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In my lifetime, I can’t count the number of times I’ve felt underrepresented in different settings - both because I’m a woman and a minority. Unfortunately, when it comes to pay disparity, women and minorities are overrepresented. I saw this firsthand during my corporate career, and like so many other female entrepreneurs, I struggled to secure financing for my own business when starting Partake.
This issue was pushed to the forefront this week as American leaders in government and business also acknowledged the gender pay gap on Equal Pay Day – which landed on March 31.
Equal Pay Day started in 1996 to highlight the pay gap that exists between men and women. It always falls on a Tuesday during the spring. Tuesday, because women must work until then to earn what men earn during the previous week. Spring, because that’s how long it takes for women to catch up to men’s salaries from the previous year.
During a crisis like COVID-19, it is more important than ever to reflect on the importance of equal pay in the workplace. Consider all of the women working on the front lines in the medical community, continuing to show up for other essential roles, or struggling to balance their children’s remote learning with fulfilling their professional responsibilities at home.
Then there are countless other women who have been laid-off from low-paying jobs disproportionately filled by women such as child care providers, house cleaners, and nail salon workers.
As Sheryl Sandberg said: “When women earn less, they are less protected during an economic crisis like this one.”
Equal Pay Day Varies by Race
Women, on average, earn 82 cents to the dollar compared to men. This pay gap becomes even more stark when it comes to women of color. Equal Pay Day breaks down differently for the following groups when compared to all U.S. men:
- February 11 - Asian American women (90 cents)
- August 13 - Black women (62 cents)
- October 1 - Native American women (57 cents)
- October 29 - Latina women (54 cents)
When comparing parents, working moms earn 70 cents for every dollar working dads make in the United States, making Equal Pay Day on June 4.
These numbers equate to a $400,000 loss over a 40-year career, and for Black, Latina and Native American women, at least $1 million lost.
What Are The Drivers?
The drivers behind the gender pay gap vary, according to the AAUW (American Association of University Women). Occupational segregation, bias against working mothers, racial bias and age all factor into the equation.
Even Educated Women of Color Suffer
It’s often cited that as more women achieve higher levels of education, the gap narrows. While this has enabled progress by helping women get into positions normally dominated by men, there is still a notable disparity. A study published by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that on average, Black women with bachelor’s degrees earned less than White men with associate’s degrees. What’s more, the gap between average salaries of White men with a master’s degree or higher ($124,000) compared to that of Black women with advanced degrees ($69,000) shows a loss of $55,000 per year.
Women Aren't to Blame
Other arguments refuting the significance of the gender pay gap pertain to women’s negotiating skills, career choices, and the circumstances that surround childbirth. It is widely known that a significant decrease in wages occurs after having children (aka the “motherhood penalty”) and the amount of paid maternity leave is generally lacking in many parts of the country. Even if men want to take greater time off after the birth of a child, the reality is they will get very little, if any of it paid. The workplace is still structured as if men are the primary breadwinners, despite the fact that the workplace is over 50% women. That’s why when comparing women and men’s salaries within the same profession, women still regularly come up short.
Secrecy Keeps the System in Place
The practice of keeping salaries confidential is another factor contributing to the wage gap. In many cases, women don’t even know they are being underpaid. Now, women like Lizzie Kardon, content head at Pagely, are taking this into their own hands by openly sharing their salaries. Lizzie built a public Google spreadsheet asking women in technology to share their positions and salaries, plus any other perks their job provided. The doc, named the Salary Transparency Project, soon went viral. This is one of several crowdsourcing initiatives popping up across multiple industries, giving women greater negotiating strength by knowing their worth.
How I Approach The Pay Gap
Having worked in corporate environments for 15 years before later running my own business, I am well aware of the gender pay gap. Now as the CEO of Partake Foods, I have to consider what that means as a business leader while my company continues to grow. I wrote last month on International Women’s Day that the best thing each of us can do is find ways to individually lift up those around us. My team consists of a number of bright women – some who are mothers – who work atypical schedules. I acknowledge and support their choices to prioritize their families. I base my judgments on the quality of their work, not their ability to work during particular times of the day.
As schools temporarily shut down across the country, many companies are choosing to allow more flexible work arrangements so employees can tend to their children without penalty. Think about the opportunities it would create for women if these companies found a way to incorporate this into their ongoing work culture. (Not to mention how it would enable recruitment and retention of talent for the companies.)
Aside from workplace flexibility, there’s also opportunities to provide more impactful mentorship that can carry significant weight in advancing women’s careers. I make it a priority to seek out mentorship opportunities with young women when I see potential, because I know how it can make a difference.
While the gap still has a way to go before closing, it has narrowed much more than my mother’s generation. By the time my daughter Vivienne is working, it will have hopefully closed altogether. Together, we can continue to chip away at the gender pay gap, making Equal Pay Day a thing of the past.