“You don’t have to tell me about the statistics, I’ve lived it. I’ve been paid less throughout my career.” Sharon (not her real name) doesn’t share the shock at the disparity in women’s pay highlighted in the 2009 Labor Department study in to Women’s Earnings, for her the gender wage gap is a lived experience.
Sharon’s story: Living with a 23 percent pay gap
In 1992, Sharon discovered that a male co-worker was making $10,000 more a year. At first, this was great news for a mother of three young kids with a husband who was working part-time. “I never thought the pay difference was intentional, I had a plan to ask for a raise anyway after a great year,” she recalls. “He was a department head just like I was, but his department made less money than mine. Plus, he had a secretary and a program coordinator, and yet I was doing both of those roles for my department—something which saved them thousands of dollars.”
Despite running a more efficient and profitable department than her male counterpart, Sharon never received the comparable bump in her paycheck. Her bosses—all men—looked at her with confusion when she asked for a raise, telling her instead that her higher-earnings colleague was supporting his entire family, whereas she had the benefit of her husband’s salary.
It didn’t matter to them that Sharon was the breadwinner for her family—her bosses didn’t see women that way. This was her first experience confronting wage inequality, but it wouldn’t be the last in her career. Sharon would go on to have several situations similar to this one before she finally retired in 2015.
For a woman like Sharon with a 40-year career, we’re not talking about $10,000 for one year but rather a lifetime of lost wages that equal hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Equal Pay Day: Are women really better off today?
Today, the average wage gap for women is 18.2%—not significantly better than Sharon’s own pay gap of 23% in 1992. Every year there’s a national Equal Pay Day to raise awareness around this issue. This year Equal Pay Day is happening on April 10, which marks how long into 2018 the average woman must work in order to earn as much as the average man earned in 2017.
What’s more troubling is that April 10 is the average for all women. The startling truth is that, for women of color, the gender wage is much worse—with some groups earning little more than half of what men earn (see below).
Women of color face even steeper wage gaps.
- Equal Pay Day for Asian-American women: February 22, 2018 ($.87 for every dollar a man earns).
- Equal Pay Day for White women: April 17, 2018 ($.79 on the dollar).
- Equal Pay Day for Black women: August 7, 2018 ($.63 on the dollar).
- Equal Pay Day for Native American women: September 27, 2018 ($.57 on the dollar).
- Equal Pay Day for Latina women: November 1, 2018 ($.54 on the dollar.)
There are solutions to closing the wage gap
This gender wage gap is expressed in various forms, ranging from under-compensation to underrepresentation in roles, and it comes from an equally wide range of causes, including experiencing pay drops in fields in which women outnumber men.
It’s a complex issue, but one for which there exist many solutions (for starters, here are 5 ways we can reduce the gender pay gap).
And you can start by bringing awareness to the issue! Share this blog and join ProgressVA on April 10 in calling for pay equity for all on #EqualPayDay!