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3 things to know about closing the gender wage gap

Gender Equality

Written By: Stephaine Walden  23/06/15

Most of us have heard the disheartening “78 cents” statistic whenever discussions about the gender pay gap arise: The stat itself stems from a 2013 U.S. Census Bureau report, which found that women make approximately 78 cents to the dollar of what men earn. The findings appear to get even more grim for women of color: According to the same report, African American women and Latinas earn just 64 and 56 cents to the dollar of what men earn, respectively.

While these stats aren’t universally accepted as fact (according to PEW research, women earn approximately 84% of what men make and other studies cite the percentage somewhere around 82%), it’s clear that the gender wage gap persists in some capacity.

There’s a great deal of debate over why this is the case, and the past few years have seen increasing awareness among companies and a whole lot of big promises from large corporations. Even celebrities are getting in on the action: In a now-infamous and controversial outburst at this year’s Academy Awards, actress Patricia Arquette used her acceptance speech to call for equal pay for men and women in Hollywood.

Giving voice to the issue is just one way to begin making progress, however. Here’s what we know about what it’s going to take the close the gap.

1. Companies are talking about it, but lofty promises aren’t enough

More and more employers are pledging to take action to close the gender pay gap. Companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and the like have released “diversity reports” detailing the breakdown of women and minorities currently employed within the organizations. A Glassdoor report from last year further detailed how salaries stack up at tech companies. But although many companies admit they must “do better,” studies show that the gender wage gap has hardly budged in the past decade — and it widens as the workforce ages.

There are companies taking a stand — though whether it’s “enough” is debatable: Apple recentlycommitted more than $50 million toward diversity efforts. Some smaller companies are taking action in unique ways: For example, SumAll, a cross-platform marketing analytics company, employs a policy of “salary transparency,” which means all employees know what their colleagues earn. The premise, SumAll CEO Dane Atkinson told NPR in a recent Planet Money podcast, is to establish trust between employee and employer.

“Equal pay audits” are another potential fix. This practice, which has primarily gained ground as a concept in the UK, helps companies conduct analyses and determine best practices for establishing a corporate culture of equality, particularly when it comes to salaries and benefits. A recent UK report on the gender wage gap among university professors touts these audits as one way to close the nearly £6,000 gap that currently exists within the industry.

And pending legislation may make a difference down the line. The Paycheck Fairness Act aims to cut down income disparity between men and women in the U.S. The act would add procedural protections to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Fair Labor Standards Act in order to bridge the gender wage gap.

2. Women can — and should — take steps to negotiate equal pay

While nobody is suggesting it’s a woman’s sole responsibility to ensure she’s earning as much as her male counterparts — the issue is inarguably a larger societal problem — there are proactive steps that women can take to get a leg up. One of the primary ways to do this is by negotiating salary during the job search process.

“It truly amazes me how many women have no idea what their job should pay,” says Katie Donovan, the founder and CEO of Equal Pay Negotiations LLC, a company that teaches women about salary negotiations through one-on-one mentoring, workshops, online courses and a mobile app.

“Absolutely anyone can negotiate. You can be a jerk about it or you can be professional about it. That’s a big difference. But it’s a normal part of business,” she says.

Donovan created her company after discovering during a professional dinner with eight well-educated women that she was the only one of the group who had negotiated her salary. This discovery sparked a thought: “I just kept thinking of my nieces who are 17 to 26-years-old in age. I don’t want them to be 20 years into their careers having the exact same conversation with their friends.” Now, Donovan dedicates her career toward helping other women excel in theirs and, in particular, ensure that they’re adequately compensated.

“The key to good salary negotiations is first to be an informed consumer about what the job should pay,” she says. “If you do research, it usually includes information about men and women’s salaries — so if you think you should earn the median, that’s artificially low. We want to earn what the men are earning at the median.” In certain industries, she says, this gap is as high as 30-40%. “It can be $10-20,000 difference,” she adds.

In Donovan’s experience, the gap becomes more noticeable as women progress in their careers. “Around mid-30s, it seems that’s when the wake-up call happens for a lot of women. They see the men getting director-level jobs and they’re stuck in management … they find out the pay [disparity] and they’re like, what is going on?”

Donovan’s free app, Earn More Girl, uses algorithms to determine goal salary amounts, as well as gives women sample scripts they can use to prepare for a professional, comfortable conversation regarding compensation.

While Donovan doesn’t have one set-in-stone explanation for why women tend to negotiate less often than men — one good read on this subject, she suggests, is Linda Babcock’s bookWomen Don’t Ask — she thinks that part of the issue is rooted in antiquated “rules of business,” which have traditionally been determined by men. Many colleges and education systems simply don’t teach these unwritten rules, including negotiation skills. “Colleges have to step up,” Donovan says. “It’s everybody’s responsibility.”

The best piece of advice for women job seekers, says Donovan, is to conquer the fear that often accompanies speaking up about a seemingly low offer: After all, 84% of employers expect that candidates will negotiate a salary. “Speaking up will not get you fired,” she says. “There’s this huge fear that saying, “Wow, that seems low” is going to take away the job offer. It’s not. [Overcoming] that fear — that’s my biggest advice for women themselves. Employers still have a long way to go, but this is the one thing we as women can control.”

3. Women in tech, STEM and entrepreneurship can help set the example

The tech industry is notorious for its distinct lack of diversity. The aforementioned diversity reports from Microsoft and Apple, for example, uncover that a whopping 70+% of employees are male, and more than 50% are white.

Some studies and research suggest that the root of the issue lies not with employers unwilling to pay equally, but that the pay gap is actually reflective of the differing career paths that men and women are drawn toward. This angle argues that women, due to a variety of factors such as the desire to preserve work-life balance and raise a family, tend to stick to careers with more flexibility that are often less lucrative.

For women interested in high-level tech careers, however, there are a number of resources available for not only finding jobs, but eventually rising to the top positions. On top of the literature available — everything from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In to this recently funded Kickstarter that aims to highlight women working in the tech industry — there are a variety of online resources, such as the #FemaleFounders Slack community, or Modiv, a job board that promotes diversity in tech careers.

The more knowledgable women become about their career options (and what they pay), the easier it’s going to be to begin closing the pay gap.

Source: MashableUK http://mashable.com/2015/06/23/equal-pay-workplace/

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