What Needs To Happen For The Wage Gap To Close

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Equal pay for people of all genders may feel like a distant possibility. But according to a new study by Accenture, it could be a reality sooner than we thought — if we really try to understand how to close the wage gap and put in the work needed to do it. There's still a lot that needs to change if we want to meet that goal, even knowing what conditions might lead to a situation in which it's a reality.

The wage gap has stayed stubbornly similar in recent years. Between 2007 and 2015, women went from making 79 percent to 80 percent of what men do, which is not statistically significant, according to a U.S. Census report. Accenture's survey of 28,000 people in 29 countries, however, states that women graduating college in 2020 in developed countries could make the same amount of money as their male peers.

According to Accenture's analysis, whether we'll attain this goal depends on whether women's technology usage catches up to men's — not just their ability to code but also their use of digital technologies for tasks like payment and online learning. The report found that currently, 76 percent of men but only 72 percent of women around the world are "digitally fluent," and that the gap is slightly bigger — 80 percent versus 75 percent — for Millennials. So far, the gap isn't closing, since 52 percent of men but only 45 percent of women are picking up new skills. On top of that, women are less likely than men to learn to code and adopt new technologies.

That's not women's fault, though, so the solution's not as simple as telling women to become more technically savvy. In fact, research shows that girls start off just as interested in STEM subjects as boys, suggesting that the gender gap in technology usage is something our culture imposes on us. Unfortunately, there's a pervasive stereotype that computers are "masculine" and that women aren't smart enough to master them. Indeed, by age six, girls become less likely to believe someone described as "really, really smart" is a girl and more likely to believe they're a boy, according to a recent University of Illinois study. And a University of California Hastings report found that 100 percent of women of color and 93 percent of white women had experienced gender bias in STEM.

Then, there's the issue of access to technology. Unequal access in many parts of the world could be fueled by unequal education, work opportunities, and finances. Women in the United States. are 35 percent more likely than men to live below the poverty line, according to Legal Momentum. In addition, over 54 percent of children without education worldwide are girls. Learning new technologies may not be your priority when you can't even afford a phone or computer — or can't go to school to get that knowledge.

If the issue is fewer women using technology to their advantage and having technical jobs, then solutions might include more programs like Girls Who Code and Women Who Code to support women of all ages in tech, training to reduce gender bias among teachers and employers, greater access to education, better family leave policies, and other measures that can improve women's economic situations.

Another issue Accenture identified that contributes to the wage gap is a difference in "career strategy," which includes studying fields that pay more and pursuing higher-paying positions and careers. Once again, this problem is probably cultural: Women face bias in leadership roles, and girls get discouraged from pursuing them at a young age. Plus, the mere fact that a profession is women-dominated makes its payment drop, according to a study in Social Forces, suggesting that women won't be able to escape low pay just by entering fields that are currently higher-paying. And the pay gap is even bigger at the top of the corporate ladder, according to an Ernest analysis.

Once again, larger-scale solutions are needed, like establishing quotas for women in certain job roles, training employees on implicit bias, setting up mentorship and other support systems for women in male-dominated fields, and perhaps even creating a policy like Iceland's that requires companies to prove they're paying everyone the same regardless of their gender or race.

If these conditions are met, the pay gap could be a thing of the past by 2044. But we need to work hard to make that happen, and by "we" I mean everyone, not just women.