If you google “wage gap,” the phrase “wage gap myth” pops up first. People do not want to believe that women are paid less than men. When you go to the trouble of showing them studies that account for variables such as education and profession, which show indisputably that women are paid less, they’ll often hold tightly to the belief that there is some reason that women deserve to be paid less.
The wage gap is real.
I’m not here to argue that women make less than men. Regardless of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which JFK put in place as an attempt to close the wage gap, they do. According to the U.S. department of labor, women make, on average, 22% less than men unadjusted, or roughly 6.5% adjusted to accommodate for variables (i.e. maternity leave).
Although, if you’re a woman who chooses not to do have children, you’re being significantly underpaid throughout your entire life because you’re considered a high-risk employee.
Women do not deserve to make less than men just because they may require time off in the future, just as a man who rides a motorcycle shouldn’t be paid less just because he’s more likely to get injured and require time off.
So why do employers habitually pay women less? The short answer: Because they can. The perception that it’s acceptable to pay a women less than a man because of something that might happen is an opportunity for employers to make more money off their employees.
And to dispel another myth, it’s not that women don’t ask for raises it’s just that women are less likely to receive them when they do ask. A study done in London in 2016, though it was looking to prove that woman ask less frequently than men for raises, found that women ask for raises as frequently as men, but receive them 25% less often.
To shorten the wage gap, women must become more aggressive, more confident, and better informed.
Motherhood penalties vs. fatherhood bonuses.
When discussing a wage increase, knowing how to combat the preconceived notions is key. Mothers and pregnant women are viewed as weaker, less reliable, less rational, whereas fathers do not suffer the same stereotypes; in fact, they benefit from their families.
Married men with children will consistently out-earn their peers, including single men, because their out-of-office responsibilities are viewed as greater, although between the hours of 9 and 5, their lives are no different.
My first job interview out of college, as an “receptionist/assistant manager,” I very vaguely discussed my “family”, and how I was the “sole income,” and I benefited from laws that barred my employer from asking questions; I was single and had no children, but my pretend family got me a competitive salary.
Later, when quizzed about my family, I insisted they must have misunderstood me (I didn’t lie. You should never lie at a job interview. It was 100% true that I was simply the sole earner in my family of one.)
What’s in a name?
The gendering of professions is another engine driving the pay gap. Receptionists are paid less than other office staffers because they are considered less trained professionally and easily replaceable. Receptionist is the most common profession for women, and has been since 1950.
According to the US Census in 2013, 96% of receptionists were women.
A receptionist’s job description is often far beyond that of answering phones, making appointments, and greeting clients. They’re almost always cross-trained; they are often the first in the office and last to leave. They clean up after office meetings, and they’re often unofficially in charge of kitchen duties.
Negotiating a higher salary as a receptionist might be as easy as creating a job description for yourself and presenting it to your employer during your review.
If many of your duties fall outside of that of a receptionist (which is answering phone calls, setting appointments, and greeting clients. period.), consider asking for a change in title. Shifting your title from “receptionist” to “office associate” may sound like only a token change, but changing your title can also change your perceived value, and make negotiating easier in the future.
The benefits of wage transparency.
Another major contributor to the wage gap is not knowing what your coworkers are making. I was cleaning out a desk in my manager’s office a few years ago when I came across and old payroll.
It’s made websites like Salary.com, Glassdoor.com, and Indeed.com extremely valuable to employees looking to find out what they’re worth. When talking about wages, my boss has a saying: “No Good Will Come of It.”
But “no good” for whom, exactly?
I totally agree if “Employee A” knew that “Employee B” was making twice as much as they were, they’d be deeply unhappy. But they were already deeply unhappy; in fact, they left for another job that paid better after four years of suffering staggeringly low wages, wondering how everyone else was making ends meet.
You could argue that this underpaid employee should have spoken up, demanded more money, but why should they assume their employer was paying them criminally low wages? This is where the slogan “Equal Pay for Equal Work” usually gets trotted out, arguing that workers will feel spurned if they make less than someone else and create office chaos, but where is the catchy slogan that argues against employers grossly underpaying their workers without their knowledge?
States like Massachusetts and California have taken steps toward better transparency, making it illegal for employees to be penalized for discussing their wages with one another. That being noted, just because it’s illegal to formally penalize an employee, that doesn’t mean your employer can’t make your life difficult for speaking up.
What can we do to reduce the wage gap?
You’re probably not going to single-handedly close the gender pay gap, but you can work towards equal pay for yourself.
- Make sure your title reflects your actual work.
- Do research to find out what you’re worth. That may mean looking at titles that are less gendered. “Office Assistant” rather than “Receptionist” for example.
- Stop allowing employers to take advantage of your gender and request a raise.