A stone statue of a woman reaches out to the sky - and the Great American Eclipse of August 2017 - at Mills College, Oakland.

How to Tackle the Gender Pay Gap

The gender pay gap is a serious issue. Back in 1963, the Equal Pay Act, signed into law by President John F. Kennedy, required “equal work” to be paid the same rate, regardless of the employee’s gender. More than 50 years later, women are still typically paid less than men in the U.S.

American Association of University Women members with President John F. Kennedy as he signs the Equal Pay Act into law in 1963.

As recent as 2017, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that women working full time in the U.S. were typically paid 80 percent of what men were paid. That 20 percent gap is smaller than what it was in the 1970s, thanks to advancements in education and workforce participation for women. It’s also due, in part, to men’s wages remaining stagnant or rising at a slower pace. But progress has also been slow in recent decades, and it may take a few more generations to close the pay gap for good.

When you look closer and break down the statistics* by race, the inequality gets even worse. Black women typically make less than 68 percent of a white male’s wages for similar work. Hispanic women make even less at 62 percent. (Source for data listed below.)

Female earnings as a percentage of male earnings in 2017, divided by race: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian

Earning 95.9 percent of median male earnings, it would appear that Asian women are the least affected by the gender pay gap. But there’s a catch: Asian men earn significantly more. While the median weekly wages for all men is $941, Asian men earn a median of $1,207. Asian women earn 78.4 percent of that. That’s a pay gap of more than 25 percent. In fact, it’s the largest pay gap of all women compared to men of the same race group. (See complete data here.)

Over the course of a woman’s life, these unrealized earnings could add up to $1 million — or more, depending on the industry — in lost wages. That’s a heavy loss that could have gone towards her savings and investments, supporting her family, and back into the economy through her greater spending on goods and services. When you combine the lost potential earnings of all working women, you’re looking at a significant problem that harms not only the individual, but the overall economic health of the country.

So what can you do about it?

There are steps you can take to ensure you’re getting paid what you’re worth. In partnership with Friends of the Commission on the Status of Women, AAUW hosts free workshops on salary negotiation for women.

I attended the October workshop, held in the San Francisco Public Library’s 100 Larkin address. It has been a game changer for me. Attending a workshop will bolster your confidence and teach you best practices to tackle this sensitive issue with your employer. 

Graph depicts 2017 data of median weekly earnings for Asian men and Asian women working full time in the U.S.

First off, the gathering constitutes a safe space, where women feel free to share experiences and ask questions without judgement. Like many of the women present, I had never really negotiated for my salary before. I had several misconceptions about what I am allowed to ask, and what the employer/interviewer is allowed to ask me. The interactive nature of the session addresses these concerns with dialogue and practical role-playing.



Lady Justice peaks out while holding unbalanced scales.

A Game Changer

I discovered that I had lowballed my worth to my previous employer, and have made some errors in my recent search for a new job. These mistakes stem from a belief that I shouldn’t (or don’t know how to) negotiate. The workshop tackles this insecurity head-on. The question is not whether you should be negotiating for the best deal when you receive a job offer — you definitely should. Rather, the focus is on how to go about it effectively.

Moderated by two finance professionals from Morgan Stanley, the workshop covers basics on why the gender pay gap exists, and why certain women-dominated professions are undervalued. Then the moderators take you through a negotiation cycle, from responding to a job offer, to making a persuasive case for a raise or promotion. Unfortunately, tactics that men use, like self-promotion and assertiveness, can sometimes backfire when a woman tries the same methods. But the workshop teaches valuable strategies to navigate around these obstacles.

Check out upcoming workshops in November, held in San Francisco. Additional workshops are available in December and January — just check the registration site for listings or sign up to be notified. Inform your friends, colleagues, and loved ones. Women who successfully negotiate can increase their potential to earn higher salaries and better benefits packages. This is one workshop that might just change your life!

*2017 data from the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Graphs by SAAFBA copyright 2018.

Founded in 1881, AAUW is the nation’s leading voice promoting equity and education for women and girls. Join the 170,000-strong AAUW community and support critical issues affecting women and girls in the U.S.

The Friends of the Commission on the Status of Women was founded in 1976. The Friends support programs that ensure equal treatment of women and girls, especially initiatives that foster socioeconomic, political, and educational advancement. Join the Friends and help advance this critical mission.


About the Author

Smruti Aravind is the founder & editor of SAAFBA. She is a communications professional working in the nonprofit space for 10 years, passionate about social justice, storytelling, and the South Asian experience.

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