Fighting for Women's Equality

The Pay Gap Is Not Your Fault

April 11, 2016 | by

April 12 is Equal Pay Day, and you’re likely to read a lot of mumbo jumbo about the pay gap in the next few days — how it doesn’t exist, or how women bring pay discrimination on themselves by making bad choices. I’m here to do what I can to help set the record straight.

Equal Pay Day isn’t cause for celebration. It marks how long into the calendar year it takes for the overall earnings of women working full-time to catch up with what men made in 2015. In other words, women make in 16 months what men make in a year. We’ll have to work 13 more years over the course of our careers to catch up. If you’re African American, it will take even longer (nearly 28 years). If you’re Latina, longer still (over 33 years).

If you’re a woman and you believe what you read, it is your fault that women’s overall earnings are lower than men’s. You don’t negotiate well enough. You aren’t interested in higher paid jobs. You had a baby. You cared for your sick dad for a few months. You haven’t gotten yourself enough schooling.

The you-blaming has gotten so loud, some of us are buying it. As Hollywood star Jennifer Lawrence said when she discovered from the Sony hack that she was being paid much less than men, “I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early.” It is a refrain I hear from women again and again, no matter her job.

Let me be clear. None of this is about you. The inequities faced by women in this country are structural. They flow from deeply entrenched stereotypes about the value of women’s work and from specific laws and workplace practices that perpetuate them.

  • The gender wage gap is so wide because “negotiations” are typically lopsided in terms of information. You disclose a great deal about you without ever knowing what an employer pays men doing the same job.
  • The gender wage gap is so wide because women predominate in jobs like domestic work that are exempted from fair pay protections. Women in these jobs can work hours on end without pay.
  • The gender wage gap is so wide because women, like ERA clients working at a Virginia shipyard, are systematically excluded from high-paying jobs or driven out from those industries entirely by harassment that sends a clear message: You are not wanted here.

While nothing you did caused the pay gap, you can do something to close it today. In California, ERA has joined with partners across the state to advance a comprehensive women’s economic agenda called Stronger California with groundbreaking fair pay policy initiatives. ERA is also chair of a national fair pay campaign called Equal Pay Today! that works with partners in six states and at the federal level to close the pay gap so that the value of your work does not depend on where you live.

Support the legislative efforts linked above to get at the real causes of the gender wage gap in this country.

I won’t say happy Equal Pay Day. What I will say is that the gender wage gap is not a result of your bad choices, or a natural phenomenon that we should all just accept. Instead, it is driven by harmful stereotypes and hidden-under-cover discrimination. It’s not your fault, but we can work together to root it out.

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