There's only one job where women make more than men in America—and the 'motherhood penalty' only makes the gap larger

For decades now, women have been outpacing men when it comes to post-secondary education. We make up 56% of the population on college campuses (according to the National Center for Education Statistics) but we are still being paid less than men, and the gap gets worse after parenthood.

According to a new report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), there's only one job in America where women make more than men. Women who work as wholesale or retail buyers are killing it, bringing home about $4,000 more than men on average. In all other fields though, we're getting about 80 cents for every dollar earned by our male peers.

Let's look at medicine for example. According to the AAUW report, women who work as "physicians and surgeons are paid $19 billion less annually than if they were paid the same as men in that occupation." The report also looked at the salaries of Registered Nurses, and found men working as RNs make almost $6,000 more a year than women RNs, on average.

For Financial Managers it's even worse. The average guy with that title is pulling in six figures, about $35,000 more than women in the same role.

The pay gap is even worse for mothers. Add to this a large body of research highlighting a significant differential in wages between moms and working women who don't have children, often referred to as the "motherhood penalty." Research suggests that this gap can sometimes be even bigger than the gap between men and women.

We know that this is happening and we know that it is unfair, so how can we change it?

According to the AAUW, change requires action from individuals, employers, and policymakers.

What individuals can do

As women and as mothers, each of us can be our own advocates, and ask to be paid fairly. Sometimes, this means finding out what the guys in the office are making. Simply asking the man in the next cube is one way to do it, but as Eileen Dooley, vice-president of career transition agency Gilker McRae told MoneySense, it's advisable to start with men in your field with whom you have an existing rapport, and just keep the ask kind of general.

"The best way is to ask friends or colleagues," Dooley explains. "You do not have to ask what their specific salary is, as many deem this personal (although it is getting less personal I observe), but you can ask for them to give you a range."

Alternatively, employees (and prospective employees) can also use sites like Comparably and Glassdoor, as well as LinkedIn's Salaries feature to get an idea of what others in your role are making.

Once you know, you can ask for a higher salary, either when you're offered a job or if you want to stay in the job you're in. The AAUW is offering salary negotiation workshops to women around the country if you want more tips.

What employers can do

According to LeanIn.org, employers can start moving toward closing the wage gap by conducting a pay audit. You need to know what people are making across your company in order to ensure you're paying people fairly. Managers should also be trained to understand bias and how it can impact things like hiring, promoting and paying women and other groups.

If you're in a leadership role, encourage the women you manage to negotiate. Historically, women have often been penalized when attempting to negotiate wages. We need to change that.

What policymakers can do

Fair pay laws vary state by state, and fair pay advocates say changes are needed at the federal level, too. The Equal Pay Act was signed into law in 1963, but it has not closed the gap, especially for women of color, who see an even greater disparity in their paychecks.

Proposed legislation like the Fair Pay Act or the Pay Equity for All Act could help close the gap in ways the Equal Pay Act didn't.

Bottom line

In 2018, it is extremely hard for families to make it on a single income but mothers often find themselves working less and earning less after becoming parents, when they need financial security more than ever.

Dads frequently see their earnings skyrocket after becoming parents, enjoying a "fatherhood premium" that is exactly the opposite of the motherhood penalty. Outdated societal norms certainly play a role here, but so does a lack of support for mothers.

Without parental leave, or affordable access to high-quality childcare, mothers are often forced off the fast track in their careers. Some quit entirely to stay home with the baby, some start freelancing, consulting or working part-time, and others go back to their jobs and watch as men get tapped for promotions.

Without adequate parental leave, without appropriate places to pump at work or childcare that doesn't take the majority of a mama's paycheck, is it any wonder that a full half of respondents to Motherly's 2018 State of Motherhood survey say they've made changes to their work status—like shifting from full to part-time or quitting to stay home—since becoming moms?

The wage gap is a complex issue. Societal norms, gender imbalances in certain industries, bias, laws and a lack of support are all factors. But with so many women in the workforce, there should certainly be more than one job where we are paid fairly.

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