On #EqualPayDay Dig Deeper into the Pay Gap’s Complexities

Yesterday Facebook and Microsoft announced that they have reached gender pay parity, hoping, I imagine, to get ahead of today’s Equal Pay Day discussions. There’s good reason for Facebook and Microsoft to make preemptive announcements, as the tech industry has been in the news too much lately for being too white, too male and too willing to gentrify residents out of their homes. Gender pay parity is a much needed win.

On #EqualPayDay Dig Deeper into the Pay Gap’s Complexities

But the pay gap is more complicated than that.

The gender pay gap in America is still significant, ranging from the average of 5.4% to as high as 28% in some occupations. Glassdoor pegs the adjusted pay gap among computer programmers at 28.3%. Many other tech industry positions have pay gaps nearly as high, save for positions in marketing, PR, HR or administration. But not all huge pay gaps are in STEM fields – retail, food service and transportation also have significant gender pay gaps, ranging from 14 to 28%. (Business Insider breaks down the 15 specific jobs with the highest pay gaps here.)

Equal Pay Day is the point at which the average woman has met the earnings of the average man from the previous year. That is, at $0.79 to $1.00, the average woman in America must work 15 and 1/2 months to meet the earnings of what the average man takes in 12. Of course, as we have discussed before on B4J, there is more to the gender pay gap than this basic measurement, as there are enormous pay gaps between men and women of different races and ethnicities. The wage gaps between cis and transgender people and between able and disabled people also remain huge. The Global Fund for Women shared this powerful infographic Twitter today, on the pay disparities amongst American women:


President Obama addressed the gender pay gap in a short speech today, pointing to the deeper burden on women of colour, and the steps his administration has taken to address this. As Obama points out, the Equal Pay Act, signed 50 years ago, has done little to combat the pay gap amongst women, subtler forms of employment discrimination or the siloing of women in lower paying career tracks.

Looking even deeper, AJ+ shared a video examining the lifetime earnings loss caused by the pay gap when combined with the pink tax. AJ+ rightly points out that the reasons for the pay gap are complex: not only do women earn less than men on average when doing the same job, but they are also more likely to work lower paying jobs. In the tech and finance industries, where diversification has become a necessity due to constant – and deserved – media, political and activist pressure, equal pay and providing more positions for white women has sometimes been seen as “diverse enough.”

And the affects of the pink tax – the higher cost of goods with gendered design – can be huge over time. Women pay more for basic health and beauty products, clothing, dry-cleaning and even toys for girls. New York City’s department of consumer affairs found that 42% of products designed for women cost an average of 7% more. And in addition to this price gap, some health products are taxed as luxury goods rather than necessities, as pointed out in the AJ+ video below:

Despite the shortcomings of Equal Pay Day – mainly its lack of nuance – it remains a powerful symbol of employment inequality that gets people talking. Earlier today McKinsey Global institute released a damning new study of the economic impact of the gender pay gap. Among its conclusions are that $4.3 trillion could be added to the national GDP in 2025 if the gender pay gap were closed. However, most data suggest that, if the current pace of change continues, it will take 118 years for America to close the gender pay gap.

Although it’s true that men are more likely to apply for jobs they’re less qualified for, more likely to negotiate for raises, and more likely get those raises faster (and continue to get them through the years), according to Glassdoor,

“The single biggest cause of the gender pay gap is occupation and industry sorting of men and women into jobs that pay differently throughout the economy. In the U.S., occupation and industry sorting explains 54 percent of the overall pay gap—by far the largest factor.”

So although Facebook, Microsoft and many other companies have achieved pay parity – equal pay for equal work – they have yet to address the biggest cause of wage disparity: the subtle forms of early schooling and career discrimination that lead to women and men pursing different kinds of careers and career tracks. Equal Pay Day and similar efforts must be about more than pushing the needle on the average pay for women in America – they must strive to improve pay, benefits and employment opportunities for all women.

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Megan Purdy

Former recruiter, HR pro and Workology editor. Comics, cheese and political economy.

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