Since today is Equal Pay Day, there will be a lot of talk about achieving economic equality by
closing the gender wage gap. But the truth is, there's a heck of a lot more to it than that. Women not only make less than men for the same work but also do lower-paying and often unpaid work and get less recognition and other non-monetary compensation. And let's not forget it's not just women are disadvantaged: LGBTQ people, people of color, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups are also in need of economic advancement.
Unequal pay is ultimately a symptom of a much larger issue. As
Sheryl Sandberg said in a press release for Equal Pay Day, "This issue speaks to how we value women's labor, knowledge, time, training, and so much more. In short, it's about women's worth. There's nothing more fundamental than that." It also speaks to how we value the work and contributions of people differently based on their race, socioeconomic status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and much more.
So, while we shouldn't lose sight of the important work that needs to be done to close the wage gap, we should keep in mind that these additional steps are also necessary.
Stop Making Women Do So Much Free Work
In addition to getting paid less for paid work, women are doing a lot of work for free — particularly, work around the house. According to
ActionAid's Not Ready, Still Waiting report, women around the world work four more years than men on average throughout their lives due to all the childcare and household labor they're held responsible for. Companies offering more paid leave to parents of all genders, masculine-identifying people helping out more around the house, and feminine-identifying people exercising their right to say "no" to free labor can all help alleviate this issue.
Give Women The Recognition They Deserve
Women are undervalued in more ways than just their paychecks. They're also
less likely to get promotions and awards. You know how many Nobel Prizes went to women last year? Zero. Talk about a gap. To close this gap, thank women in your office for their contributions, and talk up their accomplishments to others. If your boss is looking to promote someone, make it known if a woman who might be overlooked deserves it.
Make Workplaces More Woman-Friendly
Even if women are making the same amount as men, they're still far from being treated fairly at work if they continue to be disproportionately
ignored in meetings, overlooked for important assignments, and sexually harassed — all things which research has shown to be discouragingly common. You can make a difference in your own workplace by making an effort to pay equal attention to all your colleagues regardless of their gender and speak up when you see something's wrong.
Legally Protect Women From Workplace Discrimination
Just the week before Equal Pay Day,
Trump signed an executive order that rolls back Obama-era protections for women employees. Namely, companies with government contracts are no longer required to practice paycheck transparency or allow employees the option to go to court in sexual assault or harassment cases. They can now force them to settle these disputes internally, where often, nothing ever comes of them. To promote economic equality, we need protections like these that not only promote fair wages but also create less hostile work environments. Here's how to contact your representatives to ask them to support legislation that furthers women's rights and the rights of other marginalized groups.
Help Women Get Into Male-Dominated Fields
does not explain the wage gap away, one contributor to it is women's tendency to work in lower-paying professions. This isn't because women and men innately have different interests; it's because women are taught from a young age that they're not good leaders, scientists, computer programmers, and other professions deemed "masculine." Supporting programs for women of all ages, from Girls Who Code to Lean In, and greater awareness of gender bias among teachers and employers can help combat this.
Even if women and men made the same amount of money, women would end up with less at the end because products geared toward them cost more. This is called
the "pink tax," and it costs women $1,351 per year. Some states have already gotten rid of the tampon tax, one contributor to women spending more than men, and individual businesses can make a point to sell products for the same price regardless of what gender they're geared toward — or stop gendering products altogether.
Promote Wage Equality For Everyone
Black women only make 63 percent of what white men make, Latinas make 54 percent, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women make 60 percent, and Native American women make 58 percent, according to the National Women’s Law Center. And women with disabilities make 72 percent of what men without disabilities earn. Pretty much every identity that leaves someone disadvantaged in our society also leaves them with less money. In that way, wage inequality can tell us a lot about who we undervalue — and who we need to value more.
To close all kinds of pay gaps, companies can set a protocol for what each position at each level will earn and let job applicants know what the salary will be in advance so that it's totally transparent. On a large-scale level, the government might consider passing
legislation like Iceland's that requires companies to prove they're not paying people differently based on their gender or race. Given Trump's most recent move related to this issue, I'm not holding my breath — but if we fight for it, we can still make a difference.