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The pay gap is real. Women are paid less than men across societies, industries and functions. The pay gap is detrimental to human development and until it is eradicated we will not achieve gender equality.

Women working full time in the United States typically are paid 79% of what men are paid. Furthermore, a recent study found that female graduates in the United Kingdom apply for jobs whose average salary is £2,000 lower than their male peers. When women are beginning their career on a lower salary than men, it becomes increasingly hard to make up the difference.

Why does the pay gap exist?

In some instances the pay gap can be accounted for by men’s and women’s choices. For example, more women than men go into teaching and teachers tend to be paid less than other professions. Furthermore, more men than women go into STEM and IT-related jobs, which are some of the highest paying. But it should be clear that these tendencies do not equate with women choosing to be paid less. Rather, there is a systemic imbalance with how we introduce young girls and boys to professions as well as unfair treatment in the office once they are at a working age. It matters if we raise our children on exclusively toy trucks or dolls; it matters if our children see only male CEOs and female supporting characters on TV; and it matters if a majority of men are in politics, making decisions for women. Our choices are influenced by our role models and surroundings.

Additionally, career interruptions, such as motherhood, are another reason for pay inequality. Taking time away from work can hurt earnings and when mothers decide to return to work, they can encounter a “motherhood penalty”. Companies contribute to the gender stereotypes of caregiving mothers and breadwinning fathers by adjusting the pay accordingly after childbirth. A New York Times article explains:

“The disparity is not because mothers actually become less productive employees and fathers work harder when they become parents – but because employers expect them to.”

The “fatherhood bonus” exacerbates the pay gap and coupled with a decline in wage for new mothers, makes it more difficult for mothers to return to work.

2016: Achieve equal pay

In 2016 I will begin business school, and in my MBA courses I will keep wage equality at the forefront of my mind. What decisions do CEOs make that contribute to the wage gap? How do the existing institutions perpetuate inequality? What can a company do to promote equality in the workplace?

I call on you to take action in 2016 to decrease the wage gap in your workplace. A few ideas:

  • Negotiate your salary. Listen to this episode of The Broad Experience for tips and information on negotiation.
  • Know the issues and share your knowledge. Read more for data on the U.S. and U.K. wage gap and take the facts to social media! Call others to action and continue the momentum.
  • Talk to your employer about paid parental leave. Both mothers and fathers should be encouraged to take the same amount of time off work to be with their little one.
  • Expose the children in your life to science, art, and literature. An unbiased introduction to these fields early in life will promote less gendered norms in future generations.

Let’s make 2016 the year to take a tangible step towards gender equality and increase pay for women worldwide.

Featured Image: Flickr Creative Commons

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