Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals
How can your organization overcome the gender pay gap and promote equal pay? It’s important first to understand the reasons that this gap exists. 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,” explains Kevin Miller, senior researcher at the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
Miller says that the primary factors that contribute to the gender pay gap are:
- 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.”
He notes that women who choose to enter male-dominated fields 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 employers to consider when setting salaries:
- Be transparent—Greater transparency in pay systems is associated with a smaller gender pay gap. By making salary ranges for job categories available, employers provide workers with information that helps them assess the fairness of their earnings. Transparency in pay scales increases a sense of fairness among workers, which can improve performance and morale.
- Look externally—Research comparable positions to ensure the salary offered is at a fair market value for the geographic area.
- Then look internally—Create a fair workplace by assessing the pay gap in your organization and taking steps to address any gender pay differences you find.
- Remove influencers—Avoid requesting salary history during the hiring process. Requesting this history might cause your organization to base its offers on previous salaries and not on the position.
For more information about the gender pay gap, see The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap.