On Monday March 23, women from graduate schools across the university converged to continue a discussion of the gender wage gap and ways we can close it. The panelists covered multiple fronts including policy-making (Rachel Lyons), wage negotiation (Kim Keating), and journalism (Brigid Schulte). Dave Uejio from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau led the panelists through a discussion of why the wage gap exists and ways we can fix it – it was inspiring to see He for She in action.
Brigid Schulte, author and writer at the Washington Post, first gave some context behind the numbers. Men tend to work longer hours and don’t take breaks for childcare. Women are still doing 2-3 times the housework and childcare than men. The gap also reflects that men have higher level positions – there are more women in low wage and part time work. She suggested to be mindful of occupation – finding gaps within a specific field or role can help target the problem. In STEM fields the gap is smaller because not many women are in them, but gender-blind hiring practices helped close the gap. To address the imbalance of childcare, Schulte brought up a law in Iceland that has a “use it or lose it” policy for vacation and family-care days. Now 70% of couples equally share childcare three years after birth.
Rachel Lyons, from the National Partnership for Women & Families, explained how policy makers are addressing the wage gap in the US. The NIH, for example, let new parents take a break from research to care for their new baby without sacrificing their grant money. However, broad changes are proving difficult. The Paycheck Fairness Act only had Democratic support and fell flat. “The wage gap is a broad problem. Until we change the norms, we’re going to have trouble attacking the problem,” she explained. Paid leave has had some success in Rhode Island, New Jersey in California. California was the first, in 2005, to offer 50% wage replacement, but there was not a huge uptake by men. New Jersey was more successful in 2008 with 60% male uptake, and Rhode Island had equal uptake for between genders. “Waiting for the culture to change is not helping, but policy helps.”
Kim Keating from Keating Advisors gave some tactical advice for women to address the wage gap through their own salary negotiations. Kim’s path to this purpose started when she found out that men in her post-MBA role were paid more. “We have the most control over advocating for ourselves and negotiating for ourselves,” Keating explained. If your companies has a compensation systems – you have to work within the system to negotiate. If the company isn’t able to budge on salary, Keating recommends asking for relocation assistance or additional vacation days. If there is no compensation system, you have to be proactive and ask for a raise or additional benefits. Keating had great advice for job seekers: “Make a decision never to accept your first offer. It’s expected to negotiate.”
The wage gap can feel like a big issue that is beyond individual control. Panelists helped us understand why the wage gap exists and unveiled some ways other countries have fought it. There are clearly efforts in the US that are being made to close the gap, and there are also ways we can take personal responsibility to close the gap in our own lives. The panelists left attendees with empowering ideas and tactics to help change the culture that has contributed to the gender wage gap.