Episode 5: A Closer Look at the Gender Pay Gap

Women take low paying jobs. Women don’t advocate for themselves. The gender pay gap isn’t real. These are some of the myths that persist about gender pay gap. But why does the gap really exist? It’s complicated.

Episode 5: A Closer Look at the Gender Pay Gap

Loading the player...

Episode transcript

SAMANTHA LAINE PERFAS: When you look at data from Pew Research Center, last year they found that women made 82 cents on every dollar earned by a man. Based on this estimate, it would take an extra 47 days of work for a woman to close this gender pay gap.

In this episode, we're going beyond the numbers to look at what's causing the gender pay gap vs. what people think is causing it. It's a little complicated, but please stay with me as we explore the pay gap perception gap.

PERFAS: I'm Samantha Laine Perfas and this is Perception Gaps by The Christian Science Monitor. When I decided to tackle the gender pay gap as a perception gap, I thought it would be simple. When you read some of the articles and research that look at why men make more than women, you'll see a lot of possible answers: Women have less education than men. Women choose lower paying jobs. Women aren't assertive enough. Women face bias in the workplace. But even in my limited search, I found conflicting research about all these ideas. I guess what I'm trying to say is it's not a simple issue. Researchers are still trying to figure out all the factors that go into why the pay gap exists. We're going to talk to a few different women to get their perspectives. These women have different experiences and different levels of familiarity with what's causing this gap. I'm hoping we can address some of the misperceptions out there about why the gap exists in the first place. Thanks for joining me on this roller coaster.

CLAUDIA GOLDIN: Don't look at the averages. Look at what happens over someone's life. And you can see where women fall off relative to men. Just look around you.

PERFAS: Claudia Goldin is the leading scholar when it comes to discussing the gender pay gap. She was the first woman to receive tenure at Harvard's economics department. She's crazy smart and was cited in many of the articles I read that talk about the gender pay gap. One of the first things we talked about were three points that people often give as the big reasons the gap exists. She says that while they do happen, statistically they're not the main reasons, which surprised me.

GOLDIN: So the three main reasons that are often found for why differences in pay and occupations and promotions exist by gender are the following. So the first one has to do with bias. So the idea is that managers are biased, supervisors a biased, co-workers are often biased, clients can be bias. Women are perceived to have higher turnover and are often passed over for promotions. And some are the objects of what we call gender paternalism. So it's, don't give that job to Isabella because she just had a baby. And so the problem here is treatment by others and the solution is fixed the managers, fix the supervisors. The second reason is that women don't negotiate and they don't compete. They don't have confidence, they don't take risks. And the problem here is women are different and the solution is fix the women. And the third one is more general, it's occupational segregation and the idea is women are just put in lower earning occupations. And the problem here is that the labor market itself is bad and the solution is more general, fix the market.

PERFAS: Pointing out those three things, what you're saying is they may be factors but they're not necessarily the biggest reasons.

GOLDIN: Right. There are a lot of consulting firms that go around and give these implicit bias tests to managers and supervisors and co-workers and show people that they really have bias against others, people who are not similar to them, and often that is men versus women, often it's by race or ethnicity. It does exist. It just may not be responsible for a very large fraction of the differences that we see in the workplace.

PERFAS: So in your research, have you come across anything that you feel like does account for kind of a bigger, a bigger portion of why that gap may exist? Or something that, action we could take that would actually address it?

GOLDIN: So let me talk about what I think is the major reason, and it's not that people are saying, when they say, oh I have been discriminated against and that's why women earn less than men, or I am in a segregated occupation and that's why I earn less. These are not reasons that are incorrect. It's just that they're not the whole thing. So the major reason I think the major reason concerns how couples make decisions. So let's back up and say that the gender earnings gap is not one number. It's a set of numbers over a person's lifetime.

PERFAS: Did you catch that? The wage gap is not necessarily one number. It's a series of numbers that occur throughout a person's lifetime and the gap starts to evolve as people make decisions: where to move, when to get married. You have a child, maybe another child. Each decision is a point in which the gap could widen. Claudia gave me this example. Imagine a husband and wife out of college. Both work in IT. They start out at the same pay. Well, now they have a child. They look at their job options and realize that one job has predictable hours: it allows you to be home when you need to be, and to plan accordingly. This job pays $100,000 a year. Then you see the other job: same skills, same requirements. But this job has on call hours, meaning you can be called up at dinner time to go deal with an issue. Not ideal, but it pays $20,000 more. For this couple, they can't both take the on call hours because they have a child. Someone needs to be committed to being home. They both could take the predictable hours, but then between them they're leaving $20,000 on the table. So what do they do? One of them takes the predictable hours, one takes the on call hours, and the pay gap between this couple is now $20,000. One is making 80 cents to the other's dollar.

PERFAS: My husband and I, we don't have children but we talk about what will happen when we do. Our conversation often comes down to maximizing our net gain. It will probably make sense for one of us to stay home, at least part time. He makes more money than I do. Logically and financially, I guess it would make more sense for me to give up my job. But then what happens to this podcast? Sorry I didn't mean to go off on a tangent, but I guess it struck home that the pay gap isn't necessarily this malicious, consciously-biased system. Sometimes it is, but a lot of times it's us simply making the best choices we can in the current system. So if this is what's happening how do we address it?

GOLDIN: There is a lot that individuals can do and this is a case in which we have in many ways put the blame on women. We say women don't negotiate, women don't compete, women don't take risks. It's your fault. Or we put the blame on the managers and the supervisors: you're biased. And I think this is a case in which people should express their preferences. They should ask their employers, particularly men, to provide positions that don't have the long, on call, rush, evening, weekend, vacation hours and days. It's really as simple as that. And we see that among the younger group, so the group that hasn't yet decided, you know to have the kids? And in that interim, many of the firms that are hiring college graduates and those with higher degrees, put them through pretty strenuous paces. And I think that even those individuals, we see now are marching in to the offices of their superiors and say you know, I'm leaving because this isn't the life that I want later on. And that is sort of what has to happen.

PERFAS: Claudia's research has shown that the main reason the gap exists is how we make choices. At the beginning of my interview with Claudia, she mentioned other reasons that are given for the pay gap such as workplace bias, lack of confidence, or the labor market. She said that while these things are not the big reasons, they do still affect women today and honestly they might have happened to you or someone you know. So we're going to look into them a little further. The tech industry for example, has gone through a lot of massive changes in the last few years, which makes them an interesting sector to look at when you consider the pay gap. Why? Because computer programming started as a profession dominated by women. Think about the movie "Hidden Figures." Now it's evolved to be pretty male-dominated. The pendulum is starting to swing back and we're beginning to learn some valuable lessons about gender in the tech industry.

KATE BRODOCK: I'm Kate Brodock, CEO of Women 2.0. We have been around for over a decade.

PERFAS: Women 2.0 has built a community of women in tech, and draws attention to the issues they face in the workplace. Gender issues are a huge part of this, so they focus a lot on diversity and inclusion, often working with female founders in the startup world. Let's talk with Kate.

PERFAS: There are a lot of things that we talk about when it comes to the gender pay gap and pay disparity. And a lot of factors that contribute to it. So I'm curious in what ways have you or other women in the tech industry specifically experienced this issue?

BRODOCK: Yes, so the interesting thing about the wage gap is that when it really comes down to it, it's the result of a lot of different things that are happening. They could start early on in a woman's life, even before their career. It could be societal, it could be a whole bunch of things. So first and foremost you know a couple of clear items is, the wage gap does exist. And surprisingly there are a lot of people out there who who don't think that this is the reality. A couple of the arguments now that are sort of definitely going around the tech space are discussions about, well, there are biological differences. There is a whole discussion on meritocracy, which is the idea that, OK well if we want to erase away our biases then we should be able to line candidates up and choose solely based on their abilities. And then there are issues such as intersectionality which is the idea that a white woman has a lower pay gap than a black woman. So and actually, interestingly, Asian women have a smaller pay gap than white women, black women, Hispanic women. So they're all, you sort of layer on these different levels. You get dinged once if you're a white woman, you get dinged again if you're a black, and so forth. And then of course there are workplace structures in place. If you don't go and assess your salary structure, it just can get out of hand. If you don't realize that maybe your H.R. processes or your hiring processes have built in biases then the problems still persist. So it's a very structural thing that is occurring as well.

PERFAS: Is it about more than just the money? You know, because I think, I just have been reading things about how it's like, even if you think about like salary negotiation, you know that men are often taught and told you should negotiate. And women are like you know what, I'm just happy with whatever I'm offered and if I do negotiate that's actually going to ping me negatively.

BRODOCK: Yes. And to me, one of the biggest things are these exact differences in upbringing, in societal norms and that sort of thing. Men are, just as a couple of examples, men have traditionally been rewarded for being what some might call aggressive. Women are you know, okay let's be ladylike. You know, I remember, and I love my mom, she was, but I remember my mom that was a very that was a very clear thing that I heard growing up was we have to be ladylike. And that's a very common thing and it plays out in many different ways.

PERFAS: Well, it's interesting to think about you know, in the tech industry, you know the movie that came out in the last year, "Hidden Figures," you know that kind of shows women were the original computers, and now it's totally shifted and it's kind of a male-dominated area and women were the ones who started it. So I just I guess, how did that happen?

BRODOCK: For the audience of a fantastic book that just came out earlier this year, "Brotopia" written by Emily Chang. She's been a longtime tech reporter at Bloomberg. She went on this long quest. It's really, it could almost be a gossip column it's so good. But she goes through the history of the tech industry and really lays out some of the very specific things that happened while the tech industry was being created that made it male-dominated. It's everything from when you're hiring you usually go like to like, so white men were some of the the original founders of some of these companies and they just continued to sort of hire their friends and kept going. And then there was the culture of it. You know, various sort of fast-pace, never sleeping, then we're going to sort of go out and party. It's really a lot of stuff that's gone into it. But those are a couple of the real things and women just eventually got cut out of that process in a couple of different ways along the way along the way. You know that's exactly what we're hoping reverse and that knowledge that that is what happened, the knowledge that there were hurdles is one of the most important things that I think the industry is talking about. It's one of the huge things we try to address, is the first step is acknowledging that those hurdles have existed and that the scene that we're seeing right now is not by chance and it's not by a woman's biological makeup. The industry needs to be talking about these things before they can fix them.

PERFAS: How does Women 2.0 empower both men and women to achieve gender parity?

BRODOCK: We feel that the longer term impact we can have will be if we can work with companies as they're starting and as their building teams and as they're building out their policies. And we really talk about, okay, you're 10 people, if you're trying to grow by 20, you have to think about things like code of conduct. You have to think about things like parental leave policies and how is that going to support your workforce. So how is that going to be inclusive, is sort of the buzzword. And then of course through our Men as Allies program, part of it again is education and then we do some fun things. We're working with a great guy out of Silicon Valley to co-develop a 21 day challenge. So very simple, a very simple challenge every day for 21 days just to increase your awareness as a man in a gendered world. I actually spoke recently to a man who was talking about his own wife who had removed herself from a healthy career in tech to raise their kids for four or five years before they went to school. And she tried to get back in and it was really difficult and he really analyzed the salary piece of it. He said, it's not fair that I got five years of salary growth and my wife had to take a pay cut from when she left.

PERFAS: This goes back to what Claudia was saying: It depends on how couples make choices. In this situation, the wife decided to stay home to raise the children until they could go to school. But now that it's time to go back to work, the family is experiencing the structural problems that come with making that choice. Kate said there are some very clear best practices for workplace structures that could help. If you subscribe to the Perception Gaps newsletter, you'll see I've included some resources on these best practices.

PATRICIA DEYTON: We have made great progress in the advancement of women in every area, but we are still so far from an equitable society. We have to continue to be vigilant in all ways to keep that continuing.

PERFAS: Patricia Deyton is a professor of practice at Simmons University in Boston. For a long time, Simmons was an all women's school. The undergraduate school is still all female and the grad school programs only recently transitioned to being coed. Which creates a pretty unique environment for how women learn to lead. Here's my conversation with Patricia.

PERFAS: Do you think focusing on female leadership in education specifically could help address gender disparity in the workplace?

DEYTON: Yes I do. What we see both at the undergraduate level and the graduate level is that when women are in a classroom by themselves, but with just, in a single sex classroom, the competition, I'm sure there are better words for that but, the bias that often exists in classrooms where men are favored over women in terms of being called on, in terms of talking more, interrupting, some areas like that, which are really quite well studied and documented, are not in existence in classrooms where there are all women. And women step up, they gain confidence, they gain their voice. It isn't that they can't then go out into the real world. They have gained the confidence to speak for themselves, to make themselves heard to hold their position.

PERFAS: Well, and what what are some of the differences that exist between men and women, either in a school setting or in the workplace?

DEYTON: That's a very big question.

PERFAS: It is, we're tackling all sorts of big questions. But yeah I'm just curious like, like one thing that you mentioned, like women may be less likely to be called upon or may not have as much confidence to to offer their answers or their opinions.

DEYTON: We focus upon the organization more than the individual you know because you cannot generalize. But organizations are actually inherently quite gendered and it's within the structures of organizations that people act out of the expectations that that structure puts in place. So if it is expected that men will be more vocal or men will get away with interrupting or men will repeat something a woman has put forward and take credit for it. Those things become accepted. Both women and men can counter those dynamics but they need to be aware of them. It's very easy when you move into an organization to adapt its culture. Changing a culture is very difficult.

PERFAS: Do you feel like you know, kind of the culture is that men are rewarded for speaking up more or like you said taking credit for an idea that someone else might have had, or interrupting. Is it kind of a social thing that women are just taught...

DEYTON: Again generalizing is always a dangerous thing to do. But there are differences in how men and women are socialized. And so when women in fact there are some wonderful articles about this one is called "Men take charge, women take care," and when you just hear that titled, you can envision the stereotypical man, taking charge and the stereotypical woman, making sure everybody's included, making sure that people are feeling that they are being heard and they're being respected. And again it's not to say that both aren't capable of doing that but these expectations follow these stereotypes that have evolved over the years for how men and women are expected to behave. I'm sure you have heard of the double bind, that when women are assertive, aggressive, louder, they are considered to be behave inappropriately. And when men are acting those natures they are considered to be leaders.

PERFAS: How does Simmons prepare women for success in the workplace and sort of try to challenge some of those structural systems?

DEYTON: What we do in our several of our classes is really focus upon understanding what these gender dynamics are and then helping the students learn various ways that they can intervene, that they can create change. We have a course in leadership and change from that perspective. We have a course in leading individuals and teams from that perspective and our negotiations course is very much geared from the perspective of helping women understand that they are likely to be at a disadvantage in negotiating because they may have internalized that women are not good negotiators. The context of their organization may assume men are better negotiators than women. And the broader society at large often carries that assumption. But teach a woman to be a really good negotiator. Give her the confidence to do it and she will, she'll be there. She'll be holding her own.

PERFAS: What sort of things are taught in the negotiation classes?

Well first of all it's very much the very solid, "Art and Science of Negotiation," which is, you can't teach a negotiation class and not do the "Art and Science of Negotiation." But we then add the gendered component as well so that the students understand how women and men sometimes do negotiate differently, and how women are also much less apt to start a negotiation, and how to identify when it's time to do that and how to move forward with it. So we approach it from the standpoint of looking at where you may encounter these barriers using what we're teaching students about, identifying them and trying to overcome them. You know you mentioned, to speak about the wage gap, you mentioned the the salary wage gap and actually negotiation is, as you noted a part of that because we also know from lots of research that women are much less apt to negotiate for salaries and especially in starting positions. And yet if you consider, say a man and a woman start in the same position and the man negotiates for a higher salary and the woman doesn't, everything else being equal she will never catch him. Because the gap exists from day one. We also teach women not just to negotiate for salary though, but to also negotiate for all of the conditions that lead to success, to be clear that they understand the resources that are going to be needed in order to be successful in their position, and to negotiate for that as well. Such as, do they need more support? Do they need a larger budget? Do they need, whatever it may be. We also know again, from a lot of research that women are very strongly committed to negotiating on behalf of others so they become very strong advocates when they are leading teams in organizations.

DEYTON: I taught a class a year ago in negotiations and one of the women in the class was preparing to apply for a new position while she was also in the class. She let me know that she used the strategies that she learned. She got the position. She did not shy away from talking about salary. She got a salary increase and she is doing very well in that job. I give that one example because we hear that from our students over and over and over. They send us messages they keep in touch with us and say, I was not afraid to do the negotiation, I was not afraid to claim my value. That's one of the things we really want students to work on is to say, is to understand that if somebody is looking at them for a job, they must see some value in them. So, claim that value and present it. But we literally get, after every class and even years later, students come back and say that it was of great value to them in both salary and career success, but also other parts of their life as well. Because you know, we negotiate in every part of our life every day.

PERFAS: So why does the gender pay gap exist? Short answer: It's complicated. There are a lot of things that can happen and do happen to a lot of women: workplace bias, broken salary structures, lack of confidence. But at the end of the day my biggest takeaway from this episode? It's mostly about the choices we make and how society supports those choices. Before we close I want to go back to Kate from Women 2.0. A lot of the work they do focuses on female founders and helping them succeed in spite of all the challenges that arise. Here's one story she wanted to share.

BRODOCK: We focus on female founders and a couple stats just for the audience listening. So in 2017, female founders received 2 percent of V.C. funds. Not 20, not 10, 2 percent of the checks written out from the V.C. industry. Black women were about a tenth of that, so huge disparity. So within that we have this great, I have, we have a great story of a woman, you hardly want to read her account but she was a female founders she started a company called Seed and Spark. They work on diversification of the entertainment industry. And she went through a fundraising round last year. Seed Fund, and you read her account of it and you are physically uncomfortable reading this account. At one point she was pregnant. She would go through 30, 40 rounds of no's and no's and no's and it took a lot of perseverance on her part. She finally got through it, but she at almost every step of the way said to herself, would this be, would I be sitting in front of these men as a man and have this much difficulty? What if I weren't pregnant? What if, you know, and what if and what if if if. Would these investors be able to relate to me more if I was in you know, jeans and a hoodie? You sort of go through that entire thing. It's sometimes called Imposter Syndrome. But she pushed through. She got it, it was amazing, a process that I'm not sure a lot of people in general, man or woman, would have persevered through, but she got through it. And it demonstrated so many of the different types of hurdles that women have to go through not just as a female founder but in the workplace.

PERFAS: Thanks for joining me. If you subscribe to the Perception Gaps newsletter, this week you'll get some bonus content that could be useful. I'm also including a recommended reading list since today's guests mentioned a lot of great places you can get additional information. If you're not subscribed you can sign up at csmonitor.com/perceptiongaps. Come back next week when we'll talk about poverty. How much progress do you think we've made in fighting extreme poverty? A lot, some, or none at all? The answer may surprise you.

Finally a big thank you to my producer Dave Scott. Our studio engineers Morgan Anderson, Ian Blaquiere, Tory Silver, Jeff Turton, and Tim Malone. Original sound design by Noel Flatt and Morgan Anderson. And a special thanks to all my volunteer editors: Mark Sappenfield, Noelle Swan, Ben Frederick, Bailey Bischoff, Em Okrepkie, and Greg Fitzgerald.

Until next time, I'm Samantha Laine Perfas. Thanks for listening to Perception Gaps.

COPYRIGHT: This podcast was produced by The Christian Science Monitor. Copyright 2018.