The modern workforce continuously struggles with inequality, pervading industries, job roles, management structures and more.
One of the more longstanding and material of these disparities is the gender wage gap. The most recent U.S. Census data shows women earn on average 82 cents for every dollar a man makes. The difference is even greater when broken out by race — Black women make 62 cents for every dollar a white man makes, while Hispanic or Latinx women earn 54 cents.
And this inequality extends across the globe. According to the World Economic Forum, the gap between genders in economic participation and opportunity is only 58 percent closed, with an estimated 267.6 years to reach parity at the current rate of progress.
However, the issue is more than just a matter of cents, and learning how to navigate it in the daily workplace can be even more complex.
The Information Gap
One of the underlying causes of persisting wage inequality is the lack of information around compensation.
The methodology behind salaries at many companies has been notoriously opaque and often left to the discretion of hiring managers. This lack of openly available information makes it more likely for an employee to accept a lower salary, pegging them at a particular rate for the rest of their career.
“There’s power in asymmetry of information,” said Michelle Avary, head of automotive and autonomous mobility at the World Economic Forum. “And this is typically to the detriment of women — they come into a company at a lower salary and continually earn less.”
Members of the U.S. Congress are actively working to remove these barriers to information. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which passed the House of Representatives in April of 2021, would make it illegal to prohibit employees from disclosing salary information — making it easier to collect and compare compensation information — and limit retaliation from employers in wage discrimination suits.
The Experience Gap
Another major contributing factor to the wage gap is time spent in the workforce or in a particular industry.
Maternity leave and other such prolonged absences from the workplace, in some cases, can impede career development in comparison to male counterparts. More pervasive, however, is the lack of female representation in leadership and mentorship, which makes it more difficult for women to stay at a company and move up the ladder.
In fact, women are leaving some of the fastest growing industries, including tech, at a 45 percent faster rate than men, often citing the company’s culture as the main reason.
This high rate of attrition makes it even more difficult to address the gap between average salaries and ensure fair compensation, as fewer women are represented in management and executive roles.
‘You’re Worth It’
While large-scale efforts are underway to address the gender wage gap, there are ways female workers can navigate salary discrepancies in the short term.
You can start by using the resources already available. Avary suggests seeking out information from human resources, which should have tips and tools on determining the median salary for a given role. Researching the job title for your region can also help you determine the average salary for the role you’re currently in or applying for.
“Collect as much data as you can and write it down,” she said. “Get comfortable understanding the differences with job roles as well as expected salaries at the type of company you’re working at.”
When applying for a job, it’s critical to know what the value you can bring to the company and communicate that in your interview, as well as state your salary expectation up front.
“You need to answer the question ‘what’s in it for me,’ both ways,” said Manuela Papadopol, CEO of Designated Driver and WIA Steering Committee Member. “It’s tied to salary because then the conversation becomes how much I am worth rather than how much did I make in my previous job.”
Papadopol said the best way to do this is to present how your skills, experience and knowledge translate to concrete benefits, rather than discussing your general strengths. She added that it’s important to know what’s valuable to you, whether it’s a certain salary, vacation time or other benefits, and make that clear at the outset.
And, perhaps most importantly, Avary said, is to always consider vacation time as compensation, and use it.
“Time is valuable,” she said. “You’re worth it.”
Check out these additional resources to learn more about the wage gap and current efforts to address it: