On Equal Pay Day, why you should never be afraid to ask for more

Today is Equal Pay Day, a time when we shine a light on the wage gap between men and women and, while raising awareness, figure out how to close the gap and ultimately bring about pay equity. The reason we have Equal Pay Day on a Tuesday is because statistically that’s how long it takes women to play catch up and earn what men earned the previous week. And the reason Equal Pay Day is held in the middle of April is because that’s how long it takes women to earn what men earned the previous year.

President Obama highlighted the wage gap in his most recent State of the Union and the topic is going to be a hot one as we head into the 2016 US Presidential election. So, in honor of Equal Pay Day, let’s chat about the problem that is pay inequity.

First, let’s address the size of the gap. According to the US Census, in 2010, full-time, year-round working men earned a median salary of $47, 715 whereas full-time, year-round working women earned a median salary of $36, 931, or 77% of what men make (this is where that “seventy-seven cents for every dollar” stat comes from). The stats get even worse when we look at the wage gap for women of color. African American women earn 67.7% of what all men make, and Latina women earn 58.7% of what all men earn.

A major reason why women earn a smaller median salary than men is because women and people of color often find their career options more limited than their white male counterparts, and end up working in fields that pay less.

As the National Committee on Pay Equity explains on their website, “Studies show that the more an occupation is dominated by women or people of color, the less it pays.” The NCPE also acknowledges that “part of the wage gap results from differences in education, experience or time in the workforce,” but ultimately concludes that a “significant portion” of the wage gap “can be attributed to discrimination.”

Though there are laws in place to support equal pay (The Equal Pay Act of 1963 says that, by law, men and women must be paid equally for equal work, while Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes wage discrimination illegal “on the basis of race, color, sex, religion or national origin.”) these laws have proven difficult to enforce.

Which is why a major focus of this year’s Equal Pay Day is raising awareness regarding the importance of salary transparency. It’s hard to argue that you’re being paid less than your male co-worker for equal work if you don’t actually know what said co-worker is earning. As Ann Friedman recently wrote it in her excellent New York Magazine piece on the wage gap, “Actual information on wages might be murky, but the deeper problem is clear: It’s not that women lack the guts to negotiate. It’s that they lack the knowledge and the social support for doing so.”

Knowledge is power, and advocating for salary transparency is going to make it much harder for a workplace to pay a man and a women different salaries for doing the same work if those numbers are information all parties involved can access. Here’s to getting educated, advocating for ourselves, and closing that wage gap until it’s nonexistent.

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