Wage Wars: Men, Women, and The Gender Pay Gap

“Mansplaining.”  The “Woman Card.” Recently the traditional media and social media universes are abuzz with conversations about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. Issues pertaining to gender in the workplace are some of the most hotly contested—and it’s not surprising.

Women comprise nearly half of the U.S. labor force and are increasingly working in fields and industries traditionally dominated by men. Yet women are frequently paid less than their male counterparts. A little bit of history: the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963 required companies and organizations to pay men and women equally – “equal pay for equal work.” However, despite the law, a gender pay gap has continued to persist for decades.

In 1996, April 12 was deemed “Equal Pay Day” to raise awareness of the continued gap between male and female wages.  The date was chosen to reflect how far into the year a woman has to work in order to meet the previous year’s salary of her male counterparts. The observance caught on in a big way – this year, President Barack Obama announced a new national monument in Washington, D.C., to honor the movement for women’s equality.

Influential women have also started speaking out. Five women on the World Cup Champion U.S. soccer team filed a federal wage discrimination complaint indicating they are paid up to 40 percent less than the national men’s team. Actress Jennifer Lawrence penned an open letter after learning she and co-star Amy Adams earned less than male actors in the film American Hustle. And Robin Wright, in a move that would earn the praise of Claire Underwood, demanded she receive the same salary as Kevin Spacey for her work in the Netflix political drama House of Cards.

So, how much less do women earn? The common statistic you’ve probably heard is that women make 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. This figure is up for debate. Some argue the pay gap is smaller; others argue that the pay gap is larger, especially for women of color.  Some argue, too, that the gap is a myth. I disagree.

Whatever the numbers are, a pay gap does exist between men and women. It begs the question – why do we, in 2016, have a pay gap? Does the pay gap exist because of overt discrimination against women? Is it because, as many business leaders assert, women don’t properly negotiate their salaries? Does it exist because of the choices women make – like the choice to stay home and be a caregiver to a child or a loved one, or the choice to accept a job with a flexible schedule or limited hours? It must be noted that these are often choices men don’t have to make.

It’s a complex issue and one that doesn’t have an easy solution. But discussing complex issues is the hallmark of The City Club of Cleveland. Join them on Friday, May 20 at noon as a panel of local leaders discusses the origins of the pay gap and what we can do to ensure equal pay for all.

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Stephanie Jansky

Stephanie is the Director of Programming for The City Club of Cleveland, one of the oldest free speech forums in the United States. She is an avid reader, a politics junkie, and lover of NPR podcasts. Other interests include cooking, wine, and traveling the world. She lives in downtown Cleveland with her husband Ryan and two cats, Eleanor Rigby and Penny Lane. Did we mention she’s a Beatles fan? Follow her on Twitter at @SAJansky.

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