From legislation to a dearth in financial literacy, we explain how the gender wage gap came to be, and how we can all break free from it.
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In January, Catt Sadler announced she was leaving the E! Network after learning her male colleague in the same role earned more than her. While this story garnered headlines, it’s important to remember that unequal pay is happening to women all across the country (and world), every day.
Just a year ago, I was addressing this very issue as a panelist on Equal Pay Day (April 4) at the Lean In Seattle Chapter event. At the time it became evident to me that the conservation deserved more than an hour, and I walked away with observations that can move us all forward.
First, we need to understand how we got here and how pay discrepancy works legally. Then, we have to use that knowledge to advocate for/protect ourselves in the present (the how-now).
Equal Pay By the Numbers (A Refresher)
You’ve read the headlines and you’ve probably encountered this yourself. Women around the world are not being paid the same amount as men doing the same job. Controlling for age, ethnicity, education and experience, women are paid 22 percent less than their male counterparts in the U.S.
But, it’s much worse than that.
If changes to the gender pay gap continue at the pace of the last 40 years, women won’t see equal pay until 2059. Who has time for that?! (Not us.)
It’s even more dire for minority women. Pay parity for Hispanic women would occur at year 2233 and 2124 for black women. Angry yet?
How We Got Here
The 1963 Equal Pay Act made it illegal for an employer to pay different salaries to two equally qualified people of different genders for the same job. So, why are we having this conversation 50 years later? Blame it on a technicality (and let’s face it, the system).
The law said women were allowed to bring a claim against an employer 180 days after the first unequal pay check. This significantly limited the likelihood women would bring suit because:
- 180 days is not enough time for a new employee to know or understand the pay scale at the company, and
- 180 days is barely enough time to gather the significant evidence you need to build a viable case in court.
Add to it that legal services are expensive and proof of pay inequality is hard to prove without employer documents, you have the reality that very few cases were actually brought to court regarding Equal Pay since 1963. If there are no legal cases, there is no real incentive for employers to change. Then, in 2009, the Lilly Ledbetter Act was passed. It amended the 1963 law and allowed lawsuits to be filed up to 180 days after the last unequal pay check. A little better, but still not ideal.
The amendment doesn’t require employer transparency, employer earnings data to be made available, or allow other proposed solutions to be enacted. In other words, it’s still on women to negotiate, research and stand up for our right to be paid an equal wage. (Fighting an uphill battle with the impetus on the underpaid employee? Check).
Here’s Why the Pay Gap Thrives and How You Can #Navit
Putting the legislation aside, there are three other deep-seated philosophies and facts in our society that are preventing women from earning what they’re due.
Our Economic System is Based on Company Profit
You don’t need us to tell you that earnings and profits make or break a company, whether you’re the corner coffee shop or Starbucks. To make more money, businesses cut costs where they can. Since the biggest cost to a company is employee wages, many will look for ways to pay someone less. Some companies may even argue that it’s the employee’s responsibility to negotiate their wage, so if an employee accepts a lower salary, that decision is on them. Of course, this doesn’t factor in the ethical issues around providing equal pay, but it’s one of the strongest reasons we have to be our own biggest advocates.
There is good news, though. Some employers are closing the wage gap. (And let’s hope every business will wise up when they realize that wage equality can be more profitable in the long run and better for the economy.)
Nav it: If you’re job hunting, seek out companies that are doing the right thing. Read reviews from other employees on Glassdoor, research the history of the company and dig into the latest news about them. Understand their philosophy to ensure you’re signing on with an employer who is on the right side of history.
Digging the gig you have? Great! If you’re unsure on your employer’s gender equality policies, there are ways to ask and make suggestions tactfully. It never hurts to arm yourself with information about your worth.
Financial Literacy Rate Among Women in the U.S. is Extremely Low
Knowledge is money. In a recent assessment, only 22 percent of women answered basic financial questions correctly (yikes).
Real talk, ladies: If we don’t understand finances and our income potential, then we will continue to fail to understand the importance of negotiation and the power of our paycheck. Consider this staggering statistic: Over the course of a woman’s lifetime, she could lose out on $500,000 to $1 million (some even say more) of earnings because she didn’t negotiate. That’s some serious coinage that we need to collect.
To put it in real-life terms: That could be the difference between retiring when you want to, owning a house (or two!), and building a wealth base that allows you the freedom to create a lifestyle that is right for you.
Nav it: Boost your financial brainpower. There are data out there that tell you average salaries for different industries and positions. If you can’t find it, ask people you know. And Wall Street whizes may talk inflation, diversification and compound interest in their sleep, but there is no reason why you can’t get the gist of it. The National Credit Union Administration has a library of resources that make a great starting point. Bottomline: compound interest is pretty badass and helps you make more money with your money. Passive income, what?
Low Confidence Prevents Us From Negotiating Salary
Through the coaching work I’ve done, I’ve seen how many women live in a constant fear of failure. They’re afraid to seem aggressive or needy, or they don’t believe they contribute enough to the team to justify asking for more money (even though they’ve been told they are essential).
Western culture inherently teaches susceptible women that we are not perfect or good enough as we are because the ideal image of success is a man (yes, there are studies that show this). Time to change that ladies and make success as gender-neutral as all bathrooms should be.
Nav it: It may sound cheesy, but true confidence comes from within (and not from 1,000 likes on Instagram– though that does help a little). Self-esteem building takes time, but the effort is worth it, so start by being kind to yourself and taking steps to be #braveAF. We’ll be here cheering you on because we know every woman out there has her own intelligence, experience and inner strength to act #likeaboss.