Equal Pay Day is once again upon us, a date symbolizing how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. Just think, you’ve made it to April 10th and now you can start earning for the new year ladies! To look at this another way, today’s women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, and that gap widens even further if you look at race, with Latinas earning the least at 54 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
The gender pay gap is something that’s been a hot button topic for a long time now. This weekend I watched the film Battle of the Sexes, which profiles the 1973 exhibition tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. The entire premise of the film, and of the real-life people being profiled, centers around the gender pay gap. That tennis match was viewed by an estimated 90 million people worldwide. Today, 45 years later, we’re still having the same conversation.
Of course, we’ve made progress. As women, we can now open a bank account and buy a house without approval from our husbands or fathers. We earn more than we used to. We can hold down a job in just about any field. We can be a single parent without being socially ostracized. And we frequently serve as the primary breadwinner for our families. Yet still today, there are few women in leadership positions in both our businesses and our government, and women must juggle more and earn less than their male counterparts.
For much of my adult life I have been the primary breadwinner for my family, oftentimes the only income earner. In various jobs I’ve been told things like “don’t cry in front of the boss, don’t show weakness,” and “you have to act like a man to get a raise, push hard and don’t take no for an answer.” Honestly, I don’t walk around crying all of the time (who does?) and I did take that advice and channel my masculine traits during my salary reviews. I pushed hard and didn’t take no for an answer, but I still didn’t get what I asked for.
A recent report from PayScale pointed to two key issues as reasons the pay gap continues to exist: few women in leadership positions and breaks in employment due to caretaking responsibilities. According to the report: “By mid-career, men are 70 percent more likely to be in executive roles than women. By late career, men are 142 percent more likely to be in VP or C-suite roles.” Additionally, the “unemployment penalty” meaning the pay penalty for being unemployed at the time of hire, is harder on women, and women combat longer periods of unemployment than men, as they take breaks in employment more frequently to care for children or others.
Because of growing awareness and pressure around this issue in recent years, large companies like Salesforce, Starbucks, Delta and Citi are taking steps to ensure pay equality within their organizations. In fact, in August 2016 a host of companies pledged to pursue practices to support pay equality within their organizations through the White House Equal Pay Pledge, with 44 more joining by December 2016. Under the current administration the Equal Pay Pledge has now been removed from the White House website, but we hope these companies independently continue this work within their organizations.
How do we fix this once and for all?
- Legislation can and should support equal pay. Push your representatives to make equal pay a priority and vote for those who are.
- Regardless of legislation, businesses should tackle this issue head-on internally by encouraging leadership conversations about pay equity, auditing pay practices and opportunities, and keeping employees up-to-date with company goals and progress.
- Advocate for yourself and support other women in doing the same. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has made a commitment to train 10 million women to negotiate their financial futures by 2022 through their salary negotiation workshops. The workshops are designed to give women skills to effectively understand their market worth, and the tools and confidence to negotiate for it.
My hope is that we won’t be having this conversation when our children are in the workforce, and certainly not another 45 years from now. For now, Equal Pay Day serves as a reminder to us all that we’re not there yet, but that together we can solve this.