US Perception of the Gender Pay Gap in 2021

While there’s a discussion about how wide the gender pay gap currently is, there’s no doubt that it persists in 2021 and more significantly impact women of color. As a society, we still have a long way to go to close the gender pay gap, but knowing how to solve this ongoing problem is more complicated.

According to the most recent survey data from Payscale, in 2021 women still make just $0.82 cents for every dollar men make, meaning the gender pay gap is 18%. More specifically, this figure represents the opportunity pay gap which measures the ratio of women’s to men’s median wages.

How is the gender pay gap perceived?

To gain a clearer understanding of how the pay gap is perceived by Americans today, Resume Genius conducted a 500+-person survey. The survey aimed to uncover views on the gender pay gap, including how it compares to the racial pay gap, whether it’s been affected by COVID-19, attitudes about ways to help encourage equitable pay as well as the future of the pay gap.

In relation to the racial pay gap

When asked whether the gender pay gap or the racial pay gap poses a bigger problem in the United States, 52% of respondents agreed that both are a problem, while 28% said that neither is a problem.

Of the remaining 20% who indicated that one is a bigger problem than the other, 12% chose the gender pay gap and 8% chose the racial pay gap.

Between male and female respondents, women were 6% more likely than men to say that both the gender and racial pay gaps are a problem, while men were slightly more likely to say that neither is a problem.

These results are consistent with Payscale’s findings that while men of color tend to earn less than their white male counterparts, men within each racial group still earn more than the women within the same racial group.

While the racial pay gap is significant, it’s even wider for women of color, with Native American and Hispanic women suffering the largest pay gap.

In relation to COVID-19

When asked whether the economic impact of COVID-19 has contributed to a widening in the gender pay gap, roughly a third of respondents said yes, while the other two-thirds didn’t think it played a significant role.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the gender wage gap actually appears to have fallen by 0.7% during COVID-19.

However, this result is deceptive because it reflects the large number of low-wage earning women who dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic, rather than an overall increase in earned wages. Women of color have been the most severely affected, with disproportionately high numbers of unemployment.

While the current perception seems to be mostly that the pandemic hasn’t had a significant impact on the gender wage gap, it could take years to determine the real effects of COVID-19 on women’s wages. Many women have had to prioritize family and child care in the last couple of years, often at the expense of career growth.

What we do know is that employees who leave the workforce for a year or longer make 39% less than their peers who remain at their jobs, and since women are more likely to minimize hours or quit their jobs to take on household responsibilities, they’re also more likely to earn less than their male colleagues in the future.

What can we do to shrink the gender pay gap?

With nearly three-quarters of respondents in agreement that there is a pay gap problem, it’s clear that we need to find ways to close the gap. Two possibilities for improving equitable pay practices include fostering greater transparency around company pay practice and policy and encouraging women to seek the compensation they deserve by asking for raises and promotions.

Get comfortable with asking for a raise

Asking for a raise is common practice in the workplace and can be an important step toward building a successful career. However, men and women don’t receive equal treatment when it comes to receiving raises, whether due to bias, the motherhood penalty, or the “ask gap”.

When asked whether they feel comfortable asking for a raise, 56% of all respondents said they feel comfortable, while 44% said they feel uncomfortable. More than half of female participants responded that asking for a raise makes them uncomfortable, compared to one-third of male participants.

According to an Indeed survey, women have grown even more uncomfortable with asking for a raise during the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing to an increase in pay inequity which will likely become apparent in the coming years.

Discuss your salary among peers

Disclosing salaries without fear of being penalized can contribute to a more open and equitable workplace.

Unfortunately, in American work culture, it’s long been taboo to discuss salaries and is frequently (illegally) discouraged by companies. The residual effects on employee comfort may impact our ability to move forward into a future of greater wage transparency.

When respondents were asked whether they feel comfortable discussing their salaries with coworkers, only 24% said they feel comfortable, while 76% said that they feel uncomfortable.

Additionally, male respondents were 10% more likely than women to say they were comfortable discussing their salaries.

However, Gen Z respondents break from the general public on this topic. In fact, 47% of respondents aged 18-24 are comfortable discussing their salaries, compared with only 22% of respondents over 25 years old. This significant difference suggests that Gen Z may be poised to transform salary discussion culture in the coming years.

Most respondents agree that the gender pay gap will be negatively impacted by companies discouraging open salary discussion, with a greater number of women participants agreeing than men.

The future of the gender pay gap

Views on the future of the gender pay gap are mixed. In response to the question of whether the gender pay gap will cease to exist in their lifetime, 60% of male participants answered positively, compared to 38% of women.

Younger generations are also much more likely to say that the gender pay gap will disappear in their lifetime. One possible reason for this is that they will live longer, but it may also be due to optimism about the cultural shift toward equitable pay practices and greater comfort around wage transparency.

Estimates concerning how long it will take to close the gender pay gap range from 38 years in the US, to 250 years globally. No matter whose projection is most accurate, it’s clear we still have a long way to go.

Many of the problems that give rise to the gender pay gap, such as ingrained biases and a disproportionate burden of household and child care on women, are deeply entrenched social norms and will take time and sustained efforts to overcome.

However, the noticeable perception shift around openness and discussion of wages from Gen Z is encouraging and gives reason to be optimistic that the gender pay gap will close in our lifetime through the support of workplace transparency and fair practice.

Among Physicians, Men Make More Than Women: How Do We Change That?

It’s striking and familiar. A new report finds women physicians across all races and ethnicities earn less than their male counterparts. In fact, women physicians earn between 67 cents and 77 cents on the dollar compared to white men physicians.

This new data, which comes from the Association of American Medical Colleges, reinforces that academic medicine must find a better approach to how they pay physicians, write Amy S. Gottlieb, M.D., and Reshma Jagsi, M.D., D.Phil., in a New England Journal of Medicine perspective that lays out potential strategies to close the gender pay gap in academic medicine.

“The way we pay physicians in this country is a process in desperate need of improvement. Within our traditional way of compensating physicians, the structure is really a crucible in which all the forces that diminish women’s professional value within our institutions converge,” said Gottlieb, chief faculty development officer at Baystate Health and associate dean for faculty affairs at UMass Chan Medical School-Baystate.

It’s a novel approach to considering the problem: understand the drivers beneath the standards for determining a physician’s pay and how they contribute to this persistent salary inequity, then create a new paradigm that’s aligned with institutional values and contributions from both genders.

“We need to reframe the conversation,” said Jagsi, director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan.

“When you consider the primary factors that influence a physician’s salary, women are disadvantaged on every front. This model expects women to have privileges they often lack but that their male colleagues typically take for granted – access to support staff and clinical space, adequate sponsorship and opportunities to take on leadership positions. At the same time, the traditional approach to pay undervalues the types of service disproportionately expected from women,” she added.

The authors recommend institutions begin by conducting salary audits, looking in particular at hiring and promotions. Salary recommendations above or below a standard amount could be brought to a compensation board for approval, a process that would ensure no one is overpaid or underpaid.

In addition, realigning productivity-based metrics to include quality of care or institutional service would recognize important contributions where women often succeed. The authors also recommend unconscious-bias training for anyone involved in recruitment, hiring, evaluation, promotion and salary setting.

“Institutions have to start somewhere and do something. Getting the data, tracking the data, reflecting on what is in their compensation methodology that could be leading to these inequities would be a great first step,” Gottlieb said.

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