March 14 is Equal Pay Day—Here Are 4 Things You Can Do to Close the Gap

The pay disparities between men and women may seem insurmountable, but here are steps we can take to resolve them.

woman balancing dollar bill on a string
Photo: Francesco Carta/Getty Images

In 1973, the Department of Labor reported that women earned 57 cents per every dollar earned by men. What did they do about it? They created a PSA in which Batgirl demanded that Batman pay her the same amount Robin received, or else she wouldn't disable a ticking time bomb set to end the caped crusaders. "Same job, same employer means equal pay for men and women," she said, explaining the new federal equal pay law. As clever as it was to use superhero imagery, no masked avenger or leotard-clad crusader came to save us. It's up to us to do our own change-making, no matter how slow or tough.

In 2020, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported, "...women's annual earnings were 82.3 percent of men's, and the gap is even wider for many women of color." Fifty years has brought us 25.3 more cents to the dollar, but then the great "She-cession" of 2020-2021 set women's labor force participation back thirty years. February 2021 data mirrored that from 1987, with only 55.8 percent of women employed in the workforce.

Equal Pay Day symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year, and in 2023, it falls on Tuesday, March 14. The day was created in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) to heighten visibility around this age-old bias and to set things straight through education and advocacy. Today, the committee encourages employers to conduct a pay equity self-audit to evaluate recruitment, compensation, and retention data in a holistic way. But that isn't the only actionable solution available. Certified public accountant and money strategist Belinda Rosenblum, along with serial entrepreneur and leadership expert Shannan Monson, share four things you can do right now to close the gender pay gap.

Do the math on student loan debt.

According to 2020 data reported in Investopedia, "Female borrowers typically require more education to earn a wage equal to less-educated men. In fact, to exceed the lifetime earnings of a male graduate with just an associate degree, a woman may need at least a master's degree." Yet women, particularly women from underrepresented backgrounds, often feel compelled to invest more in higher education, even when it's not affordable. Otherwise, they fear getting passed up for employment altogether.

The American Association of University Women's "Deeper in Debt" report for 2021 shared that Black women have the highest student debt burden ($41,466.05 cumulative debt on undergrad loans, including principal and interest), yet women's anticipated salary right after graduation is just $29,203 after taxes.

If you're a woman saddled with student loan debt, learn more about forgiveness programs, discharge programs, and employer-led repayment options. Apply for grants and consider crowdfunding because, realistically, it's not likely your salary alone can wipe the slate clean. Don't feel ashamed if you're struggling to pay for basic necessities and keep up with your student loans at the same time.

If you're an ally with disposable income, consider directing charity or philanthropy to individuals rather than institutions. Instead of, or in addition to, donating cash to an alma mater's giving fund, make a direct student loan payment to a responsible sister, neighbor, friend, or female coed who would really benefit from such a meaningful contribution to their future.

Use your seat at the table to change hiring processes.

When asked how employees can lead systemic change, Monson said, "Honestly, I think we need to burn the current hiring system to the ground." She explains the way employers find and hire talent is fundamentally based on who you know, where you went to school, and how many advantages you have. Even filtering applications for women and diverse applicants lends itself to elite biases. "A good place to begin is to start hiring based on skills, not tenure," she says.

People managers might balk, but many of the day-to-day decisions that perpetuate the gender wage gap fall under the discretion of first-line managers and supervisors who don't recognize their own implicit biases. Sitting on a hiring panel, signing off on new-hire compensation packages, and providing promotion and bonus feedback are opportunities for impacting the gender wage gap. Rather than perpetuate the status quo, be the changemaker who applies's "Four concrete ways to reduce bias in hiring and promotions" in your workplace:

  1. Use clear, consistent review criteria.
  2. Put evaluators through unconscious bias training.
  3. Consider hiring and promoting women in cohorts or clustering women together on project teams.
  4. Review company and team norms.

Yes, implementing these steps—or refusing to participate in a hiring process until these steps are taken—might delay the start of a new hire on your team. But the best candidate—not simply the most credentialed one—is worth the wait.

Remedy underearning with pay transparency.

A Credit Karma survey showed that 66 percent of women think their current salary is holding them back from reaching their financial goals. Of course, self-advocacy is key, but putting all the burden on new hires and underrepresented people to demand more money is the corporate equivalent of victim-blaming.

"The existence of the gender pay gap, and all pay gaps, reinforces that women and minorities are both underrepresented in the higher-paying roles of society and underpaid for similar roles," says Rosenblum. "As a result, the decisions made, ideas created, and privileges granted at those higher levels will naturally favor men. Sponsors, mentors, and co-workers with privilege can remedy underearning by advocating for pay transparency."

If you own or run a company, consider making these changes:

  • Post a realistic salary range on all job postings for new recruits.
  • Stop asking new hires to share how much they made in their last position as a benchmark for their new role. (This perpetuates a cycle of underearning.)
  • Share transparent salaries by title or job class for existing employees.
  • Conduct salary audits and rectify pay gaps among employees in similar roles.
  • Promote women of all races and abilities to leadership positions and pay them as much as their male colleagues.
  • Report pay discrimination and compensation disparities.

If you don't own a company but care about the issues, you can still make a difference:

  • Share your pay progression with trusted mentees, especially those in active negotiations.
  • Direct junior employees to resources like 81 cents that make salary assessments and offer customized plans for negotiations and career transitions.
  • Post your salary on anonymous sites like GlassDoor, which helps outsiders set salary expectations by company and role.

Pay special attention to elderly women.

According to a 2020 report from the Brookings Institution, "women receive Social Security benefits that are, on average, 80 percent of those men receive." Why? Lower lifetime earnings, the motherhood penalty, and employment breaks for caregiving combine to leave aging women financially vulnerable in their golden years.

Of course, bridging the pay gap and offering paid parental leave earlier in life would mitigate this fallout, but those hypotheticals won't help retired women now. Strengthening Social Security could help at the policy level but on a personal level, it's important to be respectfully vigilant about protecting your matriarchs' finances. Ensure that the special women in your life have the right kind of health insurance and adequate long-term care insurance. If you're expected to be financially responsible for their care, plan for their financial needs and watch out for signs of senior scams.

"For perspective, women have only had the right to open a bank account for the past 62 years," Monson says, which only partly explains why women lag behind men in financial literacy. Equal Pay Day reminds us to fight for true equality for all, and do everything we can to ensure our aunts, mothers, grandmothers, and other beloved women in our lives don't financially suffer in silence or shame.

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