The Gender Pay Gap Is Real, You Just Don’t Know What It Is | Vol. 4 / No. 19.3

Image: International Women’s Day

Dear Women: this post is for you, but it’s not for you to read (mainly because it’s nothing you don’t already know). Consider it a resource for certain men you may know. Specifically, the (mostly straight, cis) ones who call the Gender Pay Gap a “myth.”


For this International Women’s Day, while many women in America are participating in the “Day Without A Woman” protest (if they can afford to take the day off, that is), I thought I would take a moment to make a resource for women. This post is so the women of America can take a day off — if not from work, then at least from explaining to men that the Gender Pay Gap is real.

Dear Men: The Gender Pay Gap is real. If you think it’s a “myth,” that’s because you probably don’t understand what it is. Let me help with that.

According to the ACLU, “the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2013, [recorded that] women who worked full time earned, on average, only 78 cents for every dollar men earned. The figures are even worse for women of color. African American women earned only approximately 64 cents and Latinas only 56 cents for each dollar earned by a white male.

Many conservatives and men (and men who are conservatives) mistakenly believe this is a claim about women and men making less for doing the same job. While that’s a component of it, it’s not the whole picture at all.

Yes, women are often paid less than men for the same work.

Not “78 (now 79, or 64 or 56) cents on the dollar” less, but on average less than men, especially in the higher-paying professions. In 2014, female CEOs were paid 70% of what male CEOs were, female lawyers 83% of what male lawyers were, female physicians and surgeons 72.2% of their male counterparts (and so on).

There are a lot of reasons for this. Women are often punished for showing ambition, and so subsumed in the culture of “women being nice” that they don’t, like many men do (including myself) push for things like higher pay during salary negotiations. This is a problem that is further compounded by the practice of employers asking what you made in a previous job — if women make less in their first job, they’ll be paid less in the next job, too. It’s a vicious cycle.

If you want to help with this aspect of it, a good start would be to speak out for the interests of the women in your life whenever you can, and to gently encourage them to be more outspoken for their own interests — don’t just tell them to do it (that’s what they mean by ‘mansplaining’), but do let them know that you’ve got their back. Be visibly annoyed with men you work with who might brag about saving the company money by giving a new female hire a less-than-equitable salary (i.e. “You did not get a “deal,” you used institutionalized sexism to cheat your new female employee”). Be visibly annoyed with men you work with who respect men for being outspoken and forward, but call women who act the same way “shrill,” “catty,” or “a b**ch.” Be outspoken about treating men and women equally.

Another thing that would be really, really good in this regard would be to push your company to make wages transparent. Getting paid shouldn’t be about secret negotiations, it should be about what the work is worth. If you think you’re paid the right amount for your job, then you should think a woman hired to do the same job as you should be paid that too. And she can’t be paid that if she’s not allowed to know what you think a fair wage for the job is — so don’t let your employer keep that a secret.

Lastly, you can support legislation like the law passed last year in Massachusetts that forbids employers from asking what you make in your current or previous jobs. They should pay you what they think the job is worth, not what they think they can get away with based on what you used to make in your last one.

These are things you can do to help women get Equal Pay for Equal Work, as the saying goes.

But that’s not all of the Gender Pay Gap. Not by a mile.

One of the biggest problems — the reason why, per hour worked in the US, women make so much less than men — is this:

We don’t value the kind of work women do as highly as the kind of work men do.

There are many sectors of the economy that are “women-dominated.” The US Department of Labor says the three jobs that employ the most women in the US are “secretaries and administrative assistants,” “elementary and middle school teachers,” and “registered nurses.” Those jobs pay an average salary of $30,060 (@$15.03/hr x 40hr/wk x 50wk/yr), $43,533, and $56,780 (@$28.39/hr) respectively. Meanwhile some of the most male-dominated jobs are things like carpenter, general (operations) manager, and programmer/software engineer, which pay on average $38,980 (@$19.49/hr), $60,154, and $80,745, respectively.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t men who are underpaid. OF COURSE there are men who are underpaid. A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE UNDERPAID IN AMERICA.

But women tend to work in less well-paying professions than their male counterparts.

How can we men help on this front? It starts young. Change the way you talk about jobs, and don’t assume that men and women have specific kinds of jobs they can and can’t do. If you know any young women, encourage them to look at careers in STEM fields before they get told those jobs aren’t for them. Encourage them to become doctors and lawyers and programmers and rocket scientists. Tell them that if they want to be carpenters, they can. And to the same effect, tell young men they can be nurses and elementary school teachers, too. The first step is destroying the idea of “men’s work” and “women’s work” in the first place.

And, of course, none of this even begins to count the least-paid “women’s” profession of all: child-rearing.

The final part of the Gender Pay Gap (at least the final part I’ll talk about today) is that there aren’t enough protections for women who work and have children. Say what you will about whether having children is a choice, in a male/female relationship, women are disproportionately penalized for having children.

Men can have children without repercussions. We aren’t expected to take time off to help, and if we do, we’re more likely to be praised for it. We’re “family men,” and our commitment to our families is considered laudable. But also: we don’t carry the kid, we don’t breastfeed the kid, and we aren’t automatically assumed to no longer be interested in our careers if we have kids.

Women, on the other hand, regularly face employment discrimination for having children. And like asking for your previous salary, it’s cyclical: if it costs more than a woman’s salary to keep a child in daycare, and if she (as is so very often the case) is paid less than her husband, then de facto the choice has been made for that couple. They haven’t made it themselves, it has been forced upon them by a system that rewards men for working and penalizes women for doing the same.

How can you help on this front? Well, you can agitate for parental leave policies, either with your local government officials or with your employers and coworkers. Remember: nothing says “we appreciate our employees” like paying part of the cost of daycare so mothers can go back to work sooner. If that’s too much, you can start by just complaining to your buddies that you can’t stay home with your kids, or that your wife has to give up her job — you can de-normalize the inherent sexism of building a family.

You could even take the hit and take a break from your profession for a year while your wife returns to work — it may hurt your career, but it won’t hurt yours as much as it’ll hurt your wife’s. Imagine the job interview when you return to the workforce: “Why did you not work for the past twelve months?” “I took a year off out of commitment to my wife and family, and now that we’ve arranged childcare I’m returning to the workforce.” Sure sounds a lot less like “I wanted to stay home and play house with the cutesy baby” coming out of a man’s mouth, doesn’t it? — That’s how sexism works. So use it to your (and your partner’s) benefit.

These are just three ways institutionalized sexism contributes to the Gender Pay Gap. It’s real, it’s multifaceted, and, most importantly, there are things we men can do to change it.

So get out there and do it.

And have a happy International Women’s Day.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.