Equal Pay Day 2020: Closing the Gender Wage Gap
March 31 is this year’s Equal Pay Day in the US. Springtime often signifies renewal, but the decision to hold the event on this day actually symbolizes quite the opposite of growth.
Three months into the new year is how long women must work to earn the equivalent of what men earned the previous year.
In 1996, the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) wanted to create public awareness around this serious discrepancy within our workforce.
If you think about how much work often goes into a company’s first quarter of the year, it’s startling to hear that for women, these three months are used for basically “catching up” financially.
While not everyone is in a position where they can be taking action on a government or company-level, there are things everyone can do to help close the gender pay gap.
As we are currently in a time of economic uncertainty, it is more important than ever to push for change.
The Main Issue
On average, women in the US are only making 82 cents for every dollar that a man makes. The problem crosses all industries and states, and according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) , if we continue on the same path we’ve taken for the past 50 years, women will not be paid equally until 2059.
For women of color, this date moves even further into the future. By the IWPR’s estimate, Black women could be waiting until 2130 and Hispanic women may wait until 2224.
The main causes of the gender pay gap are attributed to segregation within specific industries, workplace bias toward mothers, and direct wage discrimination.
Researchers have been tracking the gender wage gap since 1979, and though it has narrowed since then, the greatest progress occurred in the 80s and 90s. Then, we hit a plateau.
While it is a problem within most types of employment, the gap is the largest in private, non-unionized jobs that require the highest levels of education. Lower-income jobs are more likely to have unions that include a universal wage structure for its employees.
How Can We Help Close the Gap?
Now that we’ve identified the problem, it’s important to understand the most practical solutions to solve it. We may not all be lawmakers or in a position to change hiring habits within our company, but there are still actions we can all take to help close the gap.
Know Your Rights
If you wouldn’t start playing a game without knowing all the rules, you shouldn’t enter the workforce without knowing your rights. It’s important for women to understand what is expected of them on the job, and what they are required, by law, to receive.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits employers from pay discrimination on the basis of sex. If a man and a woman are paid two different wages for a job requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility, completed under similar working conditions, the company doing so may be in violation of this law.
The Paycheck Fairness Act has been a proposed law since 2017, and while it hasn’t yet passed, it includes provisions designed to close loopholes from the Equal Pay Act.
These provisions include prohibiting companies from asking your salary history, requiring employers to prove pay disparities, and requiring wage data collection and negotiation training.
For now, several states have banned employers from requesting salary history, so it is possible that you are already protected from this tactic.
If you feel that you’ve been discriminated against in the workplace, it is in your right to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) .
Negotiate and Recognizing Your Worth
It’s not always the most comfortable process, but women can push for equality by recognizing what they’re really worth in the job market.
Salary negotiation is an expected part of the employment process, and it is important to do your research before you get to the final stage of an offer.
MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski stresses the importance of being your own advocate and not expecting others to always notice your hard work. In any job, you have to be ready to outline all of your achievements and push to be compensated accordingly.
Sites like Glassdoor and Payscale are a great place to start when pulling accurate salaries for your line of work and location. It’s also important to note that you are legally allowed to ask co-workers their salaries under the National Labor Relations Act .
Not everyone is willing to share, but it can be helpful to create an open line of communication between your colleagues to make a more level playing field.
Support Men in Taking on Caregiving Roles
It’s not news to most that the gender pay gap is perpetuated by women taking leave from the workforce to raise children. However, a solid solution to narrowing the gap is encouraging fathers to take family leave just as often as mothers.
Companies are beginning to adapt to men taking caregiving roles, and moving towards supporting this as a society can help us reach pay equality in the long run.
Countries such as Sweden, Denmark, and Norway are the leading nations in gender equality—and they also have generous parental leave programs.
The more dads take time away to raise their families, the more balance we’ll achieve in the workplace.
Encourage Young Women to Become Leaders
We may not be able to ensure every CEO at every corporation takes steps towards closing the gender pay gap, but we can try our best to change the future.
Young girls and women who are thinking about their careers should be encouraged to work towards high-level positions. If more women are in the driver’s seat when it comes to wage distribution, the more likely women will be getting fair pay.
Promoting women-owned businesses and products is another way to support equal pay. According to Gail Becker , CEO of Caulipower, “only 2% of VC dollars go to female-founded startups.” If we invest in businesses that are being held up by women, we are directly putting money towards closing the gap.
In addition to leadership roles, it is beneficial to support young women with an interest in careers in STEM. Though the gender pay gap does still exist in these industries, they pay more than caregiving roles like nurses and teachers.
According to Nicole Smith, Research Professor and Chief Economist at Georgetown University, while these positions are essential, they are deemed less valuable in our economy. By addressing this form of “occupational segregation,” we can make higher-paying fields of work more equally balanced between men and women.
What to Know During Times of Economic Uncertainty
When experiencing an economic crisis, women could end up taking a greater loss due to their already hindered position.
As more women are laid off from jobs during the fallout from COVID-19, it will only continue to widen the gender pay gap.
A record 3.28 million Americans applied for unemployment the week ended March 21 and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has confirmed: “we may very well be in a recession.”
Though men are certainly being laid off as well, women hold the majority of positions that are being most affected by COVID-19—namely the service industry.
Women are also more likely to work part-time jobs which are often found within restaurants, shops, and other entertainment businesses that are currently shuttered due to the virus.
This year’s Equal Pay Day may bring an added layer of concern for Americans, but it is important to be mindful of what we can all do to help narrow the gender pay gap now and in the years to come.
Showing Support on Equal Pay Day
How can you get involved today?
• Contact your elected officials to tell them how important fair pay is to you. Information about how to contact your members of Congress is available here .
• Wear red on Equal Pay Day. Red symbolizes how women and minorities are “in the red” with their salaries compared to men.
• If you are working remotely, use these Zoom backgrounds in your virtual meetings to “celebrate” / draw attention to the pay gap. Make sure you do not check the box that says “I have a green screen,” unless you actually have a green screen, and note that Zoom automatically mirrors your camera, so these backgrounds might look reversed for you. They show up correctly when viewed by other people on your Zoom call.
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