According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women who work full time earn about 77 cents for every dollar that men earn annually, despite the fact that women tend to be more educated than working men. And the numbers are even more discouraging for women of color: African-American women earn 61 cents, and Latinas earn 52 cents for every dollar a white non-Hispanic man earns.
Over a lifetime, that’s a lot of money in lost pay. The average woman stands to lose more than $400,000 over a 40-year period. (See the gender pay gap in your area using this interactive map.)
Even though the Equal Pay Act, passed back in 1963, mandated equal pay for equal work, there is obviously more to be done. Last year, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed, which eased the statute of limitations for filing equal-pay lawsuits. Now victims can seek recompense even if they become aware of the actual discrimination years later. But this year, there is one proposed piece of legislation that would go even further toward closing the wage gap.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would update that 1963 law. It would, among other things, require stronger enforcement against wage discrimination, create incentives for employers to follow the law and bar retaliation against workers who ask about wage practices. However, some organizations like the Heritage Foundation are opposed to the act. They argue that this legislation would encourage more “frivolous class-action suits” and provide a windfall for trial lawyers.
The legislation has been passed by the House, but now it’s up to the Senate to get it on President Obama’s desk.
In the meantime, what can women do? A recent New York Times article suggests that part of the pay gap problem can be attributed to negotiation skills or the lack thereof. According to the article, women are less likely to ask for raises, and even when they do, “their requests may be perceived as overly demanding or less agreeable.”
Hannah Riley Bowes from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government has been studying this topic for years, and offered several tips for women in this article. In addition to being proactive and prepared, she recommends that women tailor their negotiations to their particular company and supervisor. “Women may need to be more strategic than men about how they raise an outside offer so that it doesn’t put them in a negative light.”
Riley Bowes also cites studies that show that women may also have lower pay expectations, while men are more likely to negotiate higher starting salaries. These findings point to a larger obstacle to achieving gender pay equity, and suggest that tackling the issue isn’t simply a matter of changing attitudes in the workplace, but also changing attitudes that women have about themselves.