Despite efforts to reduce pay disparity, the United States has a long way to go to close the gender pay gap. While the Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it illegal to pay women less than men for the same work, in 2018 women earned 81 cents for every $1 earned by men, and Black and Hispanic women earned even less per $1 when compared to white men.
The gender pay gap has narrowed over time, from just 59 cents to the dollar in 1964, one year after the Equal Pay Act was passed. However, if the gender gap continues to narrow at the same rate, women won’t achieve pay parity with their male peers until 2059. Even worse, the rate at which the wage gap has narrowed is slowly, largely due to factors like wage stagnation and women’s earnings dropping after having children.
Because the gender pay gap has no one singular cause, there isn’t a quick fix when it comes to reducing the pay disparity between men and women. Instead, there are a variety of different strategies that could be implemented at the company, state, and national level in order to narrow the gap. In many cases, these strategies may also result in more equitable working conditions and fair, transparent pay structures for all workers, regardless of gender.
What causes the gender pay gap?
The gender pay gap is influenced by a variety of factors, including discriminatory hiring and pay practices, choice of occupation, family leave and childcare policies, and more.
Discriminatory hiring and pay practices
Implicit bias may play a role in the gender pay gap, with hiring managers and bosses consciously or unconsciously choosing to pay female employees less than their male peers for the same work. This can also occur if employers and hiring managers routinely choose men over women for higher-paying managerial positions.
Employers who base employee pay on salary history only perpetuate this problem, since basing pay on past earnings makes it even more difficult for women to increase their income when moving between different positions and companies.
Whether by choice or by necessity, many women work jobs that tend to have lower wages, such as jobs in the service industry. Since women are disproportionately represented in these low-paid fields, it has the overall effect of lowering women’s earnings when compared with men.
Family leave and childcare policies
Women are more likely to take parental leave or time off from work to care for a child, which can have a life-long impact on their earning potential. Employers with inadequate family leave and childcare policies often put working parents in an impossible position, forcing them to move to lower-paid positions with part-time hours or flexible scheduling in order to care for their families.
Workplaces without worker-friendly policies
Many of the strategies that employers use to compensate women less than men for the same work have a negative effect on all employees, regardless of gender. These include a lack of pay transparency, low wages, unpredictable scheduling, and poor work-life balance.
While these aspects affect both men and women, they can make it even more difficult to take steps towards narrowing the gender pay gap by preventing employees from getting paid what they deserve and maintaining a healthy relationship with work.
Strategies for narrowing the gender pay gap
Because the gender pay gap has no one singular cause, there isn’t a quick fix when it comes to reducing the pay disparity between men and women. Instead, there are a variety of different strategies that could be implemented at the company, state, and national level in order to narrow the gap.
In many cases, these strategies may also result in more equitable working conditions and fair, transparent pay structures for all workers, regardless of gender.
1. Raise the minimum wage
Women’s over-representation in low-wage work, such as service-sector jobs and tipped employment, is one of the factors that contribute to the gender pay gap. Since women represent nearly two-thirds of workers who receive the federal minimum wage, raising the minimum wage would have an immediate effect in terms of narrowing the gender pay gap and lifting women out of poverty. Raising the minimum wage would also positively impact all low-wage workers regardless of gender.
2. Increase pay transparency
If you don’t know how much your peers are making, it can be difficult to determine whether or not you’re being compensated fairly. Many workplaces actively discourage employees from sharing salary information, while others foster a culture of secrecy that prevents employees from being comfortable disclosing their compensation to their coworkers.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, adopting transparent pay practices can help to narrow the gender pay gap by up to 30%. At the individual level, employees and managers can improve pay transparency by promoting open, honest discussions about compensation within the workplace.
At the national level, policy proposals like the Paycheck Fairness Act could help to reduce the gender wage gap by prohibiting retaliation against employees who disclose their wages and increasing penalties for wage discrimination.
3. Unionize workplaces
Unions have been shown to help narrow the gender pay gap. According to research from the Economic Policy Institute, women working in unions earn an average of 94 cents to the dollar when compared to men, while non-union women earn only 78 cents to the dollar. This may be due to more equitable pay practices often advocated for by unions, including standardized wages, pay transparency, and grievance procedures in case of discrimination.
Unionized workplaces can also help women secure related benefits, like scheduling accommodations and paid leave.
4. Implement fair scheduling practices
Unpredictable schedules affect all kinds of workers but can have a particularly severe impact on working mothers and women who care for dependents, since constantly changing schedules make it difficult to arrange for childcare or manage family schedules.
Fair scheduling practices can help to close the gender pay gap by allowing employees to ask for scheduling accommodations and reducing inconsistent or unpredictable scheduling.
Several states and cities, including New Hampshire, Vermont, Oregon, New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco, have implemented “fair workweek” laws designed to increase predictability and flexibility when it comes to employee work schedules. These policies can help to make workplaces more family-friendly and narrow the gender pay gap by providing a more accommodating work environment for working parents and mothers.
5. Expand paid family and medical leave
Another factor contributing to the gender pay gap is the insufficient policies concerning paid family and medical leave. Women are still more likely than men to take parental leave, as well as to take time off of work to care for children or other relatives. Because workplaces offer inadequate family and medical leave for their employees, this means that women may be forced to leave the workforce in order to fulfill caregiving responsibilities.
Implementing robust paid family and medical leave for both men and women would allow more women to remain in the workforce and help prevent the earnings drop that currently occurs after women have their first child.
It would also help to equalize family leave opportunities and caregiving responsibilities for all employees, regardless of gender. A variety of states have implemented family leave policies in recent years. At the national level, policies like the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act could help to narrow the gender pay gap by expanding paid leave for workers.
6. Increase access to child care
Child care is more expensive than ever, with costs exceeding that of college tuition in many states. These high costs mean that child care is unaffordable for many working families, especially those earning minimum wage. In many cases, it makes more financial sense for women to leave the workforce in order to care for their children than to remain at a low-wage job that barely covers the cost of child care.
Increasing access to affordable child care would help narrow the gender wage gap by retaining more working mothers in the workforce. It would also help working parents better balance the demands of their families and careers.
7. Stop basing employee pay on salary history
When negotiating salary expectations with prospective applicants and new hires, employers often ask employees their salary history from previous jobs. In some cases, these hiring strategies are used to justify low pay based on how much an employee earned in former positions. Basing employee pay on salary history can also disproportionately affect women, who are already more likely to make less than their male peers, by perpetuating a cycle of unequal pay even across successive jobs and companies.
Instead of basing pay on salary history, employers should consider setting a clear, transparent salary range for the position they are hiring for, rather than basing the range on an employee’s past experience. Some states have even passed legislation to prevent employers from requiring applicants to disclose their salary history.
8. Improve work-life balance
According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, a better work-life balance could help to shrink the gender pay gap. Because women often take on additional responsibilities outside the workplace when it comes to childcare, they may find it more challenging to balance the demands of a family and their career. This can result in women working lower-paid, more flexible jobs, working only part-time, or leaving the workforce entirely.
Employers that make a commitment to work-life balance can create a flexible and welcoming work environment that attracts and retains working mothers and parents. Work-life balance can have a positive impact on all employees, not just mothers or families with children.
9. Fix pay disparities
The reasons behind the gender pay gap aren’t always simple. In some cases, it can be difficult to combat unconscious bias and gender differences when it comes to hiring practices and salary negotiations. However, employers and HR representatives should take steps to correct the gender pay gap within the workplace regardless of the cause.
One way to do this is for employers to conduct a pay audit in order to determine whether men and women are being compensated fairly. Then, employers can take steps to correct the disparity by offering pay increases to employees who they determine are making less than their peers. By regularly examining and adjusting employee pay, individual employers can help to promote an equitable work environment where everyone is paid fairly.
Because there are so many different factors that influence the gender pay gap, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem. That said, there are a variety of different strategies that could significantly increase pay parity between men and women. These include raising the minimum wage, promoting transparent pay practices, increasing workplace unionization, and providing robust paid family and medical leave for workers.
Making these changes at the individual, company, state, and national level could go a long way towards achieving equal pay for equal work. Hopefully, the gender wage gap will be overcome long before 2059. But until then, there’s still plenty of work to do.