Addressing the gender pay gap—the disparity in earnings between men and women for any particular sector or occupation—needs to be an essential part of the bigger mission to empower women to have full control over their own ambitions and economic lives.
To begin 2018, Iceland became the first country in the world to make it illegal to pay men more than women. Unfortunately, the rest of the world has a lot of work to do if other countries want to meet Iceland’s challenge to even the playing field. According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the average pay for women globally is $12,000, whereas the average for men is $21,000. Obviously the gap will vary dramatically from nation to nation. Nonetheless, that’s quite a divide.
It’s bad enough that this disparity exists. It is made worse by the persistent notions that things are better than they actually are and that charting minimal progress is the same as solving the problem. And men have been able to frame the narrative with respect to this issue for far too long.
The Women in the Workplace Study 2017, conducted by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company found that men are more likely than women to believe that their workplaces are doing what is necessary to address gender inequality. Furthermore, men are more inclined to think that advancement within their companies is based on merit and untethered to gender. As men are much more likely to dominate the upper corporate echelons, they consequently have a greater impact on determining policy, defining culture, and setting the tone when it comes to what the overall makeup of the company’s workforce should be. In other words, there is a higher probability that men will have control over elevating women to leadership roles since they hold those roles themselves in greater numbers. Simultaneously, men are more likely to believe that there is no need to take any special action to change anything about the status quo. When things are deadlocked in this way, women get deprived of opportunities.
As it turns out, it’s easy for both men and women to deceive themselves and think that the gender disparity problem has been solved already, even when looking at the dismally low number of women in executive positions. Basic logic dictates that women, being roughly half of the population, ought to hold roughly half of all leadership roles across the board. This same study cited above found that nearly half of all men surveyed thought that if a company was at 10% for women in senior leadership positions, then that was a sign of good representation. (Strikingly, a third of women indicated that they felt the same way.) These people take a visible improvement (having any women in leadership roles) as an unfortunate signal to do nothing else to address the gender divide. Too often, we fall into the trap of declaring victory by comparing the present to the way things used to be and not contrasting it with the way things ought to be.
The first step toward fixing this disparity is recognizing that it is still a problem. The next step is to follow the road map that the above study outlines, which I will discuss in a future post. We all have a stake in this, but some have more power to change the system than others. The bottom line is that when we finally address gender disparity head on, we will all benefit.