It’s widely known at this point that women make an average of 77 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts — even when they have the same education and do the same work.
There are still people out there who don’t believe the wage gap exists, despite the numbers. But more will be achieved by shifting focus to solutions than trying to convince lost causes that there’s even a problem.
There isn’t one magic solution to close the gap between what men earn and what women earn — the wage gap is a systematic problem, rooted in the way we, as a society, think of the differences in gender roles. That’s not something that will change overnight. But there are a few steps that can speed up the progress.
Perhaps most important are the bottom-up approaches that attempt to shift the way women perceive their roles and their value and potential as employees. Here are three steps we can take.
1) Teach women that it’s OK to negotiate, and how to do it well: Women are only a quarter as likely to ask for more pay as men are. It’s considered ‘unladylike’ to ask for more, to sing your own praises in a pitch for a raise, or to push back against a boss. That’s one of those systematic, world-view based aspects of the problem.
A group called the WAGE project is working to fix it. The WAGE project holds workshops to teach women how to negotiate, how to know what their job is worth, and how to make sure they’re being paid accordingly.
A study on gendered approaches to negotiation suggested that even in being more assertive, women are more successful in asking for more money if they do so in a “feminine” manner; smiling a lot and asking nicely. While this is an irritating caveat to encouraging women to negotiate, it’s a start.
2) Teach girls from a young age that they’re capable of entering fields traditionally dominated by men: In addition to the problem of women being paid less for equal work, there’s also the problem of many of the higher paying fields being overwhelmingly male-dominated. There’s been a trend recently of promoting toys for young girls designed to prepare them for STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).
The hope is that by encouraging girls from a young age to participate in activities that are typically considered to be “for boys,” we can raise them to be women who compete in the workforce.
There’s also been a push to make it more socially acceptable for boys to play with toys that are supposedly “for girls,” such as the Easy Bake Oven. As important as it is for women to consider themselves equal, it’s just as important to raise an enlightened generation of men who don’t have the outdated notions of “women’s work” and “men’s work.”
3) While changing societal attitudes are necessary to closing the gender pay gap, doing so will take time. In the meantime, equal pay for everyone needs to be encouraged with legislation. The Lily Ledbetter Act was a good start, but more top-down encouragement of equal pay couldn’t hurt.
The Lily Ledbetter Act makes it easier for women to sue if they’re being paid less than their male counterparts, but doesn’t do anything to prevent it from happening in the first place. Of course there’s the assumption that the threat of penalty will make employers more conscious of paying all of their employees equally. But more can be done.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, which didn’t make it through Congress, would have required employers to demonstrate that any pay discrepancy was not gender-related.