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5 Reasons the Gender Pay Gap Still Exists

Unequal pay is still a thing, folks!

March 18, 2019

With all of the legislation that has passed surrounding equal pay, and all of the women’s empowerment movements, why do we still have unequal pay? Unfortunately, a lot of the reasons are a combination of political, economic, and social and require multiple steps to fix. Below are the top 5 reasons there is still unequal pay for women.


1. Childcare/Motherhood Bias

According to a study from Princeton University, there is a sharp decline in women’s wages after the birth of their first child. Women end up earning 20% less than men over the course of their career. In fact, women who do not have children end up earning a similar salary to men in their field. This “penalty” for having children is generally not due to any explicit bias, but to the changing schedules of working mothers and the “time off” working mothers have to take.

Working mothers have a higher probability of taking public sector jobs -- jobs that have flexible hours and schedules that can accommodate school, sick children, and general motherhood. Working fathers, on the other hand, do not change their careers after they have children and continue on an upward salary trajectory.

Further, even though both genders are granted parental leave after the birth of a child, mothers usually take more time off and are therefore not on the same track as their male colleagues when they come back to work. They have the same job, same skills, and may have the same time commitment, but they are at a disadvantage because they took time off to care for their newborn. And those are just the mothers who can afford childcare.

2. Lack of Knowledge on Salary Negotiations

We were always taught as children not to talk about money. Don’t ask questions about the finances, don’t worry where this and that comes from. Just be grateful. However, this mindset ends up being detrimental when we enter the workforce. Take yourself back to being a young adult straight out of college looking for your first job. It’s intimidating and you have no idea what you’re doing. If someone offers you a job with any salary you’re probably going to take it no questions asked and definitely no negotiating. But this is the moment where employers can take advantage of young people, especially women.

According to a Harvard study women are less likely to engage in salary negotiations than men. First of all, women are less likely to apply to jobs that don’t have a stated starting salary. The study also showed that when wages were stated not to be negotiable, men still tried to negotiate the salary when women did not. However, when the wages were stated as negotiable, the women who did apply for that job were equally as likely as men to negotiate their salary. In layman’s terms, women are more likely to not negotiate and undervalue themselves in a hiring process. This leads to a wage gap right out of the gate.

3. Prior Salary History

Negotiation leads us into a huge problem (that the Paycheck Fairness Act is trying to solve) -- using prior salary history to hire or give a raise. As we learned with salary negotiations, women are more likely to start their first job with a lower salary than men. If they only get a small raise each year to cover inflation, the wage gap is still slowly getting bigger and bigger. And we know that’s not the case -- women and men are constantly negotiating raises, and men are negotiating bigger ones. So let’s say a woman leaves her job to get a new one. Her new employer can currently ask her previous salary in order to negotiate her new one. See a problem here? Her new job salary is enhancing the wage gap by keeping her at a salary that’s probably below her worth! The Paycheck Fairness Act has a section that allows an employee to refuse to state their previous salary in order to negotiate a fair and higher salary.

4. Mentorship

Men are more likely to mentor men and women are more likely to mentor women. That’s just how it goes. As a young woman entering the workforce, I would prefer to have a woman mentor, but both of my mentors so far have been men. Men are also more likely to find mentors than women. So why is this and what does it mean?

Even though women make up 51% of the workforce, there are more men in positions of power, which means there are more men with the status to be a mentor. Automatically, women have a lower chance of finding a mentor because those high powered men are probably going to accept men as their mentors more than women. This affects the wage gap for a few reasons, the first two we mentioned above. It is incredibly helpful to have a mentor when negotiating a salary, especially the first time, then again when you get a new job. Women need that extra support to say “I’m worth more than that” or “I would prefer not to state my previous salary but this is what I’m willing to negotiate.” It is incredibly intimidating, and it needs to be one of the first lessons we teach women in business.

The last reason is pretty simple: when young men are mentored by high powered men, they are more likely to learn more, be promoted faster, and earn more in a shorter period of time than women who do not have a mentor. So, if you are a young woman reading this go out and find a mentor (easier said than done I know), and if you are a woman of high status in your field find someone to take under your wing.

5. Occupational Gender Segregation

Occupational gender segregation is the phenomenon of men and women working in different jobs and sectors. Men are more likely to work in maintenance while women are more likely to be housekeepers. Even after taking into account skill level and education, the jobs that men work typically pay better than the jobs women work. For example, full-time parking attendendents (usually men) are paid more than full-time childcare workers (usually women). Men are literally being paid more to watch cars than women are being paid to watch living breathing children.


Those are the top 5 reasons for pay discrimination and the current wage gap. Because of all these trends, the gap starts early and increases drastically over time. Luckily, most of these have remedies and solutions we can begin to implement in business and politics.


Feeling motivated? Check out 6 Ways to End the Gender Wage Gap and take action now!


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