The gender pay gap was back in the news and the topic came up among some friends. The discussion started with the generally agreed upon statistic that “women make 78 ¢ents on the dollar as men”, but I had to quickly explain my more nuanced take on that misleading number.
Many people assume that because I’m in HR (and female) that I automatically agree that women are victims of systematic discrimination. But, not necessarily.
Don’t get me wrong. Gender discrimination is real. But I think it accounts for only 5% of the 22% pay gap.
The rest of the gap (17%) can be explained by the choices women and men make about education, (some majors and more lucrative than others) about the type of work they do (men usually choose riskier jobs, like law enforcement, construction) and the type of hours worked (men often work longer hours, more “graveyard” shifts).
Also contributing to the gap are familial responsibilities (caring for home, children) that women often assume, which can make them unwittingly less “promotable.”
Skeptical? Let’s compare two guys with the same job in the same company, one has familial responsibilities, the other has help:
One is a single dad who can’t stay late because he has to pick up his two kids after work, shop for groceries, make dinner and help with homework.
The other guy is married, two kids, with a wife. He can work overtime, gets chosen for special projects, and is usually on time. Which dad do you think probably earns more? Who’ll be promoted sooner?
Lots of factors aside from gender can affect your lifetime earnings, here’s my advice to women who want to earn equal pay.
1. Don’t major in predominantly female professions like teaching and nursing, instead choose engineering, accounting, law, computer science, (any science really). These will give you an even start.
2. Take more risks, negotiate higher salaries.
3. If you plan to have kids, and it’s at all possible, try to stay engaged during your maternity leave (work remotely or part-time). Job absences are the biggest reason for the pay gap among professional women.
Hope this stimulates discussion among you and your friends.