Op-Ed

Equal Pay Day shows gender pay gap persists

April 12 is recognized nationwide as Equal Pay Day. It symbolizes how much extra in the new year women work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

This difference in earnings is known as the pay gap.

In addition to gender, factors like race and ethnicity, parental status and LGBTQ identity also contribute to the pay gap. For this reason, there are significant pay disparities among women of different identity groups as well.

Mom’s Equal Pay Day can be “celebrated” on June 4, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day on July 28 and Latina Equal Pay Day doesn’t occur until October 15. In other words, it takes seven to 10 months into the year for black and Latina women to catch up to what non-Hispanic, White men earned the previous year.

This year, between April 5 and April 14, the cities of Tumwater, Olympia and Lacey as well as Thurston County will recognize Equal Pay Day through proclamations, signifying that pay equity is a priority.

According to the U.S. Census, the median earnings for Thurston County males who work full-time, year round is $56,101 versus females whose median earnings are $44,842 for full-time, year round work.

Further, when YWCA Olympia’s advocacy committee began researching this issue, it was shocked to find out that the pay gap is significantly wider in Thurston County than it is nationally. Women in Thurston County who work full time, year round earn 68 cents for every one dollar earned by their male counterparts. This figure is nearly 10 cents less than the unacceptable national average of 77 cents on the dollar.

If we continue with business as usual, women won’t reach pay equity until 2071. In other words, if we do nothing and allow time to mitigate and equalize this challenge, it will take 55 more years to close the pay gap. This is a significant challenge that deserves attention from our community.

While it is a commonly held misconception that the pay gap can be chalked up to personal life choices, research shows that unconscious bias, discrimination and gender stereotyping are the primary causes. These hurdles show up in school and in the workplace not only limiting women’s advancement but also diminishing their human capital at the onset of their career. One way that this occurs is through gendered social penalties that “track” women away from certain degrees and professions.

As early as middle school, young women report experiencing stereotype threats and developing false beliefs about women’s aptitude in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). As a result, fewer women pursue advanced STEM classes in high schools, degree programs in college and STEM careers.

While STEM provides one example, unconscious bias, discrimination and gender stereotyping influence women’s pay trajectory across venues and result in numerous obstacles.

As noted, gender segregation shows up in higher education with women being underrepresented in high-paying majors. Occupational segregation is pervasive with women being clustered in low-paying jobs and sectors. Female entrepreneurs earn less and receive less funding support relative to male entrepreneurs. Women are underrepresented in senior management. Women executives earn less than male executives.

Biased hiring, lack of wage transparency, inequitable performance evaluations and the motherhood penalty also contribute to inequitable opportunity and unequal pay for women.

On Equal Pay Day, YWCA Olympia will launch The Workplace Equity Initiative (WEI), inviting employers and institutions to lead the WEI to a more prosperous community for all. The initiative will help employers implement one or more of thirty-three proven strategies for eliminating the pay gap, many of which are simple, low to no cost modifications to standard policies such as applicant screening practices and workplace flexibility policies.

With the tools and knowledge to be successful, Thurston County employers have an incredible opportunity to lead by example, lead the WEI to a more prosperous and equitable community and for all and support Thurston County in becoming a leader among neighboring localities that have yet to achieve pay equity.

In honor of Equal Pay Day let us resolve to eliminate the pay gap and be a county that works for everyone.

Hillary Soens, a member of the 2016 Olympian Board of Contributors, is CEO of YWCA Olympia and an Olympia resident. She can be reached at hsoens@ywcaofolympia.org

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