April 4, 2017 marks Equal Pay Day in the United States. Equal Pay Day symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous calendar year. Simply stated, for 2016 women had to work fifteen months to earn what their male counterparts earned in twelve months. This is supported by statistics released in 2016 by the US Census Bureau that show women are paid on average 80 cents for every dollar their male colleagues are paid; a gap of 20 cents. The gap is larger when comparing Black and Hispanic women to their male colleagues.
When President Obama took office one of his top priorities was to address the pay gap in our country. The first bill he signed extended the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit alleging pay discrimination. During his tenure several new initiatives were pursued to identify and fix the source of gender and race-based pay disparities. But in retrospect, is the government really in the best position to “move the needle” on pay equity?
Government initiatives often miss the mark on finding real pay problems. Government employees, paid on a structured civil service wage scale, are often unfamiliar with the nuances of private employer pay practices. Realistically, change is more feasible in the hands of employers and workers. Here are three ways people like you and I can influence the pay gap:
Formality. Employers with formal compensation policies benefit from having internally equitable and externally competitive salary grades. Having this foundation for determining starting pay and pay increases provides consistency and less opportunity for discrimination. Pay ranges make clear to workers what their earning potential is. Internal checks and balances, like requiring HR approval for wage increases administered by supervisors, help companies monitor pay equity across jobs and departments. It also helps them identify early if any supervisor is granting increases differently among workers or compared to other supervisors within the company.
Mobility. Even when starting wages are established equitability, a pay gap can emerge over time if one group of employees receives more promotion and transfer opportunities than another. Employers enhance mobility for all employees when they post available positions internally for employees to apply. Employees should discuss career goals with their employer and solicit feedback on what steps to take to prepare for a promotion. It’s also important that employees research the value and compensation of a new position and advocate for themselves when accepting a new pay rate.
Opportunity. Some researchers believe that the low representation of women and minorities in STEM fields contributes to the pay gap. Many communities have or are developing programs to encourage female and minority participation in STEM programs. Parents need to encourage their children to take advantage of these opportunities. Professionals in STEM fields can enhance the available programs by helping lead a program, offering technical advice, allowing young people to job shadow them, and providing internships for college students.
Ten years ago, Equal Pay Day occurred on April 24th. That’s an average improvement of two days per year. At this rate, it will take 47 more years for pay equity. This is an unacceptable amount of time, with most of us aging out of the workforce before equity is achieved. Awareness of factors that contribute to the wage gap and knowledge of ways to address them can reduce that time.
Shannon Craig is Vice President of Compliance Services at HR Works, Inc., with expertise in affirmative action and nondiscrimination.