Women work 50 years to earn what men do in 40. Here's how to narrow your personal pay gap.

Women work 50 years to earn what men do in 40. Here's how to narrow your personal pay gap.

Women have to work a decade more over a lifetime to end up with the cash equivalent of what men earn, according to a study by the National Women's Law Center published March 29, ahead of Tuesday's Equal Pay Day.

Indeed, the NWLC calculated a loss of $418,800 in income for a hypothetical woman who works full-time from age 20 to 60 — compared with a man who works the same amount of time. Blame the wage gap, which has been relatively unchanged since 2007.

For minority women the gap is even larger, the NWLC found: Black women will earn $840,040 less between 20 and 60 and Latina women fall short by $1,043,800 compared with a white man working the same amount of time.

"The gender wage gap leaves women in a deep, deep hole," said Emily Martin, NWLC general counsel and vice president for workplace justice, in a statement. "Either they lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over their lifetimes compared to men, or they must work decades past retirement age to catch up."

The lag in women's earnings can affect financial independence, and access to housing and education. The relatively large chunk missing from pay for female workers also means retirement savings are smaller — even though women have longer lifespans, which mean they actually need larger nest eggs.

Some women might have hope for legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which sought to put some teeth into the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by putting unequal wages based on sex discrimination on equal legal footing with race or ethnicity-driven bias — so full punitive damages would be available in the case of wrongdoing. But the legislation passed the House of Representatives only once in 2009 and has not received consideration since 2015.

Given the challenges women face collectively when it comes to fair pay, what can one do as an individual to fight the salary gap as it affects you? There is hope. Here are three big ways to narrow the wage gap for yourself.

1. Consider different states and industries

If you love your home and line of work, by all means stick with it. But if you have several interests and are open to new locales, it's useful to know that certain high-earning professions have narrower wage gaps and certain U.S. states have less dramatic gender wage gaps than others.

The highest-earning profession in which women are the closest to parity are engineers, who earn 94% of what men earn, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data analyzed by Mic. By contrast, those who take the biggest hit, of the highest earning women, are marketing and sales managers, who only earn 78% of what men earn.

And, according to the NWLC, there is a half-a-million-dollar difference in lifetime wages lost between the smallest gender wage gap in Florida — where women "only" fall behind $220,040 — and the widest state wage gap, in Wyoming, where women fall behind by $796,040.

In short, it literally pays to pay attention to the wage gap in your state and profession. Want to know the best and worst states?

The top five states with the smallest gender pay gap, with women making between 84 cents and 86 cents to men's dollar, are: 

5. New Mexico
4. North Carolina
3. New York
2. Delaware
1. Florida

The top five states with the widest gap, with women earning between 76 cents and 64 cents on the dollar, are: 

5. New Hampshire
4. Utah
3. North Dakota
2. Louisiana
1. Wyoming

2. Take bigger gambles when you job hunt

Women tend to be risk averse, which can hold them back financially in the long run for a host of reasons. Research from Hewlett Packard reported in the Harvard Business Review found that men applied for jobs when they met about 60% of the qualifications, while women only applied if they had nearly 100% of qualifications. 

Researcher Tara Mohr, a women's leadership expert and author of Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message suspected it wasn't for lack of confidence in being able to do the job. She asked men and women: "If you decided not to apply for a job because you didn't meet all the qualifications, why didn't you apply?" 

She found that men and women were similarly confident in their abilities to do the job. But women were much more concerned about failure and following the rules: 15% said they didn't apply because they were following guidelines about who should apply.

"Women don't need to try and find that elusive quality, 'confidence,'" Mohr wrote in HBR, "they just need better information about how hiring processes really work."

Women often don't realize that championing yourself, networking and presenting a creative approach can overcome shortcomings in skills and experiences outlined in the job qualifications. 

Finally, remember that once you get a job, the best salary offer you're going to get is the one you get walking in the door. So, before you accept a new gig, negotiate hard. And once you've worked — and kicked butt — for several months, know when to ask for a raise.

3. Report any violations

The Equal Pay Act is the law of the land on this subject. It requires that women and men receive equal pay for equal work. But there is clearly still plenty of work left to do on that front.

If you suspect that you are not being paid in accordance with the law or on par with a male colleague in the same position, you can report it to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and file a lawsuit against your employer. 

First, know what "equal" means. The Equal Pay Act says the jobs do not need to be identical, but they do need to be equal. The content of the job — not necessarily job titles — determine whether jobs are equal. Additional factors determining what makes jobs equal include: 

if the individuals have similar skills as measured by their experience, ability, education
if the jobs require similar levels of physical or mental effort
if the jobs ask for similar levels of responsibility in performing job functions
if the jobs are in similar working conditions
if the jobs are in the same working establishment

Second, know what is included in "pay." According to the law, if it is considered compensation by the employer it is considered pay. This includes: salary, overtime, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing and bonus plans, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, cleaning or gasoline allowances, hotel accommodations, reimbursement for travel expenses and benefits. 

Unlike other charges of discrimination handled by the EEOC, if you are filing a violation of the Equal Pay Act, you can go straight to court and do not need to file a charge with the EEOC first. 

You have two years from the alleged unlawful compensation practice to go to court or file a charge with the EEOC.

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