Women and men have historically been treated differently in the workplace. Women receive lower wages, less respect, and differing positions within companies or are rejected from jobs that they are perfectly qualified for. Each of these factors have contributed to the highly debated gender pay gap. Though the signing of the Equal Pay Act in 1963 was supposed to prevent males from receiving better treatment in the workforce, the wage gap still holds true more than fifty years later. Since the middle of the 20th century, women have fought for their rights and have succeeded in may regards: receiving the right to vote, exercising the right to equal education, and participating in the labor force. However, women still face obstacles every day that men are—for the most part—exempt from. The most baffling part about this never-ending division is that just one underlying source will never be uncovered. There are many elements, such as the nature of motherhood, the psychological differences between women and men, and discrimination, that are largely unmeasurable and subjective. Of those factors, it is even difficult to pin-point which is most prevalent at any given time; yet, the continuous conversation has led to many important improvements and necessary realizations about society as a whole.
The fact that there is a noticeable difference between female and male wages in the workforce, does not mean that females are not as qualified or deserving. In the 1950s it made more sense that females’ average salary was lower than males, as they only made up about one third of the workforce as a whole. But now, labor is evenly divided between men and women in America, with 57.2 percent of the women being employed. Despite holding just as many jobs as men, women have drastically increased their participation in education as well. The education gap that once was very prominent, has not only been closed, yet surpassed by women. Previously, women’s duties consisted of taking care of the family and the home, while men were expected to receive educations, find careers, and financially provide for their families. When the feminist movement started gaining traction in the US, in the 1960s, women desired independence which led to postponing marriage, higher divorce rates, a want for self-sufficiency, and in turn an increased need for education. Higher schooling allowed women to not depend on a spouse and create their own career and wealth. This trend expanded from white females at the start, to any and all races and now women have, on average, higher levels of education than men and are more likely to get an advanced degree.
Since women expect to be staying in the workforce longer and desire to be more committed to it, they are willing to invest more time and money into their degrees. The types of educations that females receive have majorly shifted toward career-oriented majors; however, they continue to have less representation in STEM fields and particularly mathematic fields. The fact that women are underrepresented in these degrees that are seen as more prestigious and difficult is one reason for them being placed in jobs that are seen as traditionally female, such as lower school teaching or nursing. These positions typically get paid less than other professional jobs; however, participation by women in these more masculine jobs have increased since they are associated with higher education, which many women have, and higher pay. It has even been tested that when companies employ large numbers of women, they “outperform their competitors.”
Though these facts of higher qualifications and better performance should be enough to eliminate a salary gap between genders, employers still have hesitations when hiring women and even initially pay them less. Research has been found that men receive 5.4 percent more on average than women at the same starting positions, proving that, for the most part, females are not as highly valued to employers. At its root, this discrimination is attributable to the many untrue stereotypes about women’s abilities, which can lead to segregation of occupations and fewer leadership roles. Nevertheless, there has been much evidence to prove that women may not be as committed to their careers as men are. Research has shown women are “more likely to quit their jobs for family-related reasons,” while men are “more likely to quit for job-related reasons.” This illustrates their placing a greater priority on family than work and is a very valid reason for employers to hesitate while hiring females and may be a great contributing factor in the gender pay gap.
The fact that women are known to be more attached to family obligations may come down to the nature of the female role in child birth. Maternal instincts and the fact that women physically carry their own children are the key reasons that women’s priorities shift from career-focused to family-focused. The birth of children noticeably and drastically affects the pay of females, while those who forgo this opportunity end up receiving salaries that are more similar to males. Also, before childbirth the pay gap is much smaller between men and women, showing a direct correlation with having children and salaries. This negative relationship is commonly known as the motherhood wage penalty. Birthing a child, especially the first, may bring a woman to feel that she is incapable to take on an overly demanding job; therefore, many either “withdraw from the labor force entirely or switch to a more ‘child-friendly’ job.” Since jobs take much investment for both the employee and the employer, women of childbearing age may appear less attractive in the eyes of companies. Also, even if women stay in the work force, many limitations such as busier schedules and the fear of receiving more obligations may lead to women devoting less effort to their careers.
Over time, there have been many actions taken to reduce this doubtfulness in both mother’s and employer’s minds. The first being the invention of birth control in the 1960s; this was revolutionary in making it possible for women to choose when or if they wanted to have children. Though “the pill” allowed more women to get professional jobs directly after their educations, it wasn’t until policies were put in place at companies that females felt that it was acceptable to have babies while working. Policies such as paid maternity leave, subsidized day care, and part-time work options allowed women to successfully manage childbirth and work. These alone will not shrink the pay gap; it will take understanding employers who are confident that females will make the motherhood/career balance work and also a change in the behavior of fathers. The mindset adjustment of men is one factor that is very important to reducing the gap. If men do not share in the repercussions of childbirth, they will continue to have an upper hand in the workforce and receive higher pay. Research shows that when men take more of a role in childcare in the first couple weeks, they are likely to be more involved for the duration of parenting. This alone could reduce the load of the woman in a parenting relationship and possibly lead to an evening of wages.
Though the motherly instincts of women lead to a lot of truthful concerns, there is also an unwarranted amount of discrimination given to mothers that enter the labor force. Many people have been trained to believe that mothers “should work part-time or not at all when they have children at home.” Another hurtful stereotype, brought up by Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, is that mothers are perceived as “less competent and less committed to paid work” than women without children. Whereas, men with children are applauded for being more committed than those without. This mindset is very backwards and illustrates the favorability of men in the workplace. Females who have professional, career-focused mothers are more likely to have careers themselves; however, with these unfair perceptions of mothers still being prevalent in society, many opt to not enter the work force. This is a vicious cycle that continues to place women under men and leaves little room for females to alter these misconceptions.
Though men and women should be treated with the same respect in the workplace, they do have evident differences in genetic and psychological characteristics that need to be considered when discussing the gender pay gap. One distinction is that men are more competitively inclined than females. The two genders’ differing attitudes towards competition could potentially lead to more opportunities for males or even propel women to avoid certain occupations/work environments.The fact that males are more inclined to place themselves in competitive situations at work has a negative association with the gender ay gap. Women have also been found to be more risk adverse, which could contribute to their lower salaries. Due to this, many females avoid taking risky jobs or ones that are not very secure. Genetically, the female hormonal driver, estrogen, discourages partaking in risk taking or conflict, while encouraging bonding and connecting with others. Opposingly, males have copious amounts of testosterone—in comparison to women—which promotes competitivity and risk taking. When one takes a risk and succeeds, testosterone levels increase, rewarding that action; so, the hormonal buildup of men essentially urges them to take more risks. Though estrogen leads women to have better interpersonal skills than men, which makes them valued, compassionate team players, that skill does not advance women as much as competitivity and risk-taking do for men.
One of the most notable yet puzzling differences between men and women in the workplace is that males possess an aura of confidence that many females seem to lack. Many recognize this as the confidence gap. This gap may be due to some of the characteristics above: Katty Kay and Claire Shipman speak on the idea that “many psychologists now believe that risk taking, failure, and perseverance are essential to confidence-building.” However, confidence is not a genetic attribute; more men than women have been taught to believe in themselves and their abilities, especially in a work environment. Even the most qualified and successful women doubt themselves in the workplace, saying that they were not deserving of their promotion or the big project that they landed. Women are also known to blame their successes on things like luck or their appearance/other qualities instead of their natural intelligence or skills. Instead of crediting themselves with their successes, females tend to give credit to circumstances, while men tend to do the opposite. On the other hand, women are inclined to assign fault to their own abilities when things go wrong; whereas men normally blame the specific situation, which shows a “healthy sign of resilience.” While women have a tendency to underestimate their potential, men overestimate both their abilities and performance, pushing them to excel at work. Though women may be performing at the same or better quality, men compensate for that and excel just by emanating self-assurance, which makes others believe they know what they are doing. This self-doubt that plagues many women is detrimental to their success and the future of their careers and is a key component to the fact that men continue to get promoted faster and receive higher paychecks.
One measurable cause of the gender wage gap is the underrepresentation of females in higher management roles. As stated before, females qualify for these positions just as well or more than males, so holding back in work settings and not being self-assured can be a major factor of this. Confidence is such an important part of the business world—solely doing the work well does not always equate to success. Being prosperous in anything “correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence.” One example of this is being assertive with negotiating salaries, asking for raises, or actively seeking out promotions. The author of a book called Women Don’t Ask, Linda Babcock, has discovered that “men initiate salary negotiations for times as often as women do.” This may be due to women doubting their abilities in comparison to men. Also, men more often than not apply for jobs that they are not entirely qualified for; however, women tend to not apply for roles until they feel that they meet all the qualifications. This perfectionism that is predominately a female problem holds women back from pursuing many opportunities, while damaging their confidence. Though this gap of self-assurance is one that has highly affected the way employers view women, if women begin to ask for what they want and believe in themselves and their abilities, they eventually will be able to gain the respect of their superiors. Luckily, unlike many of these other factors that have led to the gender pay gap, this is one that can be taught to females.
Though confidence and negotiation skills are things that women can learn and perfect, these skills may be ones that in and of themselves bring up issues for women due to generalization and stereotyping. This general discrimination towards women is something that has been decreasing for some time, but there are still cultural and institutional barriers to female success. Strong, assertive women in the workplace are not as admired as men with the exact same qualities. They are often seen as unapproachable and mean when they are outspoken in work settings, which leads to them becoming unlikeable. Women “pay a heavier social and even professional penalty” for the same actions that men are rewarded and praised for. This mistreatment is just one of the many disadvantages that women have to face in the workforce for no reason other than their genetic build-up.
Though women have made tremendous progress towards closing the wage gap, many obstacles prevent them from completely catching up to males within the workforce. There has even been a stagnation in the increase of men’s wages over females, but this narrowing has unfortunately almost plateaued over the past decade. The research on this topic is almost endless, creating an ongoing conversation and a desire to find the true cause and hopefully a solution. The complications to this, though, are that there is not solely one cause and there will not be one solution. Women and men alike need to continuously strive toward equality despite the restrictive nature of society. The gap may never—or at least not in the near future—close, but as long as both employees and employers are educated on the issues and make conscious efforts, women will continue to gain value in the eyes of others.