These Women Are Tackling the Gender Pay Gap

June 18, 2018
2012–13 AAUW American Fellow Sanjukta Chaudhuri, Ph.D.

2012–13 AAUW American Fellow Sanjukta Chaudhuri, Ph.D.

Women face a unique set of challenges today in their personal and professional lives. From sexual harassment to crippling student loan debt, these challenges are often worsened due to the gender pay gap, and they stand in the way of women reaching leadership positions and economic stability. That’s why many of our fellows and grantees are dedicating their studies to exposing — and eliminating — the gender pay gap.

“I was making 45 percent less than my two male peers at my prior job,” says a 2016–17 fellow who worked in a mid-career position at a higher education institution. She “applied to many federal grants, so salary information was essentially public.” She noticed that even the highest-paid woman in her office made less than the lowest-paid man, although they held essentially the same credentials. She tried to bring the issue to the attention of the university’s Office for Institutional Equity and her male supervisor, but her claims were not taken seriously and ultimately she made the decision to change jobs.

The Equal Pay Act prohibiting pay discrimination on the basis of sex was passed back in 1963, but the gender pay gap persists; women are typically paid just 80 cents for every dollar paid to men — and that number has barely budged in a decade. The pay gap also changes across different racial/ethnic groups; Hispanicblack, American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN), and Pacific Islander (NHPI) women face gaps even wider than the overall 20 cent number.

Women's Earning's as a Percentage of White Men's Earnings, by Race/Ethnicity, 2016

So how do we close the pay gap? Many of our fellows and alumnae have had success negotiating their salaries (some had guidance from AAUW’s Work Smart program). A 2017–18 fellow told us about a job placement process she went through recently: “The first offer made to me fell below all other comparable jobs in the context in which I will work. It was not clear to me whether this was a result of gender bias, fear of committing too many resources to a new project, or just ignorance of the facts. However, I had to make the choice to engage in an uncomfortable conversation around what was appropriate.” While she eventually negotiated for a higher offer, she noted that the process was unnecessarily awkward, as if the employer was surprised that she counteroffered.

Even pay gap experts have a hard time negotiating. Take 2012–13 AAUW American Fellow Sanjukta Chaudhuri, Ph.D, a research analyst in Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development. Looking back at her career in academia, she says, “Maybe it is cultural and social pressure, but I have a hard time negotiating. I feel diffident and greedy.” Meanwhile, she routinely hears male colleagues threatening to leave for another higher-paying job offer unless they are paid more. “There was a systematic bias towards more effort to retain male employees by matching job offers,” Chaudhuri says. “I’m not aware of women getting the same treatment.”

Research is another important tool to chip away at the gap. According to Chaudhuri’s research, there is a 28.3 percent gender earnings gap in health care and social assistance in Minnesota, the largest and most female-dominated sector in the state, and yet many people still believe the gap is a myth.

“One of the loudest complaints I have heard against the gender pay gap is that women are [supposedly] hired at less levels of qualification or experience and are handed equal pay, just for the sake of closing the pay gap,” notes Chaudhuri. She hears of people saying that women have less education, choose lower-paying professions, work fewer hours, and that their health insurance costs more — some of which is false, and some of which can be put down to occupational segregation. “I have done research on the pay gap that adjusts for these factors to the extent that they are measurable. The pay gap persists even after adjusting for education, choice of major, hours of work, industry, and occupation of employment.”

AAUW research has come to the same conclusion, suggesting that bias and discrimination are also factors in the pay gap. The solution to the gap will have to be multifaceted, combining research to dispel doubts, legislative action, and tools like salary negotiation workshops.

These women demonstrate just a few of the ways to help close the pay gap. What will you do?


 

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