We are all very familiar with the fact that women make less than men do. As women, the fight for progress and equality in the workplace is a daily occurrence. So the recent study by Payscale on the gender pay gap reporting that women make on average 76 cents to the dollar of men is not surprising to any of us. This may seem like an unsurmountable statistic in our lifetime, but if you dig in further, there are some key insights worth addressing that are actionable today.
Why the pay gap exists
If you take the average of all women vs. the average of all men, women make 76 cents to the dollar of the average man. The gap is obvious given that men dominate the executive ranks and our boardrooms. Job titles and seniority have a direct correlation to salaries. And since women aren’t holding as many senior roles in corporations as men do, that explains a large part of the gap. In addition, men hold the majority of jobs in some of the highest paying fields (e.g. STEM). Therefore, it’s pretty clear why the average women makes less than the average man.
Women are being paid less than men for doing the same job, but not as much as we think
According to the study, when women are in the same roles and have the same background and education, women are making about 98 cents to the dollar of men. So yes, the disparity is about 2 cents on average. It’s not as large as we think. We’ve improved this figure greatly through the years and we are continuing to close this gap through some of the amazing efforts out there, but there is still more work to do. There are still biases and prejudices that happen daily.
The widening of the gender pay gap starts at 25 years old
The payscale research is extremely valuable because it tells us that while men and women might start off as equals in the workforce after college, as they move along in their careers, they progress into senior roles at different rates. This is a key driver in the gender pay gap. Since the gap only get’s larger as women get older.
The study shows the gap begins around 25 years old, when most people start experiencing their first opportunity to move up and get promoted.
The gap between men and women just gets larger and larger after that, by mid-career, “Men are 85% more likely than women to be VP’s or C-Suite Execs and 171% more likely to hold those positions late in their career”. These results are echoed in the recent Women in the Workplace study conducted by McKinsey & Lean In.
There are three actionable ways to help close this gap
Getting more women into STEM roles:
The industries with the largest pay gap are in STEM related industries. Even before entering the workforce, in high school and in college, we can create awareness and education around STEM roles. According to the NGC (National Girls Collaborative Project), while women make up 50 percent of the college educated workforce, they only represent 29 percent of the STEM workforce.
According to the Smithsonian Science Education Center, between 2000–2010, STEM related jobs grew 3 times the rate of non-STEM jobs. It is projected that by 2018, 2.4 million STEM jobs will go unfilled. In addition STEM salaries on average are 25 percent higher than non-STEM salaries.
Addressing Ambition & Confidence:
This research confirms a lot of what I see with young women in the workforce. According to a recent Bain study, women enter the workforce with higher ambitions than men, but after two years in the workforce (experience employee in the chart below), their ambition plummets 60 percent, while men’s ambitions stay the same, and only grows thereafter.
This tells us that something is happening in the workplace for women during this early years. Both the Women in the Workplace and the Bain study attribute the corporation’s role as critical in creating a workplace that can better encourage and support a woman’s ambition.
In addition, a Wall Street Journal article sheds light on female professional ambitions and the desire to attract a mate. The article is based on a recent Harvard study, called “Acting Wife: Marriage Market Incentives and Labor Market Investments”. The report is based on two field experiments in an elite MBA program. Results show that single women play down their ambitions when their is a presence of men, because of their desire to attract a mate. Some of the most young and ambitious women in the United States feel like they need to sacrifice their ambition because they feel that makes them less desirable in the marriage market. This is not the case for men.
Lastly, we cannot talk about the gender pay gap without addressing race. According to a recent Pew research study on Views of Race and Inequality, Black and Hispanic women earn significantly less than Asian and White women. Our investment in this area is critical to the success of all women. It is projected that by 2050, Hispanic and Latino women will make up nearly 39% of the total female population.
The Opportunity for Employers to Create Opportunities for all Women:
I have worked with and hired many bright and talented women early in their career. I have found that this is the most critical time in their careers as well. If they don’t receive the proper encouragement, management, and mentorship there is high likelihood that their ambitions and confidence will decrease dramatically. In order to even the playing field, here are my takeaways and suggestions:
Encourage, mentor and promote young women. This sounds very straightforward but hard in practice. We need to train our middle management teams, they are on the frontline here.
Create programs that support minority women in the workplace. When you invest in diversity, we all win.
Teach women to better negotiate promotions and salaries. Women aren’t confident asking for what they want, but this can be a learned skill.
Provide women the opportunity to take leadership roles on projects, letting them own something provides them the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities, create visibility for themselves, learn and develop new skills, generate confidence and also be considered for promotions.
Understanding a woman’s desire to progress up the corporate ladder. This may not always be clear once a woman starts her career, but if we better understand what her greatest strengths are, we can help show her paths towards success.
Creating an open discussion around childbirth and maternity leave and returning to workplace. Companies are ongoing a huge change right now to address issues related to mothers in the workplace. Companies need to address and understand the concerns of maternity leave for women and create programs in place that could allow working moms to succeed.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.