3 Things to Know About Equal Pay Day

Deborah Swerdlow

A person holding a ball of money.

April 10 is Equal Pay Day, but it’s not an occasion to celebrate. Equal Pay Day marks the symbolic day each calendar year when a woman’s earnings “catch up” to a man’s earnings from the previous year. Because women typically earn just over 80 cents on the dollar compared to men’s earnings, it takes a woman almost 16 months to earn what a man earns in just 12.

Although you wouldn’t wish someone a happy Equal Pay Day, you can still mark the holiday by learning about the gender pay gap and taking action in a way that makes sense for you. Here are three things you should know about Equal Pay Day.

The 80 cents statistic doesn’t tell the whole story

In 2016 (the latest year for which data is available), women working full time, year round were paid only 80.5 cents per dollar earned by men working the same hours. That 20-cent gap isn’t entirely due to gender discrimination, but that doesn’t mean gender-based pay discrimination doesn’t exist.

Even after accounting for factors that can affect pay—job type, industry, education, and experience—economists found that about 8 cents of the gender pay gap remains. Their conclusion was that discrimination is to blame for that remaining portion of the pay gap. And for some women, when gender discrimination is combined with other forms of discrimination, the pay gap widens.

Here are some recent findings published by the National Women’s Law Center:

  • Black or African-American women earn 63 cents per dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men, and Hispanic or Latina women earn 54 cents per dollar. White, non-Hispanic men are used as the benchmark because they are the largest group in the workforce.
  • Women with disabilities working full time, year round make 76 cents per dollar earned by men with disabilities. It’s also important to note here that people with disabilities overall make less than people without disabilities.
  • Mothers earn 71 cents for every dollar paid to fathers (what some call a “motherhood penalty”).

The social-impact sector has a gender pay gap

The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2016, women working in community and social service occupations earned 87.6 cents for every dollar earned by men in the same occupations.

The news is bittersweet as you go up the career ladder. On one hand, GuideStar found only an 8% gap between female and male CEOs of nonprofit organizations with a budget of $250,000 or less. On the other hand, the gender pay gap widens to 25% for leaders of organizations with a budget of $25 million or more.

Thinking about a career in government? The size of the gender pay gap in government can vary depending on whether you work for the federal government or a state government, as well as by state. One advantage of working in government is that salaries tend to be public, which can help you assess whether you’re being paid fairly. Government jobs also tend to be classified by grade, with a public salary range associated with each grade. These methods of pay transparency may be related to a smaller gender pay gap.

You can make a difference

While it’s important to know where gender pay equity (or a lack thereof) stands, that doesn’t mean we’re stuck with the status quo. Here are three things you can do to help close the gender pay gap.

Negotiate your salary

Studies show that women are less likely than men to negotiate their salaries, which can contribute to the gender pay gap. That can be due to a lack of confidence or a fear of the “social cost” of negotiation, a proven phenomenon in which a woman who negotiates is perceived less favorably.

To change this, the first step is to get over your impostor syndrome and say to yourself, “I am worth it.” Then, figure out what you’re worth.

  • Research the market value for your skills and experience, and for the job you’re going for.
  • Ask others who are in a similar field or position what an appropriate salary range would be.
  • With your research in mind, figure out what salary (and other perks and benefits) you want to ask for.

Next, practice what you’ll say in the negotiation. To mitigate the social cost of negotiation, “think personally, act communally"—that means framing what you want in relation to what’s best for the organization. For example, say something like, “I’m excited about what we could accomplish together if I came to work for Organization X. Based on my research for this type of position and my level of experience, a salary of $Y feels appropriate. I would be happy to join the team at that salary level and start our work together.”

Learn about equal pay laws at the federal, state, and local levels

The main federal law governing gender pay discrimination (the Equal Pay Act) hasn’t been updated since it was passed in 1963. Some members of Congress have introduced legislation to close the loopholes in the Equal Pay Act that have allowed gender pay discrimination to persist, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act (introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington) and the Workplace Advancement Act (introduced by Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska).

State and local governments can also take action to help close the gender pay gap. Some states have their own equal pay laws similar to the federal Equal Pay Act and have updated their laws to bring them into the 21st century.

Recently, some states and cities have passed laws to ban employers from asking for a job applicant’s salary history, since that practice can compound gender pay discrepancies over time. Think about it: If a woman’s first salary is unequal compared to what men earn in a similar job, and her next salary is based on that first number and so on, then the pay discrepancy is perpetuated. These laws seek to interrupt that cycle.

Raise awareness by marking the other Equal Pay Days coming up

As you now know, the gender pay gap is worse for some women than the 80 cents statistic suggests. Equal Pay Today!, a coalition of national and state-based organizations working to close the gender pay gap, has calculated the Equal Pay Days for other groups of women based on their gender pay gap.

You can mark these Equal Pay Days by sharing the facts with your friends and professional networks and discussing how each of you can help close the gender pay gap. Equal Pay Today! posts resources around each Equal Pay Day.

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Deborah Swerdlow

As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.

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