Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
It’s almost a certainty that female college students going through the career exploration and hiring processes will encounter the gender pay gap.
“There is no silver bullet choice of college major or professional field where the gender pay gap does not exist,” says Kevin Miller, senior researcher at the American Association of University Women (AAUW). “It exists across essentially all occupations in any given year.”
More disturbing is the fact that the gender pay gap is actually larger for college graduates and those with advanced degrees than among workers without college degrees.
“A college degree does usually lead to higher earnings,” Miller notes, “but women who graduate from college are still employed in a work force where discrimination and other factors result in a gap with men.”
The gender pay gap is a multifaceted problem, with many factors contributing. The gender pay gap statistic most frequently cited—that women earn 79 percent of what men do, among full-time year-round workers—is a summary of the impact of all of these factors on American women in the work force, Miller explains.
He points to several of the primary factors that contribute to the gender pay gap, such as:
- Discrimination—This means paying women less than a man would be paid in the same job or for the same work. Each year, there are thousands of cases of gender pay discrimination settled or decided by the EEOC in favor of the complainant, Miller says, and of course, most people who experience pay discrimination either don't know that it has occurred or do not pursue complaints with the EEOC.
- Family responsibilities—Women are disproportionately impacted by burdens imposed by family caregiving responsibilities. Women are more likely than men to take time out of the work force for family reasons, and these interruptions hurt the advancement of their careers and earnings.
- Educational and career choices—Men and women earn degrees in different fields, and work in different jobs. Certain types of college degrees or majors put graduates in a position to make more money than they would with a different degree, and some jobs pay much more than others. Engineering and computer sciences are educational fields where women are still underrepresented, and they are some of the highest-earning bachelor's degrees.
“It's important to point out, though, that educational and career choices are influenced by gender norms,” Miller points out. “Ninety-seven percent of child care workers are women and 96 percent of truck drivers are men, and truck drivers make significantly more than child care workers, on average.”
Women who choose to enter male-dominated fields do tend to earn more.
“But research also shows that when women enter a field in large numbers, average pay—even for men—drops as the field is perceived to be less prestigious,” Miller says.
He explains that the factors above are tied up with gender norms and roles that change over time, but that change happens slowly. And these factors don’t account for all of the gap.
Social scientists—including the staff of AAUW—have attempted to estimate the contributions of the specific factors above to the gender pay gap. Miller explains that when statistically controlling for all of the factors that are typically included in economic or educational surveys—age, race, education level of one's parents, college major, industry, occupation, and so on—there remains some gap that is still associated with gender.
“This is what some refer to as the ‘unexplained’ gender pay gap, which some believe is the result of discrimination,” Miller says. “The estimates of this gap are smaller than the total gender pay gap, but are still significant. Among college graduates, AAUW estimates that, one year after college graduation, after controlling for numerous variables, women are still paid 7 percent less than similar men.”
Sarah Spencer, AAUW program associate, offers some recommendations for career services practitioners to incorporate when counseling students about navigating the hiring process:
- Teach students to know their value—Teaching students to identify their most valuable attributes and how to relate them to the jobs they seek will help them become confident, strong negotiators. Encourage students to look at their own resumes, highlighting accomplishments, skills, and work experience that demonstrate their value.
- Have them benchmark their salary and benefits—Encourage students to approach their job search and negotiation preparation similar to the way they would a research project. Grounding their negotiation in objective research is essential to asking for and attaining a fair and equitable salary and benefits package. When preparing for a salary negotiation, the student should make sure to base her target salary on objective research of the market rate for the position and geographic area. This will ensure the student knows what is fair and doesn’t unknowingly accept a low salary.
- Urge students to know their strategy—It is important to teach students not only to be objective, but to also be persuasive and strategic when negotiating. Students should do their best to avoid discussing salary or negotiating until after they have been offered the job.
- Teach them to deflect questions about salary history and salary requirements—Avoiding questions about salary history ensures an employer’s salary offer will be based on the position and not the student’s previous compensation. Deflecting questions about salary requirements puts the student in a stronger position once she has received an offer and it’s time to negotiate. If at all possible, the student should try to get a potential employer to name a number first. The negotiation should be based on a fair salary given the student’s experience and qualifications, and the responsibilities of the job.
- Encourage students to practice—Negotiation skills will not improve without practice. Encouraging students to prepare and practice responses to deflect questions about salary requirement and history will help them navigate those trickier parts of negotiating. With each practice session, students can improve their abilities to be objective, persuasive, and strategic. The more they practice with others, the more assistance they can provide with positive and constructive feedback to improve their verbal and body language. Encourage your students to practice their prepared pitches with their roommates, friends, or career service practitioners to hone their skills and confidence.
In addition to these recommendations, AAUW offers several resources to help you and your students learn about and address the gender pay gap, including an annual research report titled The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap and salary negotiation workshops.