How to Fix the Gender Income Gap

Posted on February 19, 2015 by Don MacPherson.

In an ideal world, men and women would have similar relationships with their organizations, but it is just not the case. We know this because every six months Modern Survey fields a study of the U.S. Workforce to understand how employees feel about their organizations. We cut the data many different ways to look for trends and outliers. We always look at differences between women and men.

Last spring, our State of Employee Engagement Report illustrated how much more engaged women are at work than men and at the same time are largely less satisfied in areas outside of engagement. A hot button issue when looking at men and women is pay. In our fall study, we found that 54% of women feel they are “paid fairly for the work they do.” For men, it is 65%. Given a +/-3.6% difference is significant. At 11 percentage points, the difference between men and women on pay is a chasm.

If you are an optimist, you might believe that the income gap is going to fix itself over time. Certainly this new generation of young, empowered women who recently entered the workforce will not stand for making less than their equals of the opposite sex, right? You may be disheartened to learn that Millennial women perceive the pay gap at the same rate as Gen X women and Baby Boomer women. Even looking at perceptions of pay by gender and generation over a five year period, the differences are almost exactly the same.

I am paid fairly for the work I do

That’s the perception. The reality is even worse. There are job types that pay women two-thirds of what men earn. So what’s the solution? Don’t bet on legislation. That would take political will and courage…both of which are in short supply. As history shows, legislation hasn’t worked. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 attempted to solve the issue. More than 50 years later, women earn 78% – 91% of what men earn…depending on whose research you believe.

How about a provocative idea? Social media has empowered all of us. Go there. Report egregious violators – those companies that continually allow a gender pay gap. Expose them and research the other companies that allow it too. Then, simply stop buying from them. There is no way politicians will solve this faster than market forces. The tools are there. It’s just a matter of inciting the people to demand a change. Few things speak louder than money walking the other way.


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