We hear all kinds of things about the wage gap, including that it doesn’t exist. (It does, though the severity depends on various factors.) There’s also all kinds of advice for what women should do about it: negotiate more forcefully, “lean in,” find a different profession, never start a family, never grow old, etc. But like so many systematic issues, telling the people affected to handle things individually has limited results.
It’s easy to get defensive about the wage gap when you’re not robbing women and swimming in a baby pool full of their stolen money. You work hard and get paid more or less appropriately. Your employer isn’t some Mad-Men-style butt pincher who calls every woman “sweetheart” and refers their paychecks as “pin money.” Things seem pretty okay, right?
Lilly Ledbetter thought things were pretty okay until she found that after 19 years with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. she was making between $559 and $1,509 a month less than her male peers of equal or lesser seniority. Just because people aren’t openly horrible doesn’t mean that unfair practices aren’t going on, and their effects are enormous.
The U.S. GDP has the potential to rise by trillions if the wage gap were closed. Closing the gap could also lift millions of women and children out of poverty or from the brink of poverty. Even beyond the repercussions of what our society and economy would look like from those results alone, the framework we would put in place in regards to work-life balance, salary transparency, and benefit requirements would help men too.
So what can you, a sole dude, do? You’re not some robber baron who just needs to be visited by the three ghosts of Women’s Equality Day (Mary Wollstonecraft, Shirley Chisholm, and the Vagenda of Manocide.)
It’s true that you’re not able to eliminate the pay gap on your own, not even the President can do that. But there are steps you can take to level the playing field.
A corporate structure can keep women, who are often the main the caretakers of kids and elderly relatives, from succeeding or taking higher-level jobs through crappy FMLA policies, “optional” extracurricular events, little to no sick time, etc. But there’s also the sneaky shit, like women “just not fitting in,” the assumption that women aren’t committed or competent, treating a female peer like the office den mother, women being set-up for failure, and low-grade, persistent harassment.
It’s a bit risky, but you can pushback against some of these expectations by defying them. If you have a family member who needs care, take the time off you need. Men often don’t take advantage of family leave because they don’t want to be penalized, but all that does is shift the responsibility to the women in their lives to do that work and take the hit. By taking the leave you need, it shows that a decent work-life balance is everyone’s problem.
Call out misogynist behavior when you see it because I guarantee you will be taken more seriously than a female co-worker in this matter. It’s the decent thing to do, but it also keeps you from having to participate in some asshole’s dick measuring contest when all you want is to get work done.
A company culture that is inclusive and supportive is good for all employees, but especially for those who would be prevented from advancement or driven away all together.
Raise Women Up
Whenever a co-worker does right by you, whether it’s overtime on a joint project or graciously handling your load when you’re out, it’s worth letting the higher ups and that co-worker know it’s appreciated. For one, this person is good and you benefit from them, and two, what goes around comes around. So when that co-worker is a woman, just do the same.
If you’re in a position to suggest competent women for key roles or good opportunities, do it. If you’re in a position to hire or promote qualified women, do it.
This sounds straightforward, but making a conscious decision to hire, promote, and recognize women is much needed because competence and ability isn’t assumed of women the same way it is with men, even by other women. Interviews with transmen illustrate how perceived maleness alone gave them an edge that they didn’t previously have in the work place. (This is, of course, more the case for white transmen.)
Rather than a case of obvious, sweeping sexism, women being overlooked and passed over for opportunities is a sexism of a thousand cuts, and their combined effect is deeply felt across industries.
It may seem like a small thing to send someone a complimentary email and CCing her manager, but small positive actions accumulate too.
Encourage Salary Transparency
Some well-intentioned companies like Apple and Amazon have signed the White House Equal Pay Pledge, which is a promise to review and evaluate hiring and promotion processes to seek out potential bias while “embedding equal pay efforts into broader enterprise-wide equity initiatives.” It’s something, but it’s general AF, doesn’t offer concrete steps, and searching for your own biases is notoriously difficult.
In the way that most people, no matter how awful, think of themselves as kind and fair, companies generally don’t have “be unfair and sexist” in their mission statement. While harm isn’t intentional, it gets a lot harder to call out when there’s a knowledge discrepancy between employers and employees.
Despite some employers discouraging or banning salary talk, employees (except supervisors and HR personnel) have the legal right to discuss their pay with each other. There’s also a growing trend of businesses choosing to make employee pay or pay ranges available to everyone. These employers generally see pay discrepancies shrink with minimal negative outcomes. Salary transparency not only allows employees to negotiate better, but it forces business to explain why they pay what they do and to whom, which helps root out unconscious bias in the process of pay decisions.
If you’re a straight, white guy, you’re in a good position to pitch the idea of salary transparency because you’re unlikely to be coming from a position of grievance. Not that being screwed over should negate the validity of what someone says, but you can spell out all the potential positives of increased trust, retention, and better hiring without seeming all: