Gender Pay Gap Misconceptions

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There are several myths surrounding one of the most stubborn and enduring labor issues of our time: the gender pay gap. Because such myths can lead to confusion and generally hurt remedial efforts, they must be dispelled. With that said, here are some of the top misconceptions regarding the gender pay gap.

The Issue

Responding to a protracted outcry about unequal pay in the United States, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act. That was 59 years ago. Yet today, women in the U.S. earn 82 cents for every dollar that men earn. In fact, the gender pay chasm has narrowed by just 7 cents since 2015.

Definition-wise, the pay gap gauges the difference in median hourly earnings between males and females in the U.S. workforce.

Myth: The Gender Pay Gap Doesn’t Exist

It’s believed in some quarters that there is no true gender pay gap because the chasm can widen or narrow at any given time due based on certain factors. Thus, the .82 cents figure fails to tell the whole story, the argument goes.

The fact is that while some nuanced stats around the pay gap may be outdated or misleading, that does not negate the overall picture which clearly points to ongoing pay disparities.

Myth: The Gap Applies Mostly to White Women

It does, but only in that there are more white women in the labor force, because there are more white women. The fact is that African American and Latina women in this country earn even less – 64 cents and 56 cents, respectively – than do white women for each buck men of any ethnicity earn.

Myth: The Pay Gap is Because Women Choose Low-Paying Jobs

It is true that women are generally more likely than men to have lower-paying positions, but there’s more to the gender pay gap than that. The fact is that women have relatively fewer job options due to a real phenomenon known as gender discrimination.

Generally, women are frequently steered toward what traditionally have been known as “women’s jobs” such as home health aides and child-care workers. Men, on the other hand, have more opportunities in higher-paying industries like construction and in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math. This is true even though women frequently score well in STEM testing and coursework.

Further, the potential for gender-based violence and sexual harassment also keep women from some workplaces and even entire industries.

Myth: Women Make Less Because They Work Part Time

First, national figures regarding the pay gap are derived from part-time as well as full-time employees for women as well as men.

But mainly, women often have no choice but to accept fewer working hours for less pay because of the unpaid and under-valued familial duties they’re expected to perform at home, including caregiving, cooking, etc., due to gender norms.

According to Concern Worldwide US, women work as many hours – if not more – as their male counterparts. The rub is the “unpaid” part, and the fact that such work is unrecognized as essential. Data show that, on average, males perform an average of seven hours daily – six of them paid. By contrast, women work roughly 7.5 hours daily, but are paid for just three.

In addition to getting more men to help more with family issues, an organizational solution is to provide paid paternal as well as maternal leave so that women aren’t penalized for taking time off.

The bottom line is that misconceptions surrounding the gender pay gap help no one. Now that you know the real deal, you can start by fixing any issues in your organization. That calls for a pay equity analysis, with which the leading HR consulting firm Mercer can help.

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Abbie M

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