The idea of the gender wage gap began when organizations such as the National Organization for Women stated that women on average were paid 77 cents to every dollar a man earned. The website wrote, “ For full-time, year-round workers, women are paid on average only 77 percent of what men are paid… Women still are not receiving equal pay for equal work, let alone equal pay for work of equal value.” The White house, other organizations, and websites have reported similar findings between 77-79% which lead to the 22% average wage gap.
The truth is there is a group of people who are paid more. It is those who work longer hours, work in higher paying careers, are viewed as more valuable, have more experience, and a higher level of education. And unfortunately, that group is largely made of men. Many organizations have chosen to portray the statistics as if we are comparing a man and woman who are doing the exact same job, with the exact same years of education and experience, and who work the same hours. But that is simply not the case.
As you can see here, the 22% wage gap comes from the median pay of all women and men working full-time. Women make up 56 percent of workers in the 20 lowest-paid jobs, and just 29 percent of those in the 20 highest-paid jobs. Which basically means that we are comparing a year- round teacher and a doctor’s salary to two doctor’s salaries. That’s not to say that being a teacher isn’t a fulfilling, highly admirable and needed career choice, it’s just that it doesn’t pay well and it contributes to the 77 cent to the dollar statistic. When comparing two identical occupations the wage gap goes from 22% to 5%. Showing that the main problem with the gender wage gap isn’t that women are being paid less than they should be, it is that women are not being pushed to pursue high paying jobs.
Statistics are showing that although men and women are starting off at the same wages out of college and in their early 20’s, the 5% wage gap begins to occur within the first five years. Most studies attribute this to the fact that most college educated women begin to have children in their late 20’s / early 30’s.
In conclusion, the 5% wage gap is essentially due to these four reasons:
Women choosing low paying careers
Women choosing to leave or devote less time to their careers to focus more on their families
Companies valuing those who put their career before their families
Companies assuming that women in their late 20’s- early 30’s will decide to have children and prioritizing their male counterparts over them. (This is illegal but difficult to prove. This is the toughest roadblock for young women in the workforce.)
Most believe that family should come first and it is unfair that women are being penalized for being present moms and in some cases just having the potential to become mothers. However, are companies completely to blame for the wage gap?
Look at it this way, if someone said to you that you can have $100 a day but you have to work long hours and barely see your kids or you can have anywhere from $78- $95 a day and be at every ballet recital and home for dinner every night. Which option would you take? Women everywhere are choosing the latter option. They are choosing careers that allow them to be actively involved parents and they are making career choices that are better for their families rather than those that are better for their careers.
Of course it would be great if all companies decided to put families first. If they only operated on a 9-5 schedule- so that every parent could eat dinner with their children, allowed women to work from home during an extended maternity leave- so they could continue to advance in their career while simultaneously attending to the needs of their newborn, offered days off to chaperone field trips and tend to sick kids, and had a never miss a recital policy. But even if all of that were true, not everyone is going to have kids. So instead of a gender gap we would just have a parent gap.
There will most likely always be a group of individuals who have an advantage in any given career field. Whether it be race, gender, education, or simply choosing not to become parents. However, that doesn’t mean that change is not possible. If we want to see positive change for women in the workforce, here are 10 realistic and achievable goals:
Encourage young girls to pursue high paying careers.
Women are being represented more in areas such as medicine and law but are still severely underrepresented in areas such as engineering and computer science. Technology is the future and encouraging young women to explore these careers will help lessen the pay gap.
Continue to express the importance of education.
Millennials are dropping out of college at a surprisingly high rate. Many are being told that there are no jobs available and that a degree is just a waste of money. Right now there are more women graduating from college than men and women are more likely to continue on to higher degrees. This upward trend for women is amazing and should be encouraged.
Stop demanding longer maternity leave and instead demand in work daycare.
Being able to bond with your child during the first months or even years of life is a special experience. However, the longer a woman is out of work the further behind she gets in her career. It is not realistic for a woman to spend a year out of the workforce after every birth and not be surpassed by those who continue working during that time. Many offices could easily afford to create a daycare in their building. And if they can’t, women should migrate towards those companies who can and are willing to. Imagine how many more women could enter and stay in the work force if child care wasn’t a concern. Many hospitals already do this. Read about Florida Hospitals childcare center here.
Keep birth control affordable or, better yet, free.
When to start a family is one of the most important decisions a woman will ever make. Not only does the birth of a child effect a woman’s career but so does the pregnancy. It is vital that all women have affordable access to birth control.
Eliminate the stigma on vasectomies and tubal litigation.
Not everyone wants or needs to become a parent. There is this myth that a woman must become a mom to feel fulfilled or that every woman will one day have that urge to procreate and that is simply not true. If a man or woman decides that they do not want to be parents, then they should be allowed to permanently prevent it, without judgement. Although legally a man can get a vasectomy at 18 years old, it is not illegal for a doctor to choose not to perform one if they are uncomfortable with it. It is even harder for women to find a doctor willing to perform the surgery. Click here and here to read the struggle these women had to go through in order to have their tubes tied. Also, let’s not forget that most women are advised not to have a baby after 35 years old anyways and that adoption is a wonderful option.
Stop shaming women for prioritizing their careers.
A career driven mother is still a good mother. Maybe she doesn’t volunteer in the classroom and has a nanny for extra help, but she is still a good mother. Kids need to be loved and a working woman is more than capable of loving and providing for her children. A huge reason why the wage gap exist is because women feel as though they must choose between their careers and their families in a way that men do not. Women should be encouraged to work long hours, take every promotion offered to them, and continue to rise in their careers if that is what they choose to do.
Encourage men to be more involved with their children.
If more men had to leave work to pick up their sick children from school or couldn’t stay late at the office because they needed to prepare dinner, then employers would have to readjust their expectations of working parents.
Teach women to be assertive.
Too many women enter the workforce unaware of how to ask for raises and advancement opportunities. Studies have shown that women are more likely than men to accept the initial salary offered to them. If we want women to continue to advance in their careers then we need to teach them how to ask for what they want and know their value and worth. Women must also feel comfortable asking for promotions, more work, more chances, and more ways to be of value.
Report gender discrimination.
John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into effect in 1963, which means that employers are required by law to pay women the same as men if they are doing equal work. If you truly believe that you are being discriminated against, then that is illegal and you can and should take action. It is not uncommon for employers to invest more in their young male employees over their female employees because they fear that women will choose motherhood over their careers. Although this is difficult to prove, if a woman feels she is being over looked based on her gender, here are the steps she should take.
Support businesses that support women.
If women only supported businesses that were working hard to decrease the gender pay gap then all business would try to decrease the pay gap. Look for companies to support such as Facebook, which offers a four month paid paternity leave, and Bank of America, which offers 3 months, encouraging men to bond with their children and prioritize their family ahead of work. Also, how great are General Motors and Pepsi who are both among a growing list of companies that have women CEO’s?