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Photo by Marium Zafar
Photo by Marium Zafar

How Can We Close the Gender Pay Gap?

The Economic Policy Institute’s 2015 comprehensive strategy report reveals that in the United States, women earn less than 83 cents for every dollar earned by men, and the disparity in wages is far worse for minorities and for those higher up on the income pyramid.

“As more and more businesses seem to expand into Georgia, bringing along a population increase, it can be inferred that the prevalence of a pay gap will increase,” said Vlad Popescue, a computer science major on the Alpharetta campus.

America’s modern mentality towards working women is fairly liberal.

“When women decided to burn their bras and toss their high heels…and pursue their own ambitions in the workforce instead of taking care of the home and husband, they became fair game in the …  ’man eats man’ workforce. Women [have] proven to be smart, have strength, and do almost all things a man could do,” said Andrea Coates, an online chemistry major. Financial specialists suggest various solutions to reduce the difference in paychecks earned by males and females.

In her Forbes article, gender issues expert and lecturer at UCLA, Kim Elsesser advocated the implementation of two actions she believes will bridge the income gap between genders: pay transparency and the elimination of negotiation. Pay transparency, she explained, “Lets everyone know what their colleagues are earning and would make women aware if they are making less than their male counterparts,” which in turn emboldens female employees to demand equal pay. Although managers may initially shy away from such a plan, “it may work as an incentive to employees to increase their productivity,” said Elsesser.

Instead of comparing their earnings on a personal scale, employees would compete with one another in order to be deserving of a higher income. According to the Guardian, several tech companies like SumAll and Buffer, post their employees’ salary information online for colleagues to view. Governor George Brown of California signed an Equal Pay Act into legislation this October in which “employees are not penalized for asking about their coworkers’ pay, but organizations aren’t required to supply this information to employees.”

Nonetheless, women in America have been conscious of an overriding pay discrepancy for quite some time now.

“When I was in high school and college, women were frequently paid less than men. In my first job in fast food, women were cashiers and men were cooks. Cooks were paid more and women were not allowed to have those jobs.  Later in college, I worked part-time on campus and noticed that men were department heads and women were the clerks or secretaries in college offices. All the administrators were male and therefore, they were paid more than women who were in support positions,” said Professor Tamara Ortgies-Young of the Dunwoody campus.

The difference in pay persisted even after Ortgies-Young joined the workforce after graduate school. Despite women holding the same job and standing on the same rung of the corporate ladder as their male colleagues, there was a clear difference in revenue blurred by the lack of information available because “there were often bans on discussing wages in the workplace,” said Ortgies-Young.

Male employees have also detected the income gap between their earnings and the wages made by their female counterparts who, despite being vital to the workforce, may not be valued in their professional field.
“In the human services field…women are needed more (women can work with male and female patients, but men can only work with male patients), but men still make more money. On the other hand, men are depended on to care for patients with behavioral problems as well,” said Kelvin Donsereaux, Jr., a nursing major on the Dunwoody campus. The division of duties between the genders unevenly splits the weight of responsibility — leaving room for a starter salary debate to take place during job interviews.

This is why Elsesser offers a second proposal: the elimination of negotiation for higher pay during job interviews with prospective employers. A study examining graduating masters’ students negotiating their first job offer found that “only 7 percent of the female graduates negotiated for a higher salary, but 57 percent of the men asked for more money. That’s more than 8 times as many men asking for more money. Sadly, many women report that they fear they will not be liked if they aggressively pursue a higher salary,” said Elsesser. But can a minor difference in wages really mean that much? Evidently so, explained researchers Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever who realize that “even one small negotiation can accumulate into a lifetime of disadvantage.”

The problem is exemplified in this scenario: “Suppose an equally qualified man and woman each get job offers for $25,000 at age 22. The man negotiates and gets his starting salary raised to $30,000 and the woman accepts the $25,000 offer. They both get 3 percent raises every year until they’re sixty years old, and neither negotiates any more pay raises. By the time they reach 60, the gap between their salaries would have widened to more than $15,000.”

Adding up the figures accumulated from earning interest in a savings account further widens the gap between the total revenue received by both employees. However, by taking pay negotiation off the table altogether, it’s guaranteed that men and women employees will earn equal wages- to start with anyways.

Elsesser’s optimistic outlook falls short when minimum wages are taken into consideration.

“One also has to take into account the many jobs which pay very little for an entry level position, and where negotiation might be something positive (although not completely fair),” said Popescu.

Furthermore, while pay transparency appears to level the playing field, “Some companies…will negotiate for the candidate they really want.  Coaching for young women as they leave college and enter the workplace is an alternative plan that might better prepare young women for that first negotiation,” said Ortgies-Young.

Incidentally enough, pay transparency and the elimination of negotiation are both practiced “at Perimeter College when it comes to faculty hiring. We have a standard pay scale for the calculation of starting salaries for new faculty, and all faculty salaries in the University System of Georgia are publicly available for comparison,” said Dr. Eric T. Morton, philosophy professor at the Dunwoody campus.  As a newly consolidated community college in a state still struggling to close the gender pay gap, Perimeter College’s progress certainly is commendable.

Yet the issue remains- how can we overcome the rift in income?

“The most impactful solution in this thorny problem is legislation that requires equal pay for jobs of comparable worth.  With comparable worth, positions that have been devalued in the workplace, such as teaching and nursing because they are primarily held by women, would be salaried based on skills and credentials rather than societal norms.  That change would be revolutionary in terms of pay for women and might also invite a thoughtful reflection on the values that we share as a nation,” said Ortgies-Young.

About Marium Zafar

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