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Yes, the Gender Pay Gap Is Real, and No, It’s Not Women’s Fault

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Women don’t ask, so they don’t get. Or: women should wait their turn, and let karma sort it out. Or: women choose low-paying jobs, and/or work fewer hours, so they shouldn’t expect to be paid as much as a man. There’s just one problem with all of these explanations for why the gender pay gap isn’t real, or at least, isn’t really an issue that needs solving: they’re all nonsense.

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(Photo Credit: Tim Marshall/Unsplash)

Let’s take ’em one by one.

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1. Women don’t ask for raises and promotions, so they don’t get them.

“There’s a lot of research that has inadvertently fueled this myth,” writes Elizabeth Weingarten in PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide. “It’s true, for instance, that women tend to be more reluctant to negotiate salaries than men … that they endure a higher social cost when they do negotiate … and even they often receive less money than men when they do ask for a raise.”

What’s not true, Weingarten says, is that women are bad negotiators or somehow less interested in being compensated for their work than men. In fact, women may be reluctant to ask for more money precisely because they (correctly) calculate that there will be a social penalty for speaking up. Research shows that women who negotiate their starting salaries see a penalty that’s more than five times that of men’s.

In short, as Joan Williams elegantly puts it in her article for The Huffington Post, “women don’t negotiate because they’re not idiots.”

2. Women should wait for karma to sort it out.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella backpedaled from his assertion, delivered at the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (!), that women should “have faith that the system will give you the right raise.” But his original statement is worth discussing, because it expresses what so many seem to covertly believe about non-male, non-white workers who are wondering when it’s their turn: just wait, and eventually, it’ll be your time to get paid fairly.

Here’s the problem with that: you’d have to wait a long, long, loooong time for that equitable payday. At the rate the gender pay gap is closing, for example, women will have equal pay in approximately 118 years.

3. Women choose low-paying jobs.

This is a popular explanation for why the pay gap is really a wage gap and the wage gap is really no problem: women work at lower-paying jobs and work fewer hours than men.

While it’s true that women do dominate lower-paying jobs in support roles and men dominate higher-paying professional and executive jobs, it’s also true that professions that are female-dominated tend to pay less … simply because these professions are female-dominated. For evidence, see Occupational Feminization and Pay: Assessing Causal Dynamics Using 1950–2000 U.S. Census Data, which examines census data and finds that pay declines as women dominate a profession. Computer programming, for example, became higher paying precisely when men took over the field.

As for hours worked, PayScale’s report, Inside the Gender Pay Gap, found that there is indeed a pay penalty for married women with children – but the penalty persists even when they report never prioritizing family over work. In other words, the pay penalty is because of bias, not their own actions:

What’s the real solution? Awareness and action, on the part of workers of both sexes and employers in all industries. If we can be alert to the possibility that our own unconscious bias is making us devalue women’s labor and discriminate against them when they ask for the salary and opportunity they deserve, perhaps we can begin to close the gap – today, not a century from now.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you experienced the gender pay gap firsthand? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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