By Kaitlyn DiSalvio
The gender wage gap is something that affects many women on a daily basis. It doesn’t seem fair that some women get paid less than men for doing the same job. But why does that happen? The first step to solving the problem is to learn the basics: the who, what, where, when, and why of the gender wage gap.
The gender wage gap is defined as the difference between women and men’s yearly salaries. On average, a woman makes $0.82 for every $1.00 a man makes, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This may not seem so bad, but if you look at it in a different context, a woman working full time, year round earns about $10,194 less than her male counterpart, and if this wage gap were to remain unchanged, she would earn about $407,760 less than a man over the course of a 40-year career. These gaps are even larger for minority groups: Black women are at risk of losing $941,600 in wages over a 40-year career, while Native American women and Latinas are at risk of losing over $1 million.
I’m sure you have heard of Equal Pay Day as some day in March. If you haven’t, it symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year, but technically, there is more than one equal pay day. This year, Equal Pay Day was March 24th, but that is only for women who work full time and year round. Mother’s Equal Pay Day is May 5th, as mothers are paid $0.70 for every $1.00 paid to fathers. Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is August 3rd, receiving $0.63 for every dollar a white man makes. Native American Women’s Equal Pay Day is September 8th, and Latina’s Equal Pay Day is October 21st, meaning that it takes them almost a whole year to earn the same as what white men earned the previous year.
There are many causes of the gender wage gap, including willingness to negotiate salaries, education, experience, and childcare, but the biggest reason for the gap is much simpler: plain old gender discrimination. Studies have shown that a woman is more likely to get a job if her gender is unknown than when it is known. While some jobs guarantee the same salary for all workers no matter what your gender is, other jobs, like jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), doctors, lawyers, and accountants have very large wage gaps. This is because of the idea that some jobs are for women and some jobs are considered a “man’s job.” Women who wish to work in STEM jobs are less likely to get them, simply because of gender discrimination, and if they do get them, they will most likely not be treated the same as the men. When I sent out a questionnaire to local women and asked them if they had faced gender discrimination, one woman in engineering said, “… at two previous jobs I felt like I wasn’t heard or I was passed up because I was young and a female in the engineering world. It has been frustrating and discouraging and I have felt like quitting my career because of it on multiple occasions. It has felt like, ‘what’s the point? It’s the 21st century and I still am fighting this….why go through the pain?’” This woman is not alone in feeling this way. Many other women said that they don’t speak up about gender discrimination in their workplace because they don’t want people to think of them as “bossy”, however, men who speak up in the workplace are less likely to be seen that way. In order to close the gender wage gap, we as a society need to normalize women speaking up when they feel that they are treated unfairly, and men need to take the time to listen to womens’ issues in the workplace.
If you look back at the history of the gender wage gap, you would see that one of the original causes of the gap was the fact that men wouldn’t hire women because they assumed that women would leave their jobs after a few years to start a family. This goes way back to the 1960s and the Women’s Liberation Movement, but unfortunately, this is still something that happens today. An anonymous teacher told me how she experienced this at the beginning of her career. She said, “Although I substituted in the position for a year, a man was hired instead because they did not want to take a chance on a ‘young woman getting pregnant and leaving.’” The thing is, most women want to go back to work after having a baby. They not only want to, but they also need to in order to take care of their family. According to the International Labor Organization, only 17% of women have access to paid maternity leave, so one can only imagine how many mothers are dying to go back to work. Back in the 60s, women would say they were forced into “dead-end jobs”, and they felt like there was a “glass ceiling” above them, meaning there were invisible barriers preventing them from moving up in their jobs. These invisible barriers are still affecting women today, and it is these “glass ceilings” that cause many women to be held back from becoming as successful as a man.
Sexism in the workplace is something that has been around forever, and you would think by now this wouldn’t be an issue, but if you did think that, you could not be more wrong. It seems that men are surprised to hear that women don’t feel that they are treated the same in the workplace, and this is something that needs to be addressed in order to make change. An anonymous senior manager told me, “The women in my group are always doing secretarial tasks such as writing emails and making reports. I brought it up in a group meeting and the men were surprised to realize this was true.” She continued to tell me how she was in a meeting where a man continually talked over the female leading the meeting but was courteous and professional to the men. She said, “I did speak up in the meeting and brought it up to my boss. He thought no one spoke up in the meeting because it would embarrass the man.” What about the embarrassment that the woman must have felt during that meeting? Women feel embarrassed everyday when they are looked down upon by men, so if you are so concerned about making a man feel embarrassed, you should feel the same way about the women.
This mindset that many men have is one of the reasons that the gender wage gap exists. Women are looked down upon and seen as less than men, and this results in less women in high positions, aka positions that pay more. A Regional Director of Operations told me, “I am expected to be the keeper of meeting notes and other administrative duties although that isn’t my job. Everyone just says it’s because ‘I’m good at that.’” When she commented about this, the men tried to turn it around on her and said she was being “too sensitive.” This is a perfect example of why so many women don’t speak up in the workplace, and that results in no change being made. So please, even if you think it will go nowhere, saying something is better than staying silent. If enough women use their voice to fight against sexism in the workplace, we will be one step closer to closing the gender wage gap once and for all. And to all the men reading this: those stereotypes about women being “sensitive” and “emotional” are so old and outdated, and if you still believe that women aren’t as good as men, you need to go online or turn on the news to see how many powerful, strong, smart women there are, who are constantly proving that women can do anything men can do.
Out of all the women who took my survey, 58% of them said they work in a female dominated workplace, and 41% said they do not feel that the women are treated the same as the men. This could be due to the fact that some female dominated workplaces favor men in order to maintain or create diversity, however, that is no excuse to belittle the women who work just as hard. While this issue is something that mainly affects women, they alone won’t be able to make much change. Making everyone aware that this problem exists is the first step to solving it, and if you are one of the people who thought gender discrimination does not still happen today, I hope this editorial opened your eyes to see the way females are treated in today’s society, and also changed your mindset on how women should be treated in the workplace. The gender wage gap cannot be closed without both women and men fighting for change, and maybe, if we all work together, we can eventually make equal pay day everyday, for all women.
Kaitlyn DiSalvio is a student at North Attleborough High School. This essay was written as part of a civics project.