How the Gender Pay Gap Works

By: Melanie Radzicki McManus  | 

Narrowing the Gender Pay Gap

Barack Obama, Lilly Ledbetter
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 2020 survey by Glassdoor showed 70 percent of working adults across seven countries believe that men and women should be paid equally for equal work. California has a law requiring businesses to pay people the same wage for doing "substantially similar work" regardless of job titles [source: Isidore]. California also passed a law in 2018 that prohibits employers from asking prospective employees about past or current salaries. This was already enacted in some other states as well [source: HR Dive].

In 2014, then-President Barack Obama also signed an executive order 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].

Author's Note: How the Gender Pay Gap Works

Gender pay gaps are interesting. As someone who is self-employed, it's hard to compare my earnings with another writer because our jobs are typically so different. I choose to write for consumer media and not so much for corporations, where the pay is better. I supplement my writing with editing jobs and proofreading; others add speaking and teaching to pad their bottom line. But here's one interesting thing. The freelance writing field is heavily dominated by women. Yet many of the top-paying, most prestigious publications routinely assign their most desirable features to men. An editor at one of these magazines said he was not biased toward men at all. Rather, more male writers were submitting lead-feature ideas than women. In his opinion, women writers were just as skilled as men, but more intimidated to query his magazine. There is likely some truth to that. However, after decades of working in this field and hearing and observing writer-editor interactions, there is definitely some measure of bias against women, at least among some editors and at certain publications.

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More Great Links
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