How to Close the Gender Wage Gap

The gender wage gap is persistent. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reminds us that fifty years after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, women still earn only 79 cents for every dollar men earn in the United States, and the gap in different occupations varies. Miller notes that women who are surgeons earn 71 percent of what male surgeons earn. I have written in a previous article about differences in pay for different racial/ethnic groups, with recent research showing that Hispanic women in Massachusetts make 56 percent of their male counterparts’ salaries. In her article, Miller offers ideas that are starting to generate interest and be tested by a few state governments and private employers for closing the gender wage gap. I believe these ideas are promising:

  1. Publish everyone’s pay. Miller notes that “when employers publish people’s salaries, the pay gap shrinks.” President Obama required federal contractors to report salaries by gender in 2014, and the state of California passed a law to require municipal governments to publish salaries. A few pioneering companies have done the same with very positive results. Salaries got corrected and/or aligned.
  2. Coach, or curb, negotiation. Miller notes that “men are paid more partly because they’re more likely to ask for it. When receiving job offers, 51.5 percent of men and 12.5 percent of women ask for more money.” Miller is basing her information on the work of Professor Linda Babcock who also notes that women are penalized, deemed unlikeable, and often not hired for negotiating like men. Consequently, women need coaching on how to negotiate differently to be effective. Best of all, Miller suggests, would be to ban negotiation all together and set the salaries for positions, with a small range to allow for differences in experience.
  3. Don’t rely on previous salaries. Women get stuck in a lower-wage cycle when pay for a new job relies on an employee’s previous salary. The Massachusetts State Legislature is currently considering a bill that prohibits employers from seeking job candidates’ salary histories. More states should pass legislation like this.
  4. Make it easier for mothers to stay in the workforce. Affordable childcare, paid sick days, and paid parental leave need to readily available so that women can more easily stick with their careers.
  5. Build flexible work places. Miller notes that the pay gap is greatest in occupations with the least flexibility, such as medicine and finance.
  6. Change the law. Federal legislation languishing in the US Congress called the Paycheck Fairness Act would require companies to report salary data, give grants for negotiation training and make class-action lawsuits easier—but it has been stalled for a long time. It does not yet have enough support to move it forward.
The gender wage gap can be eliminated. We know how to do it, but we need to put more pressure on organizations and our government to do the right thing. Do you know of companies or state governments that are pioneering efforts to eliminate the wage gap? Let us hear your examples of what’s working. Image courtesy of Ambro at]]>

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