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Equal Pay Day brings attention to wage discrepancies in the workplace

'We're making progress in closing the gap, but we have a long way to go.'

CLEVELAND — March 14 marks Equal Pay Day, a day meant to bring awareness to the wage gap between men and women in the workplace. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, the date is meant to represent "how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year."

NBC News reports women make 82 cents for every dollar that men make in the American workforce, citing Pew Research Center data. According to 2021 data on annual earnings from the U.S. Census Bureau, women’s median earnings came in at $51,216, while men earned $61,199. These numbers also vary depending on race, with Black and Hispanic women earning less than white women.

'Women still are not accessing higher wage jobs at the same rate as men, and that's just a reality," Helen Forbes Fields, CEO and President of the YWCA of Greater Cleveland, said.

Forbes Fields adds many women are taking care of family members rather than taking care of themselves.

"Another reality is that women — many women — serve as primary breadwinners within their family, but they also can serve as caregivers," she explained. "So many women have to leave the workforce in order to take care of family or take care of themselves, and so that affects their pay and the pay gap, as well."

The societal and familial roles women are often expected to take on are factors Dr. Diane Bergeron, senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership, also say impact women’s earnings.

"If domestic responsibilities were shared more fairly and men started feeling the career repercussions that women have felt for decades, then I think organizations would start changing their policies and practices," Bergergon told 3News.

Dr. Bergeron also stated it's often when women have their first child when the "gendered split in domestic work and child care" appears.

"When they get back in the labor force a few years later, they realize how much they've lost in pay," she said.

Something else to consider is the weight and value society places on certain jobs and fields, and why some are given higher values than others."

"Women tend to go more into caretaking jobs than men do — that might be teaching, it might be social work," Bergeron stated. "Well, if you're coming out of a university with a degree in petroleum engineering, you're making $120,000 a year. If you're coming out of undergrad with a degree in social work, you're making about $40,000."

Bergeron says women should also expect more of their partners at home, to even out home life responsibilities. From an organizational point of view, Dr. Ellen Van Oosten — associate professor of organizational behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University — believes Equal Pay Day can be a call to action, of sorts, for organizations to examine their own policies regarding compensation and performance management.

"We're making progress in closing the gap, but we have a long way to go," Van Oosten declared. "Organizations overall need to make it a priority to look at how they're attracting employees, developing employees, and compensating employees."

Van Oosten recommends organizations regularly audit their compensation systems to look at who is getting paid what. She says this commitment should run through all layers of a company, including with hiring managers who need to ensure that people entering into roles are paid equally and that, once they are in the role, they are rewarded equally and equitably.

Van Oosten also noted there are things women can do as individuals to improve their situations, including combatting imposter syndrome, or the feeling of not having the skills and capabilities of those around you even though that may not be true. According to Van Oosten, men do not typically struggle with imposter syndrome.

"Another thing that women tend to struggle with is not raising their hand or considering themselves for opportunities," Van Oosten said, explaining that while women may feel they need to check all the boxes before they are "ready" for a certain role or opportunity, their male counterparts often don't feel that need and are more likely to "take a gamble" and go for the opportunity, even if they do not satisfy every requirement.  

"We don't want 'perfect' to be the enemy of 'really, really good,'" she added.

The YWCA works to combat racism and empower women, and Forbes Fields says they offer resources for the community including day care with wraparound services for mothers.

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