Tell Me Again How There's No Pay Gap

Until we begin valuing the work women do and pay them accordingly, the pay gap will remain alive and well.
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Until we begin valuing the work women do and pay them accordingly, the pay gap will remain alive and well.

by Kate Harveston

Recently, Catt Sadler of E! Entertainment announced she would be leaving the position after 12 years. The reason? E! Entertainment paid her half of what her E! News co-host Jason Kennedy was earning. Despite negotiations, she was unable to earn higher, despite shooting seven shows per week to Kennedy's five.

Sadler's story sounds all too familiar to many women. Despite strides made up until the mid-‘80s on pay equity, women continue to earn just 80 cents for every dollar a man earns in the workplace — and the gap has stagnated in recent years. The 20 percent gap makes a significant difference in a woman's ability to save for retirement, purchase a home or even pay their day-to-day expenses.

The Facts on the Pay Gap

Those who decry a pay gap exists often point to factors such as choices women make, such as obtaining an equal education or taking time off to raise children. However, research shows this simply is not true.

Among men and women with equivalent MBAs, for example, men were 41 percent more likely to move into a management role than women. In fact, 36 percent of MB-holding women indicated they believed gender played a role in denying them a raise or needed promotion.

Indeed, what often gets lost in the conversation surrounding the pay gap isn't a wage-by-wage comparison. Rather, it is an opportunity gap. The so-called glass ceiling is still very much intact in many workplaces. Women are simply not extended the same opportunities to move into upper managerial roles at the same rate that men are. Often, this is due to their employer's unexpressed bias.

There remains a perception that women are married to their family, while a man is married to a job. The perception that women will eventually leave their roles, at least temporarily, to raise a family remains a strong if unspoken bias against women when it comes to moving them into managerial roles that demand more of their time to be spent on the job.

This takes a toll. According to the Pew Research Center, it would take a woman an extra 44 days each year to earn what a man earns in the same year. That's a lot of late nights and weekends worth of work.

Long term, the effects of the pay gap are even more devastating. Women are far less likely than men to save adequate resources to afford a comfortable retirement due to having lower pay overall. It's simple math: For every $1 million a man earns over the course of his career, a woman earns $200,000 less. That could go a huge way toward helping women save for their golden years, especially given the fact that the majority of women live longer than most men.

A Matter of Race, Not Just Gender

The pay gap looms even larger when one considers racial inequality in conjunction with gender. While white and Asian women have made some strides in breaking into upper managerial positions, the same hasn't been the case for their black and Latina counterparts.

For example, a similar case to Catt Sadler’s occurred some years back in which QVC lost a lawsuit against a female anchor who demonstrated she was earning far less than her male counterparts. The huge difference? Gwen Owens, the anchor in question, believed both gender and race were at play in this situation. Indeed, in 2015, black women earned on average only 62.5 percent of what a white man earned in an equivalent position. The gap is even wider for Latinas: in 2015, they earned only 54.4 percent of what white men did even when completing the same amount of work.

When compared to men of their own race, black women and Latinas do actually earn a larger percentage of what their male counterparts earn. Still, we have a long way to go in terms of pay equity for women of color. According to Pew Research, for example, should our current efforts at pay equity continue, black women will not reach equity until 2124.

Traditionally Female Roles Still Pay Less

Efforts have been made recently to entice more women to enter STEM professions such as engineering, science and math fields. While such efforts are laudable, the fact remains that professions traditionally considered to be feminine earn, on average, far less than equivalent work performed in what are traditionally thought of as male fields.

For example, many women are drawn to careers in child care. On average, child care workers earn only $9.40 per hour, or $19,560 per year. A woman working full-time in child care who had two or three children of her own would be earning well below the poverty line.

Indeed, a recent research study shows that opportunity segregation — segregation of women into lower-paying jobs traditionally performed by females versus higher-paying jobs traditionally performed by men — now accounts for 38 percent of the pay gap. Until we begin valuing the work women do and pay them accordingly, the pay gap will remain alive and well.

Moving Forward

President Obama issued two executive orders designed to address the pay gap before leaving office, but it is very unlikely the current administration will continue to be devoted to paying women at an equal pay rate.

However, there are things individual companies can do to equalize the pay gap. By conducting a gender pay-gap analysis, making pay rates transparent and pledging the Equal Pay Rate on jobsearch sites such as Glassdoor, employers can recruit top female talent as well as make their companies more appealing to female consumers who prefer to support businesses devoted to equal pay for equal work.

Indeed, transparency about pay rates and salary scales may be the best way to address the pay gap at the industry level. By paying workers based on objective rather than subjective factors such as years of service and time spent on the job, we can open up the discussion about occupational segregation and move toward a society that truly rewards equal pay for equal work.