and gets a $7,000 increase, by the end of 30 years, your buddy will be making $100,000 more a year than you. Think about that.”