Why is there still a gender pay gap?

In the U.S., a basic tenet of the culture is that we live in a land of opportunity. With that opportunity comes the assumption of fairness. That if you work hard, you will be rewarded for that work. And one of the basic assumptions is that if you do the same work as another person and do it as well, you should be equally well compensated.

In 1963, many women still stayed at home, as their husbands went to work. But even then, there were enough women in the workforce that Congress passed and President Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act. This federal law is designed to ensure that men and women who perform the same tasks at work receive the same pay.

And yet, today, more than 50 years later, the gap remains. It is not just present when comparing the aggregate of all salaries of men and women. It can be found in virtually every workplace, even when “objective” factors, such as education, hours worked, age and race are accounted for. The New York Times reports that studies still show even in the medical profession, among doctors and surgeons, women only make 71 percent of men’s earnings.

There are still some men who believe women do not deserve equal pay, but they are becoming rarer. Much of the wage discrimination that occurs may be unconscious. It is not part of an organized scheme to discriminate against women, but instead is a result of unconscious bias and doing things because that is how they always have been done.

One large accounting firm found that when men were passed over for partnership, they often threatened to leave, which resulted in their receiving “retention bonuses” to keep them with the firm. Women, instead of threatening to leave, worked harder to make partner. And they did not receive these bonuses.

Unconscious behavior can often be altered when one pays closer attention to a problem. One writer suggests that publishing the pay gap for companies would make it more apparent to all and she points to the accounting firm that voluntarily did so has managed to make improvements in closing that gap.

Human behavior often makes change appear more difficult that it actually may be, but transparency is a good way in which to facilitate that change. For women in the workplace, that change cannot come too soon.

Source: newyorktimes.com, “Let’s Expose the Gender Pay Gap,” Joanne Lipman, August 13, 2015

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