What's The Truth About The Gender Pay Gap?

Search “Gender Wage Gap,” and the suggestion that Google’s algorithm immediately spits out is “Gender Wage Gap Myth.” Meaning that a considerable number of people seeking information about the gender wage gap are skeptical about its very existence. Realizing that many intelligent, knowledgeable Americans still question whether women and men in America are genuinely compensated differently for doing the same work, I propose that the best way we can observe Equal Pay Day in 2017 is to use whatever data is available to us to help bring the truth about the gender wage gap to light.

First, a little background: In 1996, an NGO called the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) established Equal Pay Day, a public awareness event to illustrate the difference between men’s and women’s wages in America. Equal Pay Day is predicated on data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau that shows that women in American make only approximately $.80 for every $1.00 men earn. And so this year, Tuesday, April 4 is Equal Pay Day, or the day in 2017 until which women on average would to work to earn as men earn on average in the US.

While the “$.80 on the dollar” construct is thrown around frequently, it is usually intended to be illustrative rather than precise. Most participants in the wage gap debate concede that in practice, few women receive 20 percent less compensation for doing the exact same work as men under identical circumstances. Much of the deficit in women’s earnings can be explained by factors including choice of career, education, time off to raise children, performance, and work experience. (Although all those factors may be caused by systemic discrimination, but let’s put that aside for now.)

The gender wage gap ― and wage discrimination in general ― is perpetuated by pervasive opacity about what workers are paid, and the ongoing practice in Corporate America to pay based on the individual rather than on the job. Since wide discrepancies persist among people with identical job titles, it remains hard to pin down whether women really earn less for doing exactly the same work as men under exactly the same circumstances.

Still, I can tell you from my own time in Corporate America, as well from dozens of women I’ve interviewed and employee reviews we’ve received on Fairygodboss, the pay gap feels very real and persistent. And frustratingly hidden. This practice of keeping compensation information secret has meant that Corporate America lacks the telltale evidence that has surfaced in sports with the example U.S. Women’s Soccer Team or in Hollywood.

So this Equal Pay Day, let’s take a few minutes to stop wondering and start revealing data that can put an end to the debate and instead start moving toward the solution. Here are some suggestions:

1. Talk about your salary

In my workplace experiences, there was usually a tacit - or even explicit - understanding that talking about your salary was not acceptable. It was not until recently that I learned that it’s explicitly illegal in this country to discourage workers from discussing their salary according to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that over 60 percent of workers in the private sector felt that discussion of their salary was strongly discouraged or could lead to punishment.

So on this Equal Pay Day, I propose that everyone should just start revealing their salary. Find a peer of the opposite sex and tell them how much you make. Compare notes. You could even take it up a level as Software Engineer Erika Baker famously did at Google when she and coworkers created a shared spreadsheet listing out several salaries in an experiment on radical transparency.

If you’re feeling less brazen, there are also many opportunities now to reveal your salary in an anonymous way. Fairygodboss crowdsources anonymous salaries by gender, and other sites PayScale and Glassdoor collect salary data information as well.

2. Managers, get out your spreadsheets

Corporate managers are generally provided with a simple spreadsheet that summarizes compensation information for the employees on their team. So this Equal Pay Day, all managers could do something simple to reveal the truth about gender inequality: break out your calculator. Do some analysis. Partner with other managers in your company to increase the sample size. Do women on your team or at your company seem to be paid less in a systematic way?

This exercise is never neat and clean because there are asterisks and exceptions on everyone’s career path, and often implicit bias on part of the analyzer, but it can be done. In September 2015, Salesforce showed the world that it was possible by voluntarily undertaking a company-wide compensation audit to in response to concerns raised by key employees that a gender wage gap existed.

If and when inequity is identified, it’s incumbent on managers to 1) raise it to their management ― just as it would be if they witnessed illegal activity or workplace harassment ― 2) and also inform the employee. At minimum, underpaid employees should be empowered with information about their situation so they can make a case for a raise or seek employment elsewhere.

3. Women, Ask For A Raise

One of the theories that abounds about what causes the pay gap is that women are less aggressive about asking for raises, or prioritize health benefits, flexibility or other non-monetary compensation above salary.

So what better day than Equal Pay Day to take that argument off the table with women asking for raises in a massive coordinated effort. It seems especially fitting in 2017 ― when women are engaged in greater activism than at any time in the past 40 years ― that the most pro-woman stance they can take is to get more aggressive about enforcing equal pay at work.

This Equal Pay Day, Faiygodboss is excited to announce a new partnership with Payscale. Now, you’ll be able to use a Payscale calculator on Fairygodboss to estimate what you should be making ― and see how you stack up.

If women can be better armed with information about where their compensation stacks up, it’s likely they’d feel more empowered to advocate for their fair due. We could all stop debating about whether women are paid fairly and move on to other issues. Like whether women are promoted fairly. Happy Equal Pay Day.

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