It’s not the kind of date of festive holiday celebrations, but October 21 is momentous nonetheless. It’s the last Equal Pay Day of the year, this time dedicated to the additional 293 days the average Latina had to work in 2021 to earn the same pay a white, non-Hispanic man earned last year.
Unfortunately, we’ll be celebrating Equal Pay Days for at least another century, when Black and Hispanic women are estimated to finally catch up and close the gap — although the general estimate for all women is 2059.
Today’s working women can’t afford to wait for society — and our paychecks — to catch up. Here are several harmful misconceptions that diminish the scope of the gender wage gap and its lasting impact on not just women but our families as well.
A college degree is the great equalizer
Women are not only more likely to attend college than men but they also earn degrees at higher rates and get better grades while in school. And yet, when researchers from the American Association of University Women looked at how college graduates are paid in their first year after college, women still earned only 82% of what men earned. That gap was even worse a decade later, when women earned just 69% of their male peers’ pay.
This misconception is even more laughable when you consider women of color. Black women who have bachelor’s degrees and advanced degrees suffer the largest wage gap of any group, earning 35% less than white men, according to Leanin.org.
Just choose a high-paying STEM job and you’ll be fine
While it is true that men are more likely to choose higher-paying professions than women, those fields aren’t immune to gender pay gaps, either. In the same study of recent college grads, AAUW found women earned less even when they chose majors in business, engineering, technology, and computer sciences. Even when controlled for this and other factors like age, hours worked and occupation, there was still an “unexplained” 6.6 percentage point gap.
In a separate report, the AAUW found women physicians and surgeons only earn 71 cents for every dollar men earn in the same fields, and women financial managers suffer an even wider gender wage gap of 35%, earning just 65 cents for every dollar men earn.
Your partner will split childcare 50/50
Trust me, no one cares less about the gender wage gap than babies. As a working mother, I’ve seen firsthand how lopsided childcare duties can be at home when both parents work. In the thick of the pandemic when daycare wasn’t an option, there was rarely a day when I felt my husband and I achieved the elusive 50/50 childcare split.
Even when my husband was able to take over childcare duties, it was impossible to escape the sound of my son wailing from the other room when he decided he wanted my company instead. When he was big enough to crawl and walk, he would follow me whenever I tried to slip away to work. Taking conference calls with him squirming in my lap became a better alternative to standing outside in the bitter cold while he howled from inside the house.
I was one of the lucky ones, able to adjust my workload to accommodate my breastfeeding schedule and get paid time off when I needed it. Many women weren’t as fortunate. Women who became unemployed during the pandemic were twice as likely as men to say it was due to lack of childcare, according to a 2020 survey conducted by Northeastern University.
Paid parental leave is the answer
Fewer than one in four American workers has access to paid parental leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so it’s understandable why some may look to this issue as a solution for the wage gap. As wonderful as it would be for every mother in the U.S. to have access to paid maternity leave, it wouldn’t solve the issue of gender pay disparity.
Just look at Denmark, where new parents get a staggering 12 months of paid leave and yet the country’s gender wage gap is almost as large as it is in the U.S.
In fact, since women are more likely to take parental leave than men, paid parental leave alone could do more harm to women’s earning potential than good. Being out of the workforce that long could impact the types of jobs, promotions and raises women are offered in general.
The wage gap doesn’t really exist for people with the same jobs and qualifications
People resistant to conversations about the gender wage gap cite a recent study from Payscale that found a much smaller pay inequity among men and women who have the same jobs and qualifications.
When they controlled for job title, years of experience, education, industry, and location, Payscale found women earn 98 cents for every $1 men earn. A 2 percentage point pay difference may not sound like much, but it amounts to women needing to spend an additional year in the workforce to make up their lost earnings.
All we’ve got to do is ask for more
I’ve already made it clear why I think this is a bogus line of advice for women in the workforce, but it rings even more hollow when you look at the research. Even when women ask for more pay, they are more likely to be turned down than men. A 2016 study of over 4,000 workers found women ask for salary increases as often as men, but are 25% less likely to get one.
A 2018 report looked at the differences in race when it comes to asking for and receiving raises. Payscale found all races were equally likely to ask for a raise, but women of color were 19% less likely to receive one.
Of course, we should encourage women to ask for what they’re worth at work, but pay equity is a two-way street. Companies need to educate managers on how unconscious bias can impact their pay decisions, create systems to protect against it, and make it a priority to close any wage gaps themselves.
The bottom line: What’s really driving the gender wage gap?
The reasons for the continued gender wage gap are numerous. In general, it comes down to the way society at large has long undervalued women both at work and at home and penalizes those who choose to juggle motherhood and work. Until women are seen as worthy of the same pay as men and we acknowledge the invisible labor of motherhood and family caretaking, pay equity will be nothing but a pipe dream for generations to come.
Mandi Woodruff-Santos is inclusive wealth-building advocate, career expert and co-host of the popular podcast Brown Ambition. Her work has appeared in CNBC, Business Insider, Teen Vogue and U.S. News & World Report.