The Equal Pay Act of 1963 has been in effect in the USA for 55 years, prohibiting wage discrimination between employees on the basis of sex (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, n.d.). Yet, women of all races are still paid less than men, at all education levels. Equal pay has yet to be achieved (National Women’s Law Center, n.d.). Women now make an average of 82 cents for each dollar a man earns, which is a great improvement from the 54 cents earned prior to the Equal Pay Act. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before the gap completely closes, and the gap is even larger for women of color (Farber, 2017).
The question now is why are we still talking about the gender pay gap over fifty years after the Equal Pay Act became law? Three large factors contributing to the wage gap are unconscious bias from employers, lack of salary negotiation, and the penalty for becoming a mother (Farber, 2017).
Where Lies the Issue?
Several women suffer consequences at work after becoming mothers, perceived to have less commitment and competence. Men on the other hand are commonly perceived to have “increased work commitment and stability” upon becoming fathers (Sheth, Gal & Gould, 2018). Mothers have long faced lessened opportunity for hiring and promotion, earning less money per child they bear, which created a gap not only between mothers and men, but also between mothers and women who were not mothers. On the flip-side, men who become new fathers typically see an increase in earnings (Farber, 2017). For the first time, we are able to see this parenthood gap closing, as data recently has shown that women with children no longer make less than women without kids. The graph below illustrates all of this data, comparing weekly earnings for individuals with and without children. This data was published in a Business Insider article just this April based upon 2016 statistics (Sheth, Gal & Gould, 2018).
Progress is being made here between mothers and non-mothers, but we have work to do still in the name of gender equality.
Additionally, issues in negotiation certainly contribute to the gender wage gap. Research indicates that women are less likely to negotiate their pay than men are. The question here is why? It’s been speculated that women are lacking in confidence to ask for the pay the deserve. I believe the real problem is the “social cost” of negotiation (Farber, 2017). The social cost of negotiation refers to the phenomenon in which female candidates are penalized more than male candidates for initiating negotiations with male evaluators (Bowles, Babcock, & Lai, 2007). A recent study by McKinsey & Co. and Lean In indicates that women who negotiate are 30% more likely to be perceived as “bossy”, “aggressive”, or “intimidating” than their negotiating male counterparts. Men are expected to be assertive in this way, but women who display their competence in this manner are received negatively because they have stereotypically been expected to be warm, nurturing, and-–my least favorite—emotional (Gillett, 2016). These issues make female negotiation less effective than male negotiation, and may dissuade many women from self-advocating.
The aforementioned study reveals startling truths about the differing perceptions of gender equality between men and women in the workplace. The most staggering to me is the difference between responses when asked if employees think their “gender has played a role in missing out on a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead.” Only 8% of men participating in the study feel this way, compared to 37% of women (McKinsey&Company & LeanIn, 2017).
Employer bias is often not conscious, and it goes beyond perceptions of “bossiness”. Bias frequently presents itself as employers simply undervaluing the work of their female employees. Although it is common that this bias is not something an employer is aware of, it continues to set back progress in the wage gap. A study recently indicated that despite similar experience, education levels, and job titles, women continue to be paid less than men on average. Considering similar qualifications and positions, men were still found to make 5.4% more on average in base pay, and 7.4% more in total compensation (Chamberlain, 2016). These biases are deeply rooted and get down to the core issues of gender discrimination, which is a much broader issue to resolve than pay equality.
Equal pay in itself is a broad issue which can be broken down into many levels, between gender, race, parenthood etc., but the issue we will examine today is the gender gap, seeking pay equality between men and women.
How Can we Address the Issue?
As a woman and a professional in Human Resources, I have put much thought to discovering ways by which I may contribute to shrinking the pay gap.
Solutions to the “mommy penalty” perpetuating the gap could be in promoting equality in parental leave policies and solving childcare cost problems. It is difficult to find affordable (and quality) day care, often giving women limited options in their ability to enhance their careers (Farber, 2017). Offering and encouraging the same parental leave policies for new mothers as well as new fathers can be beneficial in re-shaping the way we think of gender-roles and expectations regarding work/life balance, while giving fathers the same opportunity to bond with their children as mothers. Beyond that, helping parents find childcare options to suit their needs can encourage equality in time management, commitment, work-life balance, and career advancement. Given the means, I encourage business owners to offer childcare services, but if space and staffing won’t allow for that, then an allowance, flexible work options, or another form of discretionary benefit may help tremendously. Even if the employee does not opt to use the childcare assistance provided, having the option shows that the employer is in support of him or her pursuing parenthood and personal enrichment.
When it comes to solving the negotiation issue, this will not be easy, because deep-rooted biases and stereotypes loom over the issue. It will take lots and lots of time to change the mode of thinking that women are bossy or demanding when asking for the same thing a man would ask for with great success. This will not be an overnight process, but education and empowerment are where to begin. Encouraging and empowering women and young girls to build confidence in negotiation is huge, and the problem will only improve as more women begin self-advocating. But beyond that, all individuals must respect this negotiation behavior with equality, discouraging the social cost of negotiation. As a Human Resources professional, I may do this by acting with consistency and holding others accountable.
In HR, I am often in a position to mediate, listen, and essentially act as the middle-man between the employee and the employer. If I can act neutrally and consistently, I am in a place to help see and address biases in supervisors and use strategic HRM to promote equality in policy, procedure, hiring, promotion, etc. I can use HR data and metrics to identify unconscious biases or underrepresentation of women in leadership roles.
One of the largest limitations to this mission for equality is that I am also a human, and may have unconscious biases of my own. We’re all only human. Educating ourselves and making an effort to be self aware are what we have to combat this challenge.
Human Resource professionals have an opportunity to make a great impact in the workplace. Let’s start this conversation in our businesses and bring our ideas and experiences to our networks. Discuss this with your organizations and your SHRM chapters. Discuss this with your household. Wigg out about it. Take action.
Bowles, H. R., Babcock, L., & Lai, L. (2007). Social incentives for gender differences in the propensity to initiate negotiations: Sometimes it does hurt to ask. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 103(1), 84-103. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2006.09.001
Chamberlein, A. (2016). Demystifying the gender pay gap. Retrieved from https://www.glassdoor.com/research/app/uploads/sites/2/2016/03/Glassdoor-Gender-Pay-Gap-Study.pdf
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.). The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA). Retrieved from https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/epa.cfm
Farber, M. (2017, April 3). 3 Reasons why the gender pay gap still exists. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2017/04/03/equal-pay-day-2017-wage-gap/
Gillett, R. (2016, September 30). Women aren’t paid less because they don’t ask? It’s because they’re disliked when they do. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/asking-for-what-you-want-is-great-career-advice-if-youre-a-man-2016-9
McKinsey&Company & LeanIn. (2017). Getting to gender equality starts with realizing how far we have to go. Retrieved from https://womenintheworkplace.com/
National Women’s Law Center. (n.d.). Equal pay & the wage gap archives. Retrieved from https://nwlc.org/issue/equal-pay-and-the-wage-gap/
Sonam Sheth, Shayanne Gal, Skye Gould. (2018, April 10). 6 charts show how much more men make than women. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/gender-wage-pay-gap-charts-2017-3?utm_source=feedly&utm_medium=webfeeds&r=UK&IR=T