Women are earning more than they used to, getting married later, and generally living life on their own terms — with or without a partner. But despite all that progress, women still earn less than men, even when they do the same kinds of work. This is known as the gender wage gap.
What Is the Gender Wage Gap?
The median salary for women is about 22 percent lower than that for men, according to data from Payscale. That translates to women receiving, on average, 81 cents for every dollar that men make. Though that wage gap may not seem big, it equates to thousands of dollars over a woman’s lifetime.
Historically, this has always been a problem. During World War I, women went on strike in the U.K. when they realized they were expected to perform the exact same work as their male counterparts for less pay.
As women’s suffrage was still that could be leveraged, women’s groups and trade unions began to mobilize and demand equal pay and unemployment benefits as part of an election issue. The issue was raised again during World War II and finding solutions to the gender wage gap became an increasingly common demand by unions and women’s groups in the 1950s.
In the last few decades, the wage gap has narrowed slightly, but not by nearly enough, according to a report by Pew Research Center. If you take a look at the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, despite the fact that both men and women have seen overall wages increase, men still earn more — by more than $10,000 on average.
Yes, it sucks that we’re still waiting for legislation to level the playing field and that we have to do this on our own, but women need to take action to help find solutions to the gender wage gap. Here’s how:
1. Keep Calm and Do Your Homework
You should always have a starting reference point for how much you’re worth. Though the exact numbers can be a little fuzzy, typical pay depends a lot on the job’s title, responsibilities, experience, and location. A salesperson in the Midwest won’t earn the same salary as a salesperson in New York City or San Francisco.
“It is important to research your industry and get an idea of what your male counterparts are being paid. Glassdoor is a great place to glean some insight into what others are making,” says career and business expert Heather Monahan.
2. Negotiate (Even When It’s Uncomfortable)
There are countless studies that show that women are less likely than men to negotiate their salary.
Shamefully, I’m one of them. I held a traditional nine-to-five job for nearly a decade, and yet I never once attempted to negotiate my salary. Why? Because I thought I was “lucky” to have a job at all after the Great Recession.
I didn’t want to appear greedy, overconfident, or as if I took my job for granted. During those years, I lost out on a lot of money because I chose to play it safe.
What many may be unaware of, however, is that women are as likely as men to negotiate pay when the opportunity arises, according to a study by Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society.
This means that we have been taught to accept what we have. We could see a certain level of progress if we remind ourselves and our female co-workers that there may be more opportunities for negotiation than we realize.
It is worth your time. Not only will you earn more, but you’ll also gain more respect from your employers.
“Oftentimes a woman will decide why a company can’t give her a raise before ever asking,” Monahan says.
I can attest to this. I worked in the nonprofit sector — a notoriously low-paying field — so I just assumed I could never ask for more money. But even if I couldn’t earn more monetarily, I could have still negotiated for something else.
“Always ask for more in anticipation of negotiating,” says Monahan. “Remember that when you give up something in a negotiation, you need to get something back in return.”
In other words, even if you don’t get the boost in salary that you want, you can negotiate benefits. Ask for more time off, work-from-home days, or another perk of your choice. You name it!
3. Boost Your Confidence (Even If You Have to Fake It)
Confidence can help you ask for what you want without wavering. It’s hard to muster up, but you can do it. The second step to finding a solution to the gender wage gap is to find your confidence. The first is believing. One unique source of inspiration? Donald Trump.
“Since Donald Trump took office, I have watched how his high level of confidence and clarity in each of his steps — whether justified or not — has gotten him to where he is today,” Monahan says. “Typically, women do not move forward with brash confidence and an attitude of daring others to challenge them. What would happen if we did?”
Now, the former president may not be so inspiring to everyone, but Monahan encourages women to look up to people who have a similar level of confidence.
4. Invest, Invest, Invest
Most women are good at taking care of everyone but themselves. Women tend to live longer than our male counterparts (an average man will live to 84.3, and women will live to 86.7), yet we don’t invest as much as men. It’s crucial for women to invest for the long term and let their money work as hard as they do.
Women will always be behind if they don’t use time to their advantage.
Cash investments represent a larger portion for women investors at 68 percent compared with male investors at 59 percent.
So commit to investing today, and let your money work for you and earn higher returns. Building wealth can help you create financial freedom, a sufficient nest egg, and more opportunities. Investing can seem scary, but it’s a smart move in the long term.
You can also use the Social Security Administration’s life expectancy calculator to plan how to make your money work for you over the course of your life and invest wisely.
What Women Should Consider Financially as They Age
In Your 20s
Begin saving for your future, work hard to pay off student loans, build credit, avoid debt, take advantage of tax-protected retirement accounts, and start investing.
In Your 30s
Ensure your retirement contributions align with your goals, begin saving for your children’s education (if that’s where your future is leading), and think about buying a home.
In Your 40s
Be smart about spending and saving, ramp up retirement plan contributions, and talk to your parents about elder care. Hopefully your kids, if you have any, have part-time jobs already!
In Your 50s
Make sure your investment portfolio is geared toward preserving wealth instead of growth, work with a financial planner to calculate needs and goals, and prioritize saving for your own retirement over saving for your children’s education.
In Your 60s
Rebalance your portfolio regularly, carefully consider your Social Security distribution plan, and consider continuing to work part time as a consultant or launching your own business.
In Your 70s+
Enjoy your retirement, but continue to watch your portfolio (maybe with a financial adviser), managing risk to ensure your money doesn’t run out.
The Bottom Line
Women can take actionable steps toward finding solutions for the gender wage gap. Yes, there are certain factors outside of our control, and yes, we need the rest of the world to get on board. But in the meantime, use these steps to earn more and create your own financial freedom plan.
Additional reporting by Jazmin Rosa.