How To End the Wage Gap Between Men and Women

PHOTO: A wage gap between women and men persists.

The gender wage gap is going in the wrong direction.

Women working full-time earned just 80.9 percent of what men earned per week in 2012, slightly below the 82.2 percent they earned in 2011, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

That doesn't include part-time or seasonal workers, so those factors aren't skewing the data. The situation has really gotten worse, and the numbers have stagnated around 80 percent beginning in 2004.

Latina women earn 88 percent of what Latino men earn in a week. That might sound better, but it's not. They earn just 59.3 percent, or $521, of the $879 white men earn during that time.

Part of the reason the situation looks more "equal" for Latinos is because employment options typically pursued by Latino men have dropped significantly.

As Ariane Hegewisch, a study director with the institute who helped put the data together, pointed out, earnings increase with education regardless of gender, but Latinos have relatively low levels of higher education.

Hegewisch noted that it used to be easier for Latino men to earn a good living without attending college. Latino men have typically gravitated toward construction and manufacturing jobs, which pay well but don't require a degree. Latina women have skewed toward service jobs that don't pay well.

The mid-level labor market was "pulled apart," Hegewisch said, when the economy began to struggle. Even as the economy has begun to rebound, she added, fewer of those mid-level jobs have returned. That means many Latino men and women have been relegated to badly paying jobs in the lower labor market.

But there are other factors, including discrimination, at play, according to Hegewisch. Women are not being paid for doing the same job in many places, and they're often not being hired into top-level positions. When they are, they're not promoted as high or as often.

The rest she says is a mixture of what she calls "occupational and sector segregation." Women are more likely to work in social services or education. They're more likely to hold jobs in the public sector. While some of those jobs pay well, a teacher with a master's degree earns a lot less than an engineer with a master's degree.

Women are also likely to take time off -- after having a baby, for instance -- and when they do reenter the labor market seeking full-time employment, it can be harder to continue to climb a career ladder. There may also be some reluctance to hire women for high-powered, lucrative jobs when there is the chance that they may take time off in the future to have children, Hegewisch added.

"We still have a glass ceiling," she said.

The country has done a marginally successful job of getting young women into advanced placement classes in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but there's a long way to go.

"We need to be more proactive in terms of creating protective spaces for girls," Hegewisch said.

Parents need to encourage their daughters to pursue traditionally male-dominated fields, and teachers need to be aware of potential discrimination, however minor it might seem.

Hegewisch recalled a high school that successfully encouraged girls to take auto mechanics. Students were required to wear coveralls, and the class was held across from the boys' changing rooms. The girls had to cross campus to change. The class, Hegewisch said, may have retained more girls if the location were different.

Gender discrimination, Hegewisch said, is also not a priority for policymakers at the federal level.

If more women were involved in policymaking, the wage gap would likely receive more attention, but getting women into office has been a slow process. The number of women in Congress is far from proportional to the country's female population.

Another simple solution, but a key one, is that hiring and promoting women needs to be a priority for companies. And, according to Hegewisch, it simply isn't right now.

Coca Cola, Hegewisch said, is one major company that has been successful in this arena. The company created a program in 2007 aimed at advancing women into leadership positions.

"We believe women are the real drivers of the 21st century and will play a transformative role in shaping the global economy," wrote a spokeswoman for the soda giant in an email. "Our goal is to achieve true diversity."

The company is also an example that improvement is possible. Coca Cola paid more than $150 million to settle a racial discrimination case in 2000, and agreed to appoint a panel charged with holding the company accountable for hiring and promoting more minorities and women.

The company's desire to change, however it was sparked, has resulted in tangible improvement. Hegewisch hopes to see that at the national level, but noted that the country has a long way to go before that's a reality.

"[The gender wage gap] is not seen as a problem by policy makers," Hegewisch said. "We know what goes wrong and we know the tools and how to design it so it shouldn't be such a problem, but it's not really very high on the agenda."

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