(AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)
Congrats, ladies! By today you’ve earned the same as men did in 2011. That gap means that the typical woman working full-time, year round, makes about seventy-seven cents for every dollar a typical man does, and those missing twenty-three cents can really add up. In a year a woman loses $10,784 to a man—enough to buy about 2,700 gallons of gas. It can add up to a loss of $431,000 in pay for the typical woman over a forty-year career. No small chunk of pocket change.
This issue hasn’t gone unnoticed. The first thing President Obama did after settling into the West Wing was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, which expanded the statute of limitations on lawsuits over equal pay. Yet Ledbetter did little to actually change the gap: it stood at seventy-seven cents when the bill was passed at 2009, where it stands today.
But this high holiday of gender inequality is not the day to get dragged down in pessimism! After all, it can’t be totally out of reach to change this thing that’s barely budged in fifty years, amiright? In the spirit of moving forward and focusing on real solutions, here are some quick steps we can all take to make the gap disappear:
1. End salary secrecy. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, about half of all workers are either prohibited or strongly discouraged from talking about how much they make with their colleagues. And it’s pretty hard to sue an employer for pay discrimination without first figuring out what everyone else rakes in. So, easy task: just force all employers, public and private, to let anyone talk freely about how much they make. Americans should quickly get over their queasiness about discussing money, and employers shouldn’t care if their lower paid employees start salivating over six-figure salaries.
2. Raise the minimum wage. While we’re making companies do things they have no interest in doing, we should also raise the minimum wage. According to the National Women’s Law Center, about two-thirds of all workers making the minimum wage are women, and they’re also about two-thirds of those in tipped occupations that often pay a base rate far below that. Making the federal floor of $7.25 an hour nets a woman just $14,500 working full-time for a year, which adds up to more than $3,000 less than the poverty line for a family of three. Raising that wage could mean a raise for 28 million workers. Congress has only raised that wage three times in the past thirty years—so what could go wrong?
3. Fix the broken career pipeline. One more thing that companies need to change: they need to move women into higher-paying positions and stop dumping them in lower ones off the bat. Research from Catalyst has shown that even after taking into account geography, industry and men and women’s levels of experience, women are more likely than men to graduate business school and end up in a lower-level job. Their wages suffer from a similar problem: on average those women are paid $4,600 less in their first job than men. That difference had nothing to do with parenting, experience or aspiration. It just happens. And from there the gap keeps widening as women struggle to catch up with men over their careers. Those same men were twice as likely to end up in the C-suite than the women, so it’s little wonder that their wage growth outpaced women’s.