The Pay Gap is Real



Editor’s Note: This originally was published on June 5, 2017, but we believe the information is important. Tomorrow is Equal Pay Day. The day when women’s wages finally catch up to what men made in 2017. 

>Jane Terwillegar, American Association of University Women North Carolina


They were friends, shared many of the same classes, crammed with the same study groups, graduated the same spring.  Both came to the reunion five years later and, as friends do, spent some time together “catching up”.  While both were in similar jobs, with comparable companies, she was dismayed to discover her salary was now nearly $10,000 less than his.  How could that be?  They both started out with similar salaries, hers only a bit lower than his.


HER PAY GAP began there –   It was only a bit lower –   Pay raises and bonuses are awarded as a % of base salary. Her only a bit lower beginning salary simply cannot grow as fast.  In five years the difference of a beginning salary that is only a bit lower becomes a huge pay gap. In fact, only a bit lower with that first salary means she may earn a million or more dollars less over her lifetime of work than her college friend.


    • Data shows that her pay gap will only increase as she grows older,
    • Data shows that due to a lower salary over time, it will take her longer to pay off her student loans, and


  • Data shows the pay gap is much, much worse, if she is black or Hispanic.  



The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is now over 50 years old and yet women still earn less than men in nearly every occupation. Research published by the American Association of University Women, The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap (AAUW, 2017) indicates that, in 2015, women working full time in the US typically were paid 80 percent of what men earned – a gap of 20%.  In North Carolina, the pay gap for women in 2015 was 14%, somewhat better than the national gender gap.  However, since the median income for women in NC is only $36,113, that places NC salaries way down the list at 33 rd of all 50 states.  The truth is that most wages in our state are generally low, and worse for women.  AAUW also reports gender pay gap statistics by NC Congressional Districts.  


  • North Carolina clearly does not offer many high wage opportunities for women.
  • These low wages are still gender biased, with women earning significantly less.


WHAT TO DO?   North Carolina women need to use every tool available to address low wages, from making good decisions about their education, to choosing occupational fields that are likely to offer better salaries, to supporting legislative measures that help change this norm.  And, as AAUW suggests, women can develop their salary negotiation skills, regardless of age, education and experience.  AAUW is encouraging women of all ages to become their own best advocates, to learn and practice negotiation, whether at the start of their career or at the beginning of every new job.  To provide help in learning to negotiate for a better salary, AAUW offers Start Smart and Work Smart workshops throughout the country.  Some cities, such as Washington DC and Boston, are offering Work Smart with the goal of reaching a majority of women in their workforce within the next five years. Colleges and universities throughout the nation are offering Start Smart for their students. Dates, locations and contact information for all these AAUW workshops are listed at >> .   Start Smart and Work Smart are free and provide women the opportunity to learn and practice salary negotiation skills.


While the current gap in salaries between men and women is real, young women or mature workers can all seek to improve their personal situations.  Know your worth, by investigating pay levels and educational requirements.  Know what the average salaries are for your education, experience and abilities.  Learn and practice negotiation skills, so that you are ready when that next opportunity occurs. Make it a goal to reduce your personal pay gap to zero.  Meanwhile, AAUW continues the work of promoting solutions – with workshops, essential research, and advocating for change with state and national legislative efforts – all designed to make the Gender Pay Gap disappear.  


* (AAUW), 2017.   @

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