Might as well take the rest of the year off, ladies. You’re working for free anyway.
Women, on average, earn 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. With 260 working days in a year, that’s the equivalent of women not getting paid for the last 55 days. Which means that, after November 6th, women are, figuratively speaking, off the payroll but definitely not off the clock.
I’m pretty sure that America’s economy would suddenly grind to a halt if women decided that we could put our feet up and take the rest of the year off. In fact, women in Iceland did exactly that in 1975 – over 90% took October 24th off, refused to go to work, cook, clean, and left the childcare to the fathers.
The move was no doubt effective. After a day of businesses shutting their doors, children running amok in the streets with dads who, at that point in time, had relatively little experience trying to control them, Iceland now has one of the most equal economies for men and women.
The gender pay gap not only hurts women, but for working mothers, it hurts entire families. Even though we’re more than 50 years beyond the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women still face an uneven playing field. Yet there are critics who claim the difference in pay is explainable by factors other than discrimination. So first, let’s look at the two main ways people try to defend the wage gap.
The pay gap is due to women’s career choices
This is true. Women and men have traditionally made different choices when it comes to a career path. Women are overrepresented in occupations such education and health care, and it’s more common to see men working in construction or in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers.
But this doesn’t make a wage gap any more acceptable. We have long undervalued people who do incredibly important work, such as caring for and teaching our children – work that has historically been deemed “women’s work” in our culture. Therefore, we have to ask: Are these careers paid less because they’re less difficult and less important, or because we’re still discriminating against women? Although women might be entering careers that pay less due to their choices (or possibly due to social pressures), this does not excuse the wage gap.
At the same time, much more should be done to increase the number of women in traditionally male-dominated fields. Currently, female employees account for less than a quarter of STEM jobs, due in part to factors such as a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and workplaces geared toward traditional gender roles with less flexibility for family.
Although women still earn less than their male counterparts in these fields, they earn more than women in non-STEM positions. It’s unfair to completely attribute the gap to women’s career choices when women are often discouraged and face greater difficulties than men when trying to break into higher paying fields.
Mothers work less than fathers
Any parent knows that once you have kids, you’re working from sun up to sun down, and throughout the night. But again, yes, it’s true that women work fewer hours in paid employment than men do.
The biggest reason for this disparity is that it’s typically women who spend more time caring for children, and sick or elderly family members. With childcare costing more than college in most states, the lower-earning partner (usually the mother) is often squeezed out of the workforce. This not only hurts families in the short run, but the loss of retirement contributions and decrease in potential wage growth is something women pay for over a lifetime.
Mothers also face a biological hurdle: the need to recover from giving birth and to care for a dependent newborn. Paid maternity leave is not guaranteed in the United States – the only industrialized country that fails to support women workers in this way.
Once stay-at-home moms are ready, or can afford to return to work, they face additional hurdles that men do not have in their way. Mothers are less likely to be hired than men or childless women, and are paid less than other women when they return. But this form of discrimination has no justification – mothers with two children are actually more productive than their childless peers. They just aren’t compensated for it. Fathers, however, do tend to receive a bump up in pay after having children.
So let’s recap: Women are overrepresented in occupations that are traditionally underpaid, yet vitally important. They’re also penalized for taking time off to care for children, even though their childcare options are limited, or simply paid less when they return to the workforce. Can it get worse?
These quantifiable factors – occupational choices and parenthood – still don’t account for the entirety of the pay gap between men and women. Good old-fashioned gender bias plays a significant role, too.
A study that compared men and women with the same quality of undergraduate education, academic major, career choice, experience, marital status, etc. found that women were earning 12 percent less than men 10 years after college graduation. This disparity can best be attributed to gender discrimination still rampant in our workplaces.
Think we’ve hit bottom? Nope. There’s still room for things to go downhill from here.
While white women are earning less than four-fifths what their male counterparts earn, women of color fare much worse. African American women are earning less than two-thirds, and Latina women and Native American women are earning just over half. This means women of color have already been working for free for weeks, even months, this late in the calendar year.
What can women do about the gender pay gap?
1 | Ask for annual reviews
If your business or organization does not already conduct annual reviews, ask your employer to periodically meet with you to discuss your performance. A meeting of this sort will give you an opportunity to reassert your strengths and contributions, as well as identify any areas that may be holding you back. There is some evidence to suggest that women are less likely to ask for raises than men, so it’s essential to create the time and space to discuss your compensation periodically.
2 | Discuss salaries with coworkers
It’s considered impolite to discuss money in public, but this social norm also has the unfortunate consequence of leaving women in the dark as to whether or not they’re earning less than their male colleagues. Remember – a salary is not a reflection of your true worth, and money does not need to be the taboo subject it currently is.
While potentially uncomfortable, this move isn’t completely unprecedented – the salaries for government positions are typically public, and even private sector companies like Whole Foods have begun to publish compensation data, as well.
3 | Negotiate better
You might have heard the myth that women are bad at negotiating, preferring to demure rather than assert themselves. But one study showed that while women asked for less money for themselves in a negotiation, they negotiated just as aggressively as the men in the study when negotiating on behalf of someone else.
So if you need a little extra shot of courage before heading into a meeting with your boss to ask for the salary you deserve, remember that you aren’t asking just for yourself (even though you deserve it) – you’re negotiating on behalf of your entire family, including your children.
The gender pay gap hurts women and the families that depend on their salary. When we pay workers less than they deserve, the effects are serious. We have a long way to go to ensure that women are receiving equal pay for equal work, including integrating traditionally male or female dominated fields, strengthening our support of working parents through affordable childcare and paid leave, and addressing the discrimination that still exists in our workforce. In the meantime, women can keep asserting themselves at work knowing the facts are on their side.
Or we could just take the rest of the year off.