It’s been more than 40 years since Dolly Parton released her iconic hit “9 to 5.” The song, written for the film of the same name, helped bring issues of workplace sexual harassment, misogyny, and gender discrimination to the fore. Women have made incredible strides in the workplace since then, but as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. There’s no denying it: We still haven’t reached the equity that this catchy tune alludes to, particularly where the gender pay gap is concerned.
In 1980 (when “9 to 5” debuted), women aged 16-plus earned 64 cents for every dollar earned by men. Since then, the gender pay gap has gotten smaller — but only by incremental annual amounts. In 2022, there are still marked gender differences in pay, despite women making considerable gains in education, work experience, and occupational segregation. In fact, for every dollar men make in 2022, Payscale estimates that women will earn only 82 cents.
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The real question is why the gender pay gap is still an issue today. Like all inequity challenges, the answer is complicated. Gender-based wage discrepancy is multilayered, and enduring systems and structural mechanisms work to reinforce it. For instance, women-dominated occupations like nursing and teaching typically pay less than stereotypically “men” jobs.
We also can’t ignore how intersecting identities create larger pay gaps for women of color, disabled women, and working mothers. During the global pandemic, many women were forced to exit the workforce to care for loved ones. If and when they return to work, there’s a good chance they’ll face disproportionate compensation penalties from being unemployed. All that’s to say that figuring out how to fix the gender pay gap is tricky. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to join the fight for equal pay in your own job:
1. Find a sponsor
The gender pay gap persists, in part, due to unconscious biases. As humans, we naturally feel more affinity for individuals who look, sound, and act like us. Because white cisgender men largely dominate workplace leadership, they’re more likely to advocate for and promote people who are similar to them — at the expense of women and other marginalized groups.
To help break this cycle and advance your career, seek out a sponsor. Look for an influential individual who can advocate for you and boost your business-impacting accomplishments for a promotion or salary increase. It’s important to note that a sponsor isn’t the same as a mentor. Mentors are great, but they aren’t as valuable in the fight for equal pay because their primary role is to provide general career advice.
While a mentor will coach you through the play, a sponsor will go to bat for you. That can make all the difference. Per a 2019 Payscale report, employees who have sponsors are paid nearly 12 percent more than those who don’t. Unfortunately, who you choose as your sponsor still matters. That same report found that women with women sponsors make almost 15 percent less than women with men sponsors. And women of color with sponsors of the same race or ethnicity also tend to have lower pay than women of color with white sponsors.
2. Speak truth to power
Money has long been considered a taboo topic, particularly among women. According to a Fidelity study, most women deem money “too personal“ for open discussion. This secrecy is outdated and only helps to perpetuate the gender pay gap.
After all, if you don’t know what you’re making compared to people in similar roles, it will be harder to benchmark and negotiate your salary. In contrast, when women talk freely about compensation — and encourage their workplaces to do the same — we give ourselves and others more clarity around what we could or should be earning. That kind of radical transparency opens the door for personal and political progress.
However, avoid sharing your current salary details while job hunting because it could undermine your negotiating power. Luckily, some local laws forbid employers from inquiring about your current salary. But even if the employer is within their rights to ask, you can still decline to answer by telling them you’d like to learn more about the role before discussing compensation.
3. Take action
From the time they’re children, men are socialized to advocate for themselves in ways that women simply aren’t. It’s why they’ll apply for jobs when they only meet 60 percent of the qualifications. In comparison, women won’t apply for a job unless they meet all qualifications, and that lack of confidence also impacts their ability to negotiate their salary. In fact, 60 percent of women say they’ve never negotiated a raise.
No one is born knowing how to negotiate a salary. Like any other skill, it’s something you have to practice and hone. When you’re preparing to ask for a pay raise, come to the table with clear reasons why you deserve a raise. What value do you bring to the company? And what kind of numbers do you have to back that up? Be sure to include the figures you’ve gathered from your compensation discussions and research, such as pay figures from people in similar roles.
Fixing the gender pay gap can seem overwhelming. So start with yourself. Find a sponsor. Unapologetically talk about earnings. And ask for what you need — whether that’s increased compensation, more flexibility, or better benefits. Now go and make Dolly proud.
Disclosure: This material has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be used as investment, tax, legal, or accounting advice. All investing involves risk. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Diversification does not ensure a profit or guarantee against a loss. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors.