Over the past several decades, women have made tremendous strides in the workforce. Working mothers are now the single or primary source of income in 40 percent of American households with children, according to the Pew Research Center.
But the pay gap between the sexes still exists. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey, female workers in the New York metropolitan area earned 84 percent of what men made. Fortunately, that number seems to be going up. Two weeks ago, in conjunction with Equal Pay Day on April 4, the National Partnership for Women & Families reported that women in New York state earn 89 cents for every dollar that men are paid.
No doubt, New York has made great progress toward equal pay, particularly considering that, nationally, women are paid only 80 cents for every dollar that a man makes, and that only 15 years ago, women made 73 cents on the dollar. Still, more needs to be done to achieve true salary parity.
In an effort to help close the gender pay gap, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed two executive orders this year. The first, in January, prohibits state agencies from asking job candidates about their salary history, eliminating the possibility that candidates will be evaluated based on their prior salary. The second, which will take effect June 1, requires all state contractors and subcontractors to disclose data on their employees’ gender, race, ethnicity, job title and salary. This will allow the state to identify contractors who are paying women less for the same work that men do.
In an era when more women than men are enrolled in colleges and universities and earn degrees, why does the pay gap still exist? Research released last year by Stony Brook University management professor Julia Bear tells part of the story. Bear found that when two equally qualified male and female job candidates were considered for a job, employers were more likely to assume the male candidate was the family breadwinner, and offered him a significantly higher salary than the female candidate, who was more likely assumed to be in the traditional role of caregiver.
The persistent wage gap is often interpreted as clear evidence of this kind of gender discrimination, but there are other factors at work. According to the American Association of University Women, men may earn more because their job choices more often depend on their earning potential, and more women than men are happy with certain jobs that pay less. AAUW research also shows that women are disproportionately represented in education, office and administrative support positions, while more men work in construction, maintenance and repair, and production and transportation. Segregation by occupation is a major contributor to the gap, the AAUW’s 2017 “Behind the Pay Gap” report concludes.
Still, experts say, discrimination and bias are undoubtedly contributing factors, and the gender pay gap is widening in male-dominated careers like computer programming and financial services. According to the AAUW, women in financial services make only make 65 percent of the salary of their male counterparts, and those in computer programming earn only 81 percent of what men are paid.
In this season of college graduations, what do these statistics tell young women who have worked just as hard as, if not harder than, their male classmates, to prepare for careers?
Women need to learn how they can help eventually solve this problem. Since most employers have some latitude when it comes to salaries, negotiating skills are essential. Knowing what men make for the work they do, making clear what women bring to the table and emphasizing common goals are tactics that have been shown to be effective for women. And asking legislators and journalists to stay involved in the discussion of the gender pay gap can only help.
Companies must be made aware that paying women fairly is a legal and ethical necessity, and that it will only improve employee morale and, in the long run, their bottom lines. We encourage them to take the White House’s Equal Pay Pledge, and commit to equal pay for their employees. As of December 2016, more than 100 Fortune 500 companies had signed the pledge.
The public also needs to express its displeasure with President Trump’s executive order revoking the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order, which was signed by President Obama in 2014. It ensured that businesses that receive federal contracts do a better job of adhering to labor and civil rights laws.
What men and women make
Year Men Women
1960 $1 60 cents
1970 $1 59 cents
1980 $1 60 cents
1990 $1 71 cents
2000 $1 73 cents
2015 $1 80 cents
Source: The National Committee on Pay Equity