8 Things Men Can Do About The Gender Wage Gap

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April 2 marks the 2019 edition of Equal Pay Day in the United States — and although perhaps “celebrating” it isn’t quite the right word, there’s plenty we can do to mark the occasion and work towards positive change. And it isn’t just women who need to do the work to make the change; there’s plenty that men can do about the gender wage gap. Indeed, thanks to the privileges afforded simply by being a dude, many of the ways men can help fight the wage gap can be extraordinarily effective, indeed.

You’re probably familiar with the figures by now, but let’s go over the latest ones again, just to drive the point home: In 2017, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Asian women earned 85 percent that which white men earned; white women earned 77 percent; Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women earned 62 percent; Black women earned 61 percent; Native women earned 58 percent; and Latinx women earned just 53 percent. This means that, in order to make the same amount for the same work as white men do in a single calendar, women have to keep working well into the next calendar year.

Equal Pay Day, therefore, marks the date at which point women’s earnings “catch up” to what men earned during the entire previous calendar year — so, in 2019, that means that women earned the same amount between Jan. 1, 2018 and April 2, 2019 for the same work that men earned between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2018. And that’s not OK, even if there’s some evidence that the gender wage gap has been shrinking somewhat. (According to the Pew Research Center, women between the ages of 25 and 34 earned just 67 cents on the dollar compared to men in 1980, compared with 89 cents on the dollar in 2018.)

But although it’s shrinking, the wage gap is by no means a thing of the past — and the worst part is, April 2 isn’t the only Equal Pay Day to occur each year; it’s just the one that reflects the overall gender wage gap. The gender wage gap is just one of many, many wage gaps that still exist today, all of which lock together in intersecting systems of oppression. Accordingly, in 2019, Asian American women’s Equal Pay Day was on March 5. For moms, it’s on June 10. For Black women, it’s Aug. 22. Native women’s Equal Pay Day is on Sept. 23. And for Latinx women, it’s Nov. 20.

Women have long put in the work that will help shrink and, hopefully, eventually eliminate the wage gap; however, it’s not just on us. There’s a lot that men can do for the cause. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it offers a few places to start:

1. Get Familiar With The Law

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It is, in fact, illegal under the Equal Pay Act to compensate employees differently based on gender. What’s more, as Alison Green of Ask A Manager pointed out recently at The Cut, it doesn’t matter if the disparities are unintentional; if there’s a clear divide in how people of different genders are paid, it’s still illegal, regardless as to the employer’s intentions or lack thereof.

Knowing the laws will better equip you to address possible gender wage gap issues with your employer — and go to bat for your coworkers who are women or non-binary. If it looks like something might be going on, you can start by speaking to your boss about it. Green’s suggested script is positioned as what to do if you think you’re being paid less than a coworker, wherein the speaker is a woman and the coworker is a man; however, it can be easily adjusted to suit the situation. If you think you're being paid more than your coworker, you might say something like, “I’m concerned about the pay disparity between myself and Georgina, and I’m concerned that we’re violating the Equal Pay Act by paying a man and a woman so differently for the same work. Can you help me understand why our salaries are so different?” Note the use of “we” here; as Green puts it, “That’s deliberate, because it makes the conversation feel more collaborative and less adversarial.”

2. Be Transparent About Your Own Salary

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A surprising number of employers have policies that prohibit employees from discussing salary — but thanks to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and the Non-Retaliation for Disclosure of Compensation Information executive order Obama signed in 2014, these kinds of policies are actually illegal. Nor can employers retaliate against employees who do discuss their salaries.

Indeed, salary transparency is of the utmost importance, particularly when it comes to closing the wage gaps. The key is to do it appropriately: You don’t just want to start bragging about how much you make; nor, as money expert Brianna McGurran told the New York Times in 2018, is it about “trying to fish around for gossip.” But if the subject of salary does come up, and a woman colleague asks what you make for the work you do, being candid is one of the most valuable things you can do. As Doughroller recently pointed out, “being more transparent can open up more people to seeing and fighting against the gender wage gap and other wage gaps that exist” — in other words, knowledge is power.

3. Encourage Women To Negotiate For Higher Salaries…

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Whether it’s the women in your life or the women you work with, support them in negotiating for higher salaries. Too many people in general don’t negotiate their salary when they’re evaluating a job offer — as a 2018 survey from staffing firm Robert Half discovered, only 39 percent of respondents negotiated salary during their last job offer — but women tend to negotiate even less often than men: According to that same survey, 46 percent of men did negotiate, while only 34 percent of women did. Don’t be pushy about it, and know when to back off, but encouraging women to negotiate can do a world of good — it’s always helpful to know you’ve got support behind you.

4. …And Help Them Achieve Higher Salaries, If You Can

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As Hannah Riley Bowles points out at the Harvard Business Review’s Ascend, research has found repeatedly that women don’t negotiate not because they lack confidence or negotiation skills, but because of the “social cost” negotiating too often holds for them. “Numerous studies have been conducted in which participants rate their impressions of employees who negotiate for pay and of employees who let the same opportunity to negotiate pass them by,” writes Bowles. “The researchers then compared people’s willingness to work with that employee after evaluators saw him or her negotiate, or not.” Bowles terms “social cost” as what happened when “evaluators were less inclined to work with the same employee after seeing [them] negotiate.” In multiple studies, the social cost of negotiating is almost always higher for women than it is for men — so, knowing this, it’s not surprising that women can be reluctant to negotiate.

If you have a hand in hiring or in determining raises, though, you can help mitigate this issue. Advocate for women who negotiate. Work to get them paid what they’re worth. Make sure your company has clear, consistent criteria in place by which to determine these sorts of decisions, thereby decreasing biases that might affect the outcome.

Speaking of…

5. Examine Your Own Biases

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Some candidates for jobs and promotions will always be stronger than others, but there are a lot of unconscious, societal biases that can affect how we feel about each candidate — and, in turn, affect hiring and promotion decisions, even if we’re not aware it’s happening. If you have a say in hiring or promotions, and you’re faced with two candidates who both seem equally well suited to a promotion — yet find yourself leaning towards promoting a male candidate over a female or non-binary one based on a “gut feeling” — ask yourself what might be behind that feeling. Do you feel, for example, that the man was “assertive,” but the woman was “bossy?”

Well, that’s unconscious bias at work: Studies have found that when men and women display the same behavior, what’s deemed “assertiveness” in men is often called “bossiness” in women — that is, men are rewarded for having a trait perceived as positive, while women are penalized for having that same trait and viewed negatively for it. That’s just one example, of course — there are many, many others — and obviously this doesn’t mean that you should hire or promote women indiscriminately; however, it’s always worth interrogating your own thoughts and feelings for unconscious biases that may be affecting or skewing your decisions.

6. Go To Bat For The Women You Work With

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If you’re a manager or supervisor, going to bat for your direct reports can be a major way to combat the wage gap. Consider the fact that a 2018 study found that women ask for raises as frequently as men do, but actually receive them far less often: While men who ask for raises receive them 20 percent of the time, women who ask for them receive them only 15 percent of the time. If one of your direct reports makes the case for a raise, and their work is solid, do what you can to make a happen, including taking it to your own higher-ups if required. Heck, even if your report hasn’t asked for a raise, but has taken on more responsibility, consistently turned out high-quality work, or risen to a particular challenge, you can still advocate for a raise for them.

Going to bat for your reports isn’t limited to raises, either; if you’re in a supervisorial position, you can also provide professional opportunities for your reports that can help strengthen their case for a raise later on, like sending high-profile assignments their way.

And even if you’re not in a position to advocate for raises, promotions, or project assignments, you can still do a lot of good by speaking up and highlighting your women coworkers’ achievements. Research has found, for example, that women’s ideas are often given less credit than men’s, so if your co-worker has a particularly great idea, say so. And if you’re in the middle of a group meeting and a male coworker hepeats a point previously brought up by a woman, say something like, “Yes, that’s what Miranda brought up just a minute ago.”

7. Advocate For Parental Leave — Including Paternity Leave

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Working women are frequently penalized for having families: According to one Harvard study, women who have children are perceived to be less competent, less committed to their jobs, less likely to be recommended for higher, less likely to be promoted, and held to higher punctuality standards than either women without child or men in general — that is, the “motherhood penalty” is absolutely a thing. Furthermore, men with children don’t suffer the same hit to their perceived employability and work ethic”: They’re perceived, for example, as more committed to their jobs than people without children, and allowed greater flexibility when it comes to punctuality than women with children.

And that’s without considering the negative hit women who become mothers get if they take maternity leave — or if they don’t take maternity leave. It’s a lose-lose situation, according to a 2017 study; women are judged harshly no matter which choice they make.

All of this has a profound effect on women’s earnings throughout their lifetime: Women routinely earn less after they have children, no matter how strong their credentials are.

Advocating for parental leave, however — including paternity leave — will help fight the stigma against both maternity leave in particular and help with future earnings for women. We can see this effect at work in Sweden with regards to a “daddy leave” policy implemented in 1995. (Note, though, that these statistics only pertain to families with a two-parent, one-father-one-mother composition; they don’t take into account other orientations or genders.) The policy gave fathers a monetary incentive to take parental leave: They received a month’s worth of subsidies if they took it and lost out on the subsidies if they didn’t. Not only did the number of fathers taking parental leave jump from six percent to a whopping 80 percent, but over time, it became clear that doing so was beneficial to the future earnings for mothers: For each month of parental leave a father took, the mother’s future earnings increased by seven percent.

8. Listen To Women

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If women tell you the wage gap affects them, listen. If they tell you they think they're being discriminated against, listen. If they tell you they've been on the receiving end of systemic sexism, listen. Don't try to explain it away, or say that the wage gap isn't a thing, or try to convince them that we're living in a post-sexism world. Listen, and trust them to know what their own lived experiences have been. It seems like such a little thing, but having someone listen — really listen — is far too rare of an occurrence. It helps. It helps a lot. Listen, trust, believe, and go from there.

These eight action items are just a start, of course. There’s plenty more men can do to help shrink the wage gap, from sharing household duties to showing up at the polls to elect candidates who support equal pay. Regardless, it’s something everyone should care about; not only is it good for… well, pretty much everyone in the world who doesn’t identify as a man, but it’s good for literally everyone.

I'm not going to say "let's get to work"; we've already done that. But I will say, let's keep at it. We've gained a lot of ground, but there's still lots left to do. Press on. There's no other way to be.