Leaders often assume that the main reason women in their 20s and 30s quit their jobs is because they are having children and opting to “lean out.” In fact, a recent global study shows, women leave for the same reason men do: they want more money. The truth is that young women simply aren’t being paid as much or promoted to top jobs at the same rate as their male colleagues. So why do so many employers assume that women quit because of family, instead of finances?
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At a time in their careers when they should be moving up the ladder and taking on more responsibilities – and earning the compensation to match – it makes sense to quit if they don’t get what they deserve. Here, we bust a few of the myths surrounding why women leave their jobs, and how the pay gap has a very real effect on the careers of female employees.
Myth 1: Women Are Paid Less Because They Start Families
A common assertion is that once women start having children, particularly if they are the primary caregivers, they opt to cut their hours and forgo the salaries or promotions they would otherwise have been granted. This isn’t necessarily an explanation for why women earn less, though. Even when women never prioritize family over career, they can end up being paid less.
According to PayScale’s report, Inside the Gender Pay Gap, married women with children who report never prioritizing family over work earn 2.2 percent less than men in similar jobs. In fact, the pay gap is zero only when we compare only single, childless men and women in similar jobs who report never prioritizing family over work. In other words, women don’t need to actually take time off in order to suffer a pay penalty; the stereotype that women are more likely to let their work suffer and prioritize family is having a harmful effect on their earning power.
Myth 2: Women Are Paid Less Because They Choose Less Lucrative Work
The gender pay gap is often dismissed on the grounds that women supposedly choose careers with less earning potential than others. At first glance, PayScale’s data seems to bear this out. Women are, by and large, more likely to have low-paying job titles than men. They’re more likely to in support roles and less likely to be executives, for example.
But a recent study discussed by The Upshot indicated that cause and effect could be the other way around: when women start to dominate an industry, the average pay for those positions falls in response. Between 1950 and 2000, the recreation field’s median wages fell by 57 percent, for example. This coincided with its employee base becoming predominantly female. The gender bias that forms as an industry attracts more women, means that they don’t earn what men used to for doing the very same type of work.
Myth 3: Women Are Paid Less Because They Don’t Want to Be Leaders
In a post-Lean In world, you might think that there are few women at the top of organizations and in positions of leadership simply because they’re not advocating for themselves and playing the game right to get those promotions. It’s not that simple, though, and this isn’t an issue that individual women should be expected to address and fix by themselves.
Even when women get into these roles, they aren’t compensated like men. PayScale’s report highlights the widening gap at the top: at the executive level, the controlled gender gap – accounting for similar levels of education, experience, etc. – is at 6.1 percent. So while men are disproportionately represented in leadership positions, even when women do rise to the top, they’re not being compensated equally for their skills and experience.
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