Attention, Men: You Need to Start Making Noise About the Gender Pay Gap
When women are paid less than men, the whole economy suffers.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
We all know the refrain: Women make less than men, with the same qualifications, for the same work. The data has told this clear story for decades. Studies say it will take over 100 years to close the gap in the United States, and over 200 years to eradicate it worldwide. We even mark a day on the calendar every year, April 2, that "symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year." We repeat these statistics so often we seem to accept them as being part of an unalterable norm.
But there's something else amiss, and I think about it often as CEO and founder of The Riveter, a company focused on advancing women in their work. We frame the pay gap as a women's issue, as if women bear the sole responsibility to shore up that inequity with hard work, determination, and grit. It isn't a women's issue, and we should stop talking about it like it is. Unequal pay for equal work is an issue for everyone to tackle, including men.
It's simple: If half the population is paid less than the other (and it is!), it means half the population is being undervalued. The tangible economic result of this negatively impacts most households in the U.S. How could it not? It's math. If almost half of Americans age 18 and older live with a spouse of a different gender, it follows that almost 50 percent of Americans live in a household in which one spouse is underpaid in comparison to what a white man would be paid. The gender pay gap is a household issue. It impacts the amount of money most Americans have to pay for childcare, to put into savings, to set aside for retirement, or at bare minimum, pay for basic needs like housing and food. And it certainly means that everyone knows and loves someone whose work isn't being valued.
I also firmly believe that the pay gap is one of the 10,000 paper cuts that drive almost half of women to leave the workforce after they become mothers. (I'm pretty adamant about this belief because it was certainly something that led me to leave a decade-long career as a corporate litigator and start my own company where I could set my own salary.) The gender pay gap is hurting every one of us.
And there's more to it, of course. The gender pay gap is also an issue that impacts our nation's economy on a broader scale. Consider this: 2016 estimates showed that equal pay would add approximately $512 billion to the economy, or 2.8 percent of the GDP. This GDP point was among the pages of sobering numbers and facts in a 2017 report issued by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. That report included data showing that providing equal pay to women would cut the poverty rate for all working women in half and also halve the number of children with working mothers living in poverty. The number of American children affected if their moms got equal pay? 25.8 million. 25.8 million children would be able to have a better life and a brighter future because their mothers would be paid for the value they bring to the workforce. This is hard to stomach. And yet the gaps remain largely the same year after year, and we continue to mark equal pay days on our calendars, and the old framing prevails that this is a women's issue.
So what do we do when faced with an everyone issue? Simple: We need men to start making noise. We need men to step up and be part of the chorus to demand equal pay for all. We still live in a country where there are more Fortune 500 CEOs named John than there are women CEOs on the Fortune 500 at all. If we're going to prompt full systems redesign, every man in every C-suite needs to be not only an ally but an accomplice in this effort. Women can't drive this change on our own -- and we shouldn't have to try to do so.
We can also remember to talk about -- and take action toward -- equal pay every day, not just on April 2. We can discuss the gap on August 22, when Black and African-American women finally earn what white men earned in 2018 or September 23 for Native American women. We'll do it again November 20, when the 53 cents Latina women earn represents an Equal Pay Day. I'm the mother of three daughters (four come June), and I refuse to accept any of this for my daughters or myself. At The Riveter, we've kicked off a year-long #not100 campaign to continue the conversation around pay inequity every day via events with experts at our co-working spaces nationwide, a special edition of our newsletter, content that outlines actions we can take, and social media that I hope makes its way into your feeds.
Change is possible. Just 100 years ago, the National Association Opposed to Women's Suffrage urged Americans to vote against a woman's right to vote because "it means competition of women with men rather than cooperation." Fortunately, the men in government disagreed with this sentiment and voted to establish the legal right of women to vote in 1920. As we near the 100th anniversary of this historic American milestone, it's time that we all work together again to ensure that women, and all of us, stand -- and earn -- in true equality.