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What College Students Need to Know About the Gender Pay Gap

Before I was aware of the gender wage gap, I thought – as any rational person would – that employees would be paid the same for their same quality of work regardless of gender. But alas, this is not the case. The reality is, at least for a few years, the gender pay gap is here to stay. So that invites the question: as a young woman looking to enter the workforce in a few years, what should I do about the gender pay gap?

Before I was aware of the gender wage gap, I thought – as any rational person would – that employees would be paid the same for their same quality of work regardless of gender. But alas, this is not the case. The reality is, at least for a few years, the gender pay gap is here to stay. So that invites the question: as a young woman looking to enter the workforce in a few years, what should I do about the gender pay gap?

women and money

(Photo Credit: JD Hancock/Flickr)

“[The wage gap is] obviously relevant to me. I’m Asian and a woman. [I’m] not quite sure if the statistic of 70-something cents to a 1 dollar is exactly accurate though, because I’ve heard that a lot of wage gap studies don’t account for the fact that women generally have fewer positions of power and that’s why on average they make less,” said Emily Wang, 18, a Claremont McKenna student .

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Wang brings up an important point: the “77 cents to 1 dollar” statistic used in many gender pay gap arguments isn’t a useful measure of the problem, because it doesn’t adjust for variables like race, education, geographic location, and more. According to Payscale’s report, The Gender Pay Gap Is Real, women make 2.7 percent less than men do, or 97 cents to the dollar, controlling for confounding factors such as years of experience, education, company size, management responsibilities, etc. (If we’re thinking strictly in terms of binary gender for simplicity sake; discussing non-binary identities would require a whole new set of data.) It’s even worse if you look at the uncontrolled data: according to PayScale’s data, women earn 25.6 percent less than men, or just 74 cents to the dollar.

Tech: The Unexpected Champion of Pay Equity?

But for me, that 2.7 percent still isn’t the most helpful statistic, since it includes professions in a variety of fields. Though I am young and my career path is guaranteed to change at least a few times before I enter the workforce, I don’t particularly have an interest in retail, agriculture, and a lot of other fields included in this 2.7 percent. As I looked through the report’s individual industry discrepancies, I was disappointed but unsurprised to find that in every single field of work, women were underpaid in comparison to their male colleagues, with the biggest gap in Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction at 5.4 percent — and these numbers don’t even account for race.

However, there was some good news for me and other young women who plan to go into tech. Despite the fact that the industry is famous for employing fewer women than men (in 2013, only 26 percent of tech jobs were held by women), tech companies showed the smallest discrepancy in pay between genders at only 1.4 percent. With companies like Slack doing work to uncover subtle biases against minorities, including women when hiring, tech seems like one of the best industries to be in if you identify as a lady.

But did I consider tech originally because I wanted to have the least gender-affected salary? Well, no. Although aware of the wage gap, a lot of young woman don’t make decisions about their career paths based on it.

“I feel that instead of looking for something with the smallest gap, you should find something you genuinely like or something you’re really good at because the money you get from a smaller gap [isn’t worth as much as] the money you get from doing something you like rather than something just for the sake of,” said Gwen, a Swarthmore college student.

And I can’t help but agree. To me, making a choice of career based on sexist practices is to be complacent with that sexism. Instead, as a woman entering the workforce in a few years, I hope to become more active in combating this type of sexism by asking my male co-workers how much they make without stuttering. In short, my goals aren’t affected by the wage gap, because as a young woman, I know better than to be quiet like I’ve been told.

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