The old refrain still has relevance today
“Equal pay for equal work” — the constant refrain of working women from the early 19th century. This powerful motto speaks to the simple fact that no one should be paid less for their work on the basis of gender.
Yet, almost 60 years after the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women in the United States still make just 82 cents for each dollar made by their male counterparts. March 31 is Equal Pay Day, a time to recognize and decry this discrepancy. On Equal Pay Day, we ask “why?” and “what needs to change?”
Why are women still making less than men?
According to the World Economic Forum, there is no simple answer. One major contributing factor, however, is that occupations dominated by women tend to pay less. “Around the world, occupations like teachers pay less than occupations like engineers. So gender differences in occupational choice affect gender differences in earnings,” says the WEF.
Throughout history, women have commonly been pushed into “low-value” work. In a recent article in Time, an expert noted that “historically, we have undervalued care work because it has been seen as very feminine. And we tend to undervalue feminine jobs that involve care.”
Another contributing factor is housework. Though we pride ourselves on the strides women have made in the last century, women are still doing more unpaid housework than men. According to CNBC, if men and women were compensated for housework at the average American pay rate of $26.82 an hour, “men would earn an extra $469.35 a week, and women would earn an extra $761.69 a week — which comes out to nearly $40,000 a year.”
Debates that play out on the public stage remind us that preconceptions are still very much in the way of pay equity for women. In the fight for pay equity between the Women’s and Men’s U.S. Soccer Teams, U.S. Soccer has argued that “The job of a [men’s national team player] carries more responsibility within U.S. Soccer than the job of a [women’s national team] player.” This despite the fact that the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team is without doubt the better team: according to CNN, the women’s team “[has won] four World Cups and four Olympic gold medals — while the furthest the men's team has advanced in the World Cup was the 2002 quarterfinals. And the men's team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.”
Right now, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research cites that at the current rate of change, it will take until 2059 to achieve parity in pay between men and women. Even worse, they state that “a girl born in the United States in 2017 has a life expectancy of 87 years. In 2082, when she turns age 65, a wage gap will still remain in 13 states.”
We cannot accept this crawl toward equality. All working women, no matter where they are in their careers, no matter what industry they work in, need to be paid a fair wage to create tangible change.
What needs to change? What can I do?
Change could come in many forms, including raising the minimum wage. The National Women’s Law Center notes that women represent “six in 10 minimum wage workers...today, the federal minimum wage is just $7.25 per hour, and full-time earnings of $14,500 a year leave a family of three thousands of dollars below the federal poverty line.”
But action doesn’t start and end with policy. Action starts with you – right here, right now.
Leaders can advocate for important access to childcare for working mothers. A New York Times article on the subject, simply titled “The Gender Pay Gap is Largely Because of Motherhood,” states that “Some women work less once they have children, but many don’t, and employers pay them less, too, seemingly because they assume they will be less committed.” Paid childcare is one potential solution to discriminatory pay for mothers, who earn even less than the total average for women – a shocking 69 cents on the dollar.
If you’re a woman in the workforce, you can start by negotiating for better pay, and advocating for pay transparency in your workplace. If you’re a company leader, even better – you may be able to institute transparency in your workplace yourself. Data has shown that banishing the secrecy that has often hidden rates of pay from workers can reduce or eliminate the gender pay gap within organizations. If you can make it happen, open salary policy could be a game changer for your organization – and for pay equity in general.
In NEW’s proprietary study on women in the workplace, “Kicking Glass,” we noted a few other things that company leaders can do to encourage pay. Remove any reference to pay history when setting salaries for employees – female employees were likely underpaid at their last position, so don’t let that affect what they get paid at your organization. Ensure that maternity and disability leave doesn’t affect the advancement of your employees. Family-friendly and flexible policies allow women to build their careers without the stigma. And don’t forget to lean on the data. Turnover analysis and engagement surveys can uncover barriers to equal pay and retention.
The name of the game is resilience. Be determined. Don’t take no for an answer. Though women may be less likely to get a raise when they ask for it, that doesn’t mean we should stop asking. And though there may be a long path to equality, leaders can speed the pace by taking decisive action.
Women have always been expected to work, even when that work has been undervalued and underpaid. We were expected to work as mothers, as cleaners and as unpaid laborers, and those expectations — that women’s work is taken for granted, not to mention unpaid — still linger as ghosts in the consciousness of modern Americans. It’s time to take concrete steps to banish the past and create a future where our daughters earn what they deserve — equal pay for equal work.