How to Close the Gender Pay Gap Once and for All

When I sat down to write about the gender pay gap, I realized the story began with numbers. This year’s Equal Pay Day is today, April 2. This date symbolizes how far into the year women need to work to earn what men earned last year. Three months didn’t sound too bad.

Then I reached out to Kim Churches, CEO of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). The AAUW’s latest research revealed women still earn 80 cents on the dollar compared to men in the U.S. But that’s not what Churches wanted to talk about.

“Paying people equally, regardless of gender, is a question of competitiveness and inclusion,” she said. “I’m thrilled that policymakers, employers, educational institutions, and women and men are having an international and national dialogue to address these issues. We’re all in this together, marching toward continuous improvement.”

Government, Employers, Individuals Share a Role

Since its founding over 100 years ago, the AAUW has used research and advocacy to drive gender equity progress on multiple fronts. In the U.S., the non-partisan organization has championed federal legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act. Internationally, educational programs focus on removing barriers to women — either financial, sexist, or systemic — by providing fellowships and grants for graduate studies in fields including STEM.

“Real change will only happen with stronger pay equity policies and laws at the grassroots, state, federal, and international levels. Employers need to make a meaningful commitment to change with greater transparency and specific actions for accountability. We need to empower, educate, and train women so they can learn negotiation skills and achieve leadership positions toward greater economic security,” said Churches.

Next Generation of Workers Have New Demands

Women make up 56 percent of undergraduates pursuing a four-year college degree. Even so, they’re saddled with more student loan debt and make less than their male counterparts from their first job through retirement. Nevertheless, Churches was optimistic.

“Millennials and gen Z employees won’t accept this status quo. They grew up in an era of change demography,” she said. “They understand inclusion, and are demanding it in schools, colleges, and workplaces.”

Debunking Pay Gap Myths

Numbers also refute common misconceptions. For example, the pay gap is not because women choose certain professions or work fewer hours compared to men. The AAUW’s latest report showed the pay gap between women and men is narrower in lower paid positions like retail and food prep. However, this gap persists in traditionally female-dominated professions like nursing and widens across many highly-educated professions. Jobs with the biggest collective gender gaps include financial managers, physicians and surgeons, accountants, and auditors. All told, working women in the U.S. lose out on $500 billion a year.

“We have to update laws like the 56-year-old United States Equal Pay Act, along with often archaic workplace norms,” said Churches. “To recruit, retain, and attract top talent, employers are rethinking these processes as well. Organizations need to have a bold, long-term target with metrics like SAP has done.”

SAP became the first multinational technology company to be awarded global gender equality certification from the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE). With last year’s EDGE certification renewal, SAP has reaffirmed its commitment to gender equity.

“Ensuring pay equity, providing flexible work options, leadership development programs for both men and women, and mentoring are part the comprehensive policies and programs driving sustainable cultural change at SAP,” said Shuchi Sharma, global head of Gender Intelligence at SAP.

Commit to Workplace Improvement

Employers of all sizes in the public and private sectors can take steps to address gender bias, including pay equity. These include more transparent hiring and promotion practices, regular pay audits, and parental leave policies encouraging both men and women to take time off.

“Women face many barriers from unconscious bias to blatant discrimination,” said Churches. “Workers need unconscious bias training during hiring and as part of regular updates. Companies need to hold managers accountable over time.”

Gender Pay Gap Not Just a Women’s Issue

While the AAUW plans to train 10 million women in salary negotiation skills by 2022, Churches emphasized that pay equity is a shared responsibility.

“Men are no longer seen as the primary earners for a family and more women are leading households,” said Churches. “However, opportunities for promotions and higher pay typically occur during a woman’s childbearing years. This is about economic security that benefits men just as much. Countless studies show that when women are at the leadership table, business ROI goes up.”

Coming full circle, it all comes down to numbers. Churches said polls show companies realize pay equity and the leadership gap are important and, overall, men are supportive.

In the future, let’s celebrate equal pay day on January 1.

Follow me on Twitter: @smgaler.