I’ve been reading many articles and seeing various reports in which so-called “experts” assert that the gender pay gap is a myth. This is a commonly repeated theme, and it seems that those who purvey this falsehood believe that if they keep promoting it, it will eventually become true. Unfortunately for them, there is ample bi-partisan research that validates that the gender pay gap is, indeed, a very real thing.
Although women represent slightly more than half of the workforce, we are paid at around 22% less than our male peers for doing the same job. This means that beginning in January of each year, a woman essentially works for free until April 4. That’s 22% into the calendar year. This is appalling. If you are reading this blog, I assume that you live in the real world, and understand that the wage gap exists; in fact, you are likely to be personally affected by it. So my purpose here is not to change minds or attitudes, but to try to understand why this lie is being perpetuated.
Skeptics generally reach for one of the following when dismissing the reality of the pay gap:
Myth: Women choose lower-paying positions than men do.
Fact: Women are paid less than men in every single profession. Professions which are dominated by women, such as elder and child care or teaching suffer from suppressed wages.
Myth: Women should go to school and gain the skills and education they need to be competitive.
Fact: Women are paid less than men at every level of education. In fact, the more education women get, the more pronounced the pay gap becomes. Over five years, women with professional degrees earn less and less than male counterparts. This disparity is most noticeable in high paying fields such as investment banking, law, and specialized medicine.
Myth: Women don’t negotiate for higher pay.
Fact: Male managers are less likely to hire a woman who does try to negotiate her compensation package. Why? Because they fear that she will be “difficult” to work with. Contrast this with the perception of a man who is a strong negotiator—he is assertive, direct, and gets things done.
Myth: Women earn less because they take time off to care for children.
Fact: The lack of mandatory paid family leave in the US is a real problem. However, even women who do not take protracted unpaid leave, or who do not voluntarily remove themselves from the workforce often find themselves on the mommy track.
The sad reality here is that none of these facts are going to do anything to convince those who believe that the pay gap is nothing more than a woman-made conspiracy theory. They will continue to purport that women’s choices, rather than discrimination, cause the disparity. However, lack of parental leave, social norms, and family finances all impact personal decisions about work, making the idea of “choice” problematic. The conclusion is that the gender pay gap is actually more insidious than it seems on the surface. It is itself a symptom of a culture which, despite lip service, continues to undervalue and dismiss women out of hand.