We’ve heard the statistic over and over. On average, women make 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. We’ve also heard the proposed solution over and over: institute policies that require equal pay. Yet, a lack of policy isn’t the only thing dragging down women’s wages.
An analysis of what’s behind that pesky wage problem reveals that even if women were to work in a field with fair pay – on paper – they’d be affected by the type of work they do, how many hours they can put in (skewed by women’s enduring role as caregivers), and how flexible their schedule is.
A consultant, for example, has to be available 9 – 5 to work with her clients. If she has to miss a few hours to pick up children from school, or help look after a sick relative, that time – however equally compensated – is still time lost.
A woman artist, however, might be free to construct her days as she wishes, and as long as she puts in the necessary hours, it doesn’t matter which hours those are. It’s a lifestyle that’s still exhausting, but not one that forces a logistical exclusion of family or finances. An equal wage policy would only help women who have sufficient freedom to take advantage of it.
Tech company Redfin did a little soul searching and found another contributing factor: companies with women in their leadership tend to have fairer pay. It’s an embodiment of what should be an obvious trend: women want to pay women more. Redfin found that in the average tech company, those with fewer women in leadership positions earned the average 77 cents for every 96 cents men earned.
“At companies with more women executives, women earned 98 cents for every dollar that men in similar roles earned. The two-cent pay gap might not sound like much, but for a man earning a $100,000 salary, a woman would earn $96,000 at a company with fewer women executives, compared to $98,000 at a company with more women at the top. This disparity adds up to tens of thousands of dollars over a woman’s career.”
As a result of their analysis, Redfin began publishing their pay rates, a sort of open accountability strategy that has proved effective. (When the BBC released their salaries publicly, for example, female employees went up in arms after it highlighted a disparity between their highest paid men and women).
It’s not all bad news. Pew Research Centre has found that despite its persistence, the gender gap has actually shrunk. And the cultural clamor surrounding the disparity puts immense pressure on even the largest companies to write the same numbers on their employees’ cheques, regardless of gender.