Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images
Sandwiched between National Barbershop Quartet Day and National Peach Cobbler Day, and just a few days before the dreaded tax filing deadline, is Equal Pay Day, an occasion invented 21 years ago to draw attention to the disparity in men’s and women’s salaries. It’s been another long year of women getting paid less than men, so why not treat a woman you admire to a slice of peach cobbler? Lord knows she deserves it.
The term “gender pay gap” has seen a huge uptick in Google searches over the past two years, likely bolstered by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders adopting it as a campaign issue. There have been stories of the gender pay gap in Hollywood, in major sports, in Silicon Valley, in journalism, in the arts. In her Oscars acceptance speech last year, Patricia Arquette fumbled through some lines about equal pay. But it often seems that though these conversations collect more and more Facebook likes, they yield fewer and fewer actual results. As much as we’d like for our “empowered” demands to show returns in our paychecks, our lifestyles, our power over our bodies, our child-rearing decisions, and everything in between, feminism can make for a powerful echo chamber.
It’s perhaps a misnomer to say that people celebrate Equal Pay Day. The date is significant because it represents the additional number of days women would have to work to get paid the same as men did for the previous year. It’s a cute way of thinking about it — “Wow, really? It would take until April for us to have caught up?” — but the statistics are truly bleak: American women get paid 79 cents to a man’s dollar, and the numbers are much more stark for women of color. Women make up nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers, nearly 23 percent of whom are women of color.
If you’re a woman and you’ve ever had a conversation about your pay grade with another woman — or worse, with a man — you are more than aware of the realities of unequal pay. Even companies that boast wholesale salary transparency are still grappling to find reasons they pay men $10,000 more annually than their female counterparts. Leaning in, as Ellen Pao’s gender discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins proved, is not the answer. So what is a woman to do?
But maybe the more important question is what do men plan to do? As the Cut’s Ann Friedman wrote last year, putting the onus solely on women to demand equal pay is like asking women to learn self-defense to ward off sexual predators. Employers need to be held responsible, too, she argued. But this year, let’s take it one step further: It’s not just bosses who have a role to play in equal pay. The responsibility should lie with all men. If we want to see actual progress toward closing the pay gap, we can’t continue to push this issue alone. Men like to say they can’t afford to be sexist because they have daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, and girlfriends, so let’s flip the script: We all have brothers, fathers, husbands, boyfriends, and sons, so surely we shouldn’t be experiencing pay disparity, right? Those men are fighting for us, too, right? Right?
Men, take some time today to think about how Equal Pay Day should be marketed toward you instead of toward women. Are you doing your part to make sure the women around you are actually getting paid fairly? Do you hear complaints from your daughter, sister, mother, wife, or girlfriend about their unequal pay? Are you a manager of women who has a history of promoting men? Do you really understand the importance of paid family leave and workable child care? Don’t know where to start in changing history? Try these action items.
If you have women working for you, think long and hard about how you pay female employees compared to your male ones. Next year, the EEOC may begin requiring companies with more than 100 employees to report pay data based on race, gender, and ethnicity. But if you have the power to mandate fair pay now, do it. Even better than just paying women more? Promote women, too. The experience gap is one big reason why men continue to advance into higher-paid jobs while women don’t. If women aren’t being given the opportunities to work in more important roles, managers have an excuse not to pay women more. Less experience, less money. Promote women. Pay women.
Next, hire older women back into the workforce — and pay them for their experience. Because of our country’s horrific family-leave policies, the gender pay gap is widest among older women workers. The return to work after 18 years of raising children keeps many women behind in competition with their male counterparts, who have worked consistently in professional fields.
If you are a friend, partner, colleague, or boyfriend of a woman, listen to her when she talks about salaries. If you’re a colleague of a woman, be open and honest about what you make. If the idea of sharing your salary with women you work with makes you uncomfortable, think about why that might be. Do you suspect she is making much less? Do you feel you shouldn’t be held accountable for what you make? Letting a woman talk to you about salaries will help her think about where she stands at her company. Keeping these things in the dark only forces a woman to embrace a lean-in negotiation style she may be uncomfortable with, one which has been shown statistically to not work in women’s favor. Keep the conversations about salaries going.
If you live with a woman, take on a larger share of household responsibilities. One of the biggest arguments for why women are paid less is that they leave work to have children and are then held responsible for more household duties, which means they work fewer hours. In the U.S., men do two-and-a-half hours of domestic labor compared to women’s four daily hours. If men picked up the slack, it would allow women to be more competitive at work, or to balance out the ratio so neither gender feels the need to compete for more hours in the day. Don’t have kids with the woman you live with? You can still mop the floors or cook dinner so she doesn’t have to.
If you’re the father of a girl, start a Jump the Gap fund for your daughter. As Paul Ford wrote for Elle last year, when he became the father of a twin girl and boy, he recognized the sort of discrimination his daughter would face throughout her life. In response, he started a separate fund for her to make up for the economic disparities that would affect her, but not his son. Treat your daughter’s concerns about the pay gap seriously. Young women in the U.S. are closer to closing the pay gap than ever, so keep encouraging your daughter to recognize her worth in the working world and measurably help her in closing it.
If you have no women in your life, you may be one of those men who doesn’t “believe” in the gender pay gap (which is fact, not an opinion). The Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that, given the growth in women’s pay versus men’s, it will be 2059 before women are finally on equal footing. Let’s hope it doesn’t take that long for you to be right.