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How the Gender Pay Gap Works


Narrowing the Gender Pay Gap
U.S. President Barack Obama stands with Lilly Ledbetter on the seventh anniversary of the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, at the White House, Jan. 29, 2016.
U.S. President Barack Obama stands with Lilly Ledbetter on the seventh anniversary of the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, at the White House, Jan. 29, 2016.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

One of the reasons the gender pay gap continues to exist is that many women have no idea they're receiving discriminatory pay. If you're a woman and don't know that you're being paid less than the guy one cubicle over who has the same experience as you and is performing the same job, then how can you ask for fair treatment? Experts say the way to combat this is to start discussing salaries with your coworkers, family and friends. Unfortunately, many Americans, especially mid-level employees at private corporations, where salaries aren't public information, shy away from talking about their wages [sources: Narrow the Gapp, Wolgemuth].

In some countries, people are much more open about their salaries. But in the U.S., too often income is linked with success and self-worth. Thus, people with low incomes are embarrassed to disclose that fact, while many rich folks decline to say anything out of guilt or fear of resentment.

In May 2015, Lauren Voswinkel created the hashtag #talkpay and encouraged people to tweet their job titles, experience levels and salaries to help combat wage discrimination. Shortly after that, the Twitter handle @talkpay_anon debuted, which lets people post to #talkpay anonymously. A quick read of the #talkpay tweets reveals a wide variety of income information, plus ideas on ways in which women can boost their bottom line, such as negotiating pay increases. (Some critics of the gender wage gap theory say part of the reason for it is that men are better salary negotiators) [source: Fleming]. Websites have also popped up that let you compare your salary with that of others, such as Comparably and PayScale.

A February 2016 survey by jobs and recruiting site GlassDoor shows 39 percent of American employees working at a company with a gender pay gap think the government should enact legislation requiring equality. California has already done so, first requiring businesses to pay people the same wage if they're performing the same job, and in January 2016 strengthening that law by requiring equal pay for people doing "substantially similar work" [source: Isidore].

President Barack Obama also signed an executive order in 2014 barring federal contractors from punishing employees who compared their salaries, plus a presidential memorandum requiring those same contractors to submit employee compensation data (e.g., pay, sex, race) so the government can see if there's any wage discrimination going on [sources: Kahn, The White House, Domonoske].

Hopefully, all of these actions will pay off. Because if the gender pay gap continues closing at the same glacial rate, it will be around 2058 before parity is finally reached [source: Narrow the Gapp].


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