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Why Women Make Less (and What We Can Do About It)

The wage gap.

The space between your paycheck and the paychecks of the men in your office that confirms your worth is not as much as theirs.  It’s a known fact.[1]  Yet, very little is being done to understand it, and more importantly, to fix it.

[Meg’s Note: You’ll notice this post has footnotes and generally a Very Professional air about it. You might even say a lawyerly gravitas. And indeed, this post was written by Kristen Knepper, an attorney, career coach, and professional development expert.  Kristen’s mission is to help organizations retain and advance women, and to help women recognize and articulate their own value.  Her latest online course, Interview and Negotiate Salary. Like A Girl. teaches women how to answer the toughest interview questions with grace, and maximize compensation.]

Making less now means earning less long term.  Less money for your 401(k).  Less money for your child’s college fund.  Less for long-term care and medical expenses.  And knowing how hard you work, you deserve more.

The Equal Pay Act,[2] which prohibits women from being paid less than men, was passed in 1963. At the time, women made an average of $0.60 per dollar that men earned.  Today, this number has increased to about $0.79 for white women, but for black women, it has stagnated at $0.63.   For Latina women, the average is even lower, at a disgraceful $0.54.

The lesser-discussed pink tax,[3] a.k.a. the cost of being female, eats away at approximately 7% of our income.  The pink tax can be found on everyday products and services in which women are charged more for the same items, such as dry-cleaning, clothing, razors, and haircuts.  Never mind tampons.

We earn less and have to spend more just for the basics, when in fact we need to make our money last longer, because we live longer than men.

While “equal pay for equal work” is not adequate to address the hidden cost of being female, it would be a huge step.  So huge, that it is currently predicted to take an additional 116 years, give or take.[4]  Why, 50 years after the feminist movement, are we still having this conversation?  The answer’s not simple.

But the more important question is, what can we do about it?

In order to earn more, we need address the heart of the issue, which is applying for promotions and negotiating salary.  Going boldly into this arena is neither simple nor easy, but this is about more than us.  A generation of girls will soon become women, and inherit the workplace that we will have created.  In order to change the situation for them, we must first change it for ourselves.

Being Naked and Afraid

Women are less likely to apply for a promotion unless they are 100% qualified.  Men will apply for a position if they meet a mere 60% of the qualifications.[5]  At first glance, it would seem that men are more confident about their abilities, and they are.  In elementary school, boys are eight times more likely to be engaged in the classroom when they speak out of turn.[6]  And when they produce a partially-correct answer, teachers assist, prompting them and leading them to the correct response.[7]

When girls call out an answer in class, they are reminded to raise their hand.  And if they do then produce the same partial answer as their male counterparts, rather than be guided, and hence, rewarded for their ability to pivot and reason, the teacher is more likely to turn to the rest of the class and ask, “Who can help Anne?” humiliating the girl and teaching her that she should not speak again unless she is 100% sure.

The 100% perfect standard does not change when we leave the classroom for the conference room.

But in addition to confidence, men are far more aware of the underlying factors that go into the hiring process, such as relationships, advocacy, and creatively framing one’s prior experience.[8]  Relationships form organically, and it is human nature to be more drawn to people who are like you, whether the “like you” is based on race, gender, religion, or other factors.  Men still hold the majority of leadership positions,[9] and are naturally drawn to other men.

Formal mentorship programs are critical to increasing the number of women in leadership positions.[10]  Informal male-female relationships are likely to be viewed with a sense of impropriety.  But when these relationships are formalized, women are allowed access to the social activities that previously separated them from personal interaction with senior leadership.

Study after study has shown that these personal and more intimate mentor relationships are critical to breaking the glass ceiling.[11]

Always Be Closing – for You

If you’ve read it once, you’ve read it a thousand times: women don’t negotiate salary.  It sounds like an accusation, but women also know (at least subconsciously) that when we do negotiate salary, we experience something known as “gender blowback.”[12]

Managers who hired women thought less of them once they engaged in salary negotiations.  The same was not true for men.[13]  “Leaning in” and “making direct asks” will label a man as assertive and confident, but the same behavior will label a woman as selfish, ruthless, and a bitch.[14]

Studies show that not only are men offered 3-30% more for the same position, but women ask for an average of $14,000 less for the same job.[15]  This is why it’s so important for women to not only advocate for themselves, but to research the compensation range for any position before the interview, and also ask the employer’s budget.

If an employer does extend an offer that is below the median range, it’s upsetting.

The “reframe” is critical to maximizing compensation. 

Questions such as “What benchmarks are you using to determine that number?” Or statements such as, “According to my research, the median salary is between X and Y.  Is there a reason you are offering me less?” shift the conversation from justifying why you’re great, and place responsibility on the employer to explain how they have determined a number without a direct accusation of gender bias.

The current pay discrepancy is not a problem that women can solve alone.  However, it is our responsibility to advocate for self.  Once the bar is raised, it will be easier for the next woman to be promoted and paid what she is worth.  Complacency means we all go down together; but a rising tide lifts all ships.

Question: Have you suffered from the wage gap? How? You can leave a comment below.

Are you looking to take control of your financial future as much as you can, despite the obstacles the workplace creates? Reach out to me at  or schedule a free 30-minute consultation.

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Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.



[2] 29 USC 206(d)




[6] Sadker, D., Sadker, M., & Zittleman, K.R. (2009). Still Failing at Fairness: How Gender Bias Cheats Girls and Boys in School and What We Can Do About It. New York, NY: Scribner.










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