It's Equal Pay Day. Here's what women can do to close the gender pay gap for good.

The gender pay gap is real, but it's shrinking and women have a clear path to putting it in the past once and for all.
Image: A woman holds a sign that reads, "Equal Pay" during "A Day Without A Woman" demonstration in Miami
According to the American Association of University Women, women earn about 90 percent of what men do until 35. After that, the number falls to between 74 percent and 82 percent.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file
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By Jean Chatzky

As we reflect on Equal Pay Day today, let’s take a moment for a little bit of history: A little over 30 years ago, women earned 64 cents for every dollar a man earned — a pay gap of 36 cents. Today, we earn 80 cents, making the gap 20 cents — or about half of what it used to be. For women of color, the gap is even greater. Black women earn 63 cents for every dollar that men do, Native American women earn 58 cents and Hispanic women make just 54 cents.

(Note: You may see slightly different numbers floating around out there, and that’s because of different data sets used. For example, The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t count bonuses, while the Census Bureau does, and some calculations use hourly wages while others rely on salary. The important thing to note is that the gender pay gap is still here and it’s still big.)

But there is good news — according a 2019 report from Glassdoor Economic Research, the gender pay gap is shrinking in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and four other countries — it’s nearly 3 percent narrower today than it was three years ago.

So, all this begs the question: What’s been shrinking the gap? Granted, it’s shrinking like molasses, but it’s moving nonetheless. First, we can thank the progress of younger women, who worked to gain educational equality with men — then surpassed them. More young women are also choosing higher-paying, traditionally male-dominated fields, like coding, finance and law. By 2012, a young woman who entered the workforce earned 93 cents for every dollar a man earned.

According to the American Association of University Women, women earn about 90 percent of what men do until 35. After that, the number falls to between 74 percent and 82 percent. And at the current pace of change, the AAUW forecasts we won’t reach parity until 2119.

Unfortunately, those gains aren’t particularly sticky. Because as those same women leave the workforce to care for kids or aging parents, or search for increased work-life flexibility, the gap opens right back up again. According to the American Association of University Women, women earn about 90 percent of what men do until 35. After that, the number falls to between 74 percent and 82 percent. And at the current pace of change, the AAUW forecasts we won’t reach parity until 2119.

At that pace, our great grandchildren may still not have salary parity — but we aren’t just fighting for them. We can affect change immediately, and alter the trajectory that we’re on right now. Getting paid is good. Getting paid more is better, and that’s why asking for more money is the best thing we can do to change our salaries for life, and make that dire 2119 projection fade quicker than Marty McFly’s polaroid.

Why Don’t We Ask For More Money?

Sometimes we feel fearful, ambivalent or even guilty about earning more money, having more money, and helping other women to do the same. Sometimes we’re worried about how our spouses or partners will react. But these fears and worries are unnecessary. Research has shown that when women earn as much or more than men, their spouses were happier with their relationships, “as much in love,” and had better — “hotter” — sex. In fact, Money.com reported “the most satisfied partners of all were the husbands in egalitarian and female-breadwinner marriages.” Sometimes, we’re afraid that others in our orbit — like friends and colleagues — will react badly to our ambition or to our earning more money. So how do we solve the problem?

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Get clear on your number

Deciding you want to earn more, but not knowing how much more is a little like deciding you’re going to run a race but not settling on whether it’s going to be a 5K or a half marathon. Thankfully, finding your number isn’t a challenge. First, decide on a number that you’d be happy with internally, then turn your attention to the outside world. You can find excellent information on sites like PayScale.com, Glassdoor.com, and Salary.com detailing exactly what people with your skills and experience earn. Also, many job postings specify the salary offered. Check out postings for candidates with your skills to get a feel for the going rate.

Consider talking to your colleagues (current and former) about salary

More women than ever (thanks, millennials!) are comfortable sharing how much they earn with friends and colleagues. For the record, this is absolutely not illegal — though many people are under the impression it is. Yes, it’s hard. But if you start with someone senior to you, or who has perhaps mentored you, then you may be able to figure out how much pay is possible for someone with your skills and experience. Also, don’t forget that there are many more eloquent, less intrusive ways to phrase your question besides, “How much do you make?” Start by trying, “What would someone like me get paid at your company?”

Know the laws around disclosing salary during the interview process

California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York (with other states planning to follow suit) have all made their positions clear: Job interviewers cannot inquire how much you make now. That way, they can’t tie your next salary to one that’s less than you should have been earning. In other words, just because you were lowballed once doesn’t mean you’re on a set path — you can confidently state to the interviewer how much you’d like to earn, and break the cycle.

Practice asking for more money

Asking for more money isn’t easy. If it were, we’d do it all the time. When you decide to broach the topic, you need to make sure you demonstrate the value you’ve brought or will bring to the company (the money you will make them, the money you have saved them, your experience that will allow them to grow) rather than the fact that you need the money. Newsflash: Your boss does not have to care how much your landlord raised the rent. They should care, however, how much value you add to the company. Also share that you’ve done your research and people with your skills and experience make X amount, and practice your pitch — out loud, more than once, to an audience that will offer honest feedback. Once you’ve rehearsed, you’ll be ready to ask confidently for exactly what you want to earn.

Get intentional about what you want

It’s a question of not just what you need to earn but what you want to earn to create the life you really want. Think in absolutes. So don’t ask, “What would life look like if I could earn this much more?” Rather think, “What will life look like when I start earning this much more?” The first is a wish. The second, an intention. Be concrete, and be specific about what it’s for. Do you want a house in a neighborhood that will give you a shorter commute? Padding for your retirement account to ease your anxiety? A nice vacation once a year? Private school for the kids? The ability to give more away? There’s no right or wrong answer, so don’t judge yourself.

As you take steps to help close the gender pay gap, keep in mind that women who make more money are also more likely to learn about our finances, take control of our finances and be confident about the actions we do take. We just have to take control. And we’ll be very, very glad we did. And so will our great-grandchildren.

With Kathryn Tuggle

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