Executive Feature, Salary Transparency

How the American Association of University Women is Transforming the Pay Gap Conversation

woman at work with laptop

Equal Pay Day is celebrated this year on April 2, a day meant to raise awareness about the gap between men and women’s wages. Research shows that today, in 2019, the gap sits at 21 cents between white women and men—and only widens for women of color and other ethnicities. Perhaps what’s even more disturbing is the number of people who refuse to believe the pay gap even exists: Many people attribute the gap to women’s choices to take time off to start and raise families, or to enter into industries that offer lower starting pay.

But organizations such as the American Association of University Women (or AAUW) are working diligently to not only close the pay gap but change the conversation surrounding it.

As its CEO Kim Churches explains, “AAUW’s mission is to advance gender equity for women and girls through research, education, and advocacy. Pay equity is a critical part of what we do: Until there is equal pay for equal work, women will never achieve full equality.” But its employees believe closing the gap isn’t just about advancing women’s rights to equality—it’s also about ushering in economic change that will positively impact everyone in the U.S.

Kim Churches Headshot (1)“The gender pay gap hinders women throughout their lives, from the day they leave college with higher levels of debt, to when they are raising families, all the way into retirement when women collect less in pensions and Social Security,” explains Churches. And, “as a result, more women than men are living below the poverty level. But,” she continues, “this isn’t only about women: Equal pay is a matter of basic fairness that benefits everyone—women, their families, their communities, employers, our economy, and [our] society as a whole.”

And Churches has a message for those who don’t believe the pay gap exists “The pay gap is math, not myth,” she says. “Women aren’t choosing lower paying jobs—rather, certain jobs pay less because they are dominated by women. [An example]: Librarians – predominantly women – earn less than IT professionals, who are mostly men. But being a librarian entails at least the same level of skills and training than an IT professional, in some cases [more].”

According to Glassdoor’s own Salary Tool, which allows users to search the median salaries in their chosen fields by job title, Churches is correct: An IT professional can expect to be paid $85,460, according to Glassdoor, while a librarian can expect to earn $57,135 per year.

Equal pay is a matter of basic fairness that benefits everyone—women, their families, their communities, employers, our economy, and [our] society as a whole.

What’s more, AAUW believes societal expectations have steered women into roles that pay less money, such as teachers, counselors, and childcare workers, Churches says, which is an important distinction in the conversation about whether women are to blame for any wage gap that may (or may not, according to naysayers) exist. “In fields traditionally dominated by men, there are still barriers and biases that get in the way of women’s success,” she says.

The AAUW has the research to back up these claims. “AAUW’s research has shown, in an apples-to-apples comparison, just one year out of college, women are paid almost 7 percent less than their male colleagues who made the same degree and career choices,” Churches says. Put another way, a man and woman who graduate the same year, with the same degree, and who are hired for the same job at the same company would be paid differently.

“Our research shows the pay gap exists for every degree level and in every occupation,” she continues. “In fact, when women enter male-dominated, high paying professions, salaries as a whole actually decrease.” That means that in high-paying fields such as technology or medicine or finance, women experience an even greater pay gap than in other industries.

Churches sums up how many feel: “Hard to believe this is still happening in 2019, but it is.”

It’s not easy to fight for equal pay—especially when the gap itself isn’t even equal. The AAUW’s latest research report, The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap, shows that black women, on average, are paid just 61 cents—while Native American women make 58 cents and Latina women earn just 53 cents—of what men are paid in the same exact jobs.

In high-paying fields such as technology or medicine or finance, women experience an even greater pay gap than in other industries.

“There are complex and deep-rooted reasons for this, but the bottom line is that women of color live at the intersection of racism and sexism,” explains Churches. “The historical experience of minorities in this country has resulted in an enormous range of economic inequality, and the wider pay gap is just one manifestation of that. Consider this: The typical black household possesses just six percent of the wealth owned by the typical white household, and this carries over into challenges for women’s opportunities in education and job choice.  [And] the wealth disparity is similar with other racial and ethnic groups.”

But the AAUW is “aggressively advocating” for change, despite the challenges, Churches says, and for a long time. Some 55 years ago, it advocated for the Equal Pay Act of 1963, a measure aimed at stopping wage disparity based on sex. The AAUW also stood beside President Barack Obama when he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, an act that gives federal recourse to employees who believe they have been victims of pay discrimination.

“Today, we’re continuing our work to advance pay equity on many fronts,” says Churches. “Our AAUW members and advocates are working with states and localities to pass equal pay laws—and we’re seeing a tremendous momentum.” In fact, last year along, 40 states and Washington, D.C. “considered legislation to help close the gender pay gap,” she says, “with six states successfully enacting new laws. [And] on a national level, we are working to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963.”

The AAUW also works directly with employers to “improve their policies, practices, and workplace cultures so they can move toward pay equity and encourage more women to succeed in leadership roles,” Churches describes. “And we’re working with individual women by training them valuable salary negotiation skills through our proven Work Smart program, which offers in-person training as well as a free online course available to anyone. We have a bold goal of training 10 million women in salary negotiation by 2022.”

Its efforts seem to be paying off, at least in the private sector: “Companies are very aware that they need to achieve pay equity so they can attract the strongest possible workforce,” says Churches. “And they also realize that paying people fairly is good for their bottom line: They know that equal pay fosters higher retention rates and raises productivity. So, every day, we’re hearing more about employers who are ready and eager to do the right thing.”

If you, too, would like to help close the pay gap, the AAUW says there is plenty of work to go around. A great first step, Churches says, would be to pay attention to local, state, and federal legislation on the pay gap and be poised to contact your elected officials whenever possible to encourage them to support measures that will advance equal pay. The AAUW also offers a Two-Minute Activist tool, which will keep you up-to-date on important pay news and then supply you the tools—like letter templates and addresses—to take action.

Of course, closing the pay gap can start with you, literally. If you can negotiate higher pay for yourself, you are working to close that gap. “To help on that front, we created Work Smart, an easy online course that teaches women salary negotiation skills—and we’ve set a bold goal of training 10 million women in salary negotiation by 2022,” says Churches. “The course takes a very practical—and effective— approach toward salary negotiation: We teach women how research salaries in their fields and geographic areas so they have accurate expectations about what a particular position should pay.” And you can also always check out Glassdoor’s ample resources for how to negotiate a higher salary, too!

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