Why Don't We Have Equal Pay Yet?

Published on: Oct 20, 2021fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
LTA Equal Pay Day Illustration: Michele Rosenthal
The Story

In 1963, the Equal Pay Act made it illegal for men and women to get different pay for similar work. But women still aren't earning as much as men.

Love that for us.

Overall, women get paid 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. It's worse for BIPOC women. Black women earn 63 cents, Native American women make 60 cents, and Hispanic and Latina women earn 57 cents for every dollar a man makes, on average. This affects more than just today's paychecks. Getting paid less contributes to a much bigger wealth gap between women and men.

Why is this happening?

For one, traditional gender norms often funnel women into lower-paying roles (think: home health aides and child care workers) and discourage them from higher-paying jobs. Women are also often expected to handle unpaid caregiving for family members. That can cut into their work hours or stretch them too thin. Psst…more than 300,000 women left the workforce, even though the US added 194,000 jobs, in September alone.

Oh, and gender-based discrimination is still a thing. Even if it's not overt. Example: men, who are the majority of managers, are less willing to mentor female employees, which hurts women's odds of advancing. Another example: the "double bind" – a catch-22 where women need to be assertive to get what they want, but are penalized or seen as too aggressive when they ask for it.

How can we fix this?

Raise awareness. Various Equal Pay Days have been established to bring attention to the pay gap. Black Women’s Equal Pay Day was on August 3 this year because, on average, it took an extra 214 days into 2021 for a Black woman to earn the same income a white man did in 2020. And Latinas' Equal Pay Day is on October 21, representing nearly 10 months of additional labor.

The more people recognize and understand the pay gap, the more pressure it can put on employers and the gov to make systemic changes and fix it. Like supporting pay transparency, offering mentorship programs and clear growth opportunities, and providing paid family and medical leave. 

Is there anything I can do?

The nation needs to work together to take down barriers to equal pay. But there are some things you can do to earn more now and help close the gap.

  • Ask for more money. Today's crazy job market may give you a rare advantage to push for more, as employers struggle to hold onto workers. So build your case for deserving it. Note new responsibilities you've taken on since your pay was set. And pull together stats (in dollars and cents, if you can) to show how much you've contributed to the company. Bonus points if you can pitch what else you can do...if you were paid for it.

  • Job-hop with intention. If the above doesn't work – or even if it does – think about when it's time to move on. One study found that switching jobs results in a 5.4% pay bump vs. a 4% raise for employees who stay put. And these days, many employers are offering sign-on bonuses, in addition to higher salaries, to attract new talent.

  • Talk about salary. You can find reported pay ranges on sites like Payscale and Glassdoor. Or you can go directly to the source(s). Reach out to a trusted colleague and offer to swap salary info, if they’re comfortable sharing. This isn't just for research. Transparency is key to exposing inequities. If more people are open about how much they make, the lower the odds they'll unknowingly accept less than they're worth.

Related: Women at Work: Mommy-Tracking, the Pay Gap, and How to Stay Visible While WFH


The gender pay gap holds women, especially BIPOC women, back from wealth-building and financial independence. And while the gov and employers need to make big changes to close the gap, there are ways you can help – and earn more now.

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Skimm'd by Casey Bond, Stacy Rapacon, Sagine Corrielus, and Elyse Steinhaus