3 Things Women Do That Handcuff Their Earning Potential

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It’s no secret that working women still get paid significantly less than their male counterparts.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2013, females over the age of 15 working full-time in the United States earned 78 cents on the dollar compared with men. (Institute for Women’s Policy Research.)

(Bureau of Labor Statistics data, via Fast Company, suggests the pay gap is more like 82% – narrower but still statistically and financially significant).

Like every issue that’s been branded “feminist” as though it “only” hurts women, pay inequity is a harsh reality for all genders: Women are the main source of income for 40% of American families.

The picture is worse for non-Caucasian, non-Asian women. Compare the median annual income of the following groups to that for men overall ($50,033).

  • Asian-American women: $43,124 or 86.1%
  • White women: $41,398 or 82.7%
  • Black women: $34,294 or 68.5%
  • Hispanic women: $30,209 or 60.3%

Does the persistence of income inequality mean that women are inherently powerless?

The news headlines might have you think so: “Gender pay gap stubbornly persists.”

The government might have you think so: The U.S. Department of Labor stated in ablog post that “economists generally attribute about 40% of the pay gap to discrimination – making about 60% explained by differences between workers or their jobs.” (I could not find the original source of this assertion.)

But as the second President of the United Stats, John Adams, once said, “facts are stubborn things,”

In the case of gender-based income inequality, the facts demonstrate that women have a lot more power over their economic health than they may have been told – or may be telling themselves.

In the hope of encouraging other women to be smarter about their careers than I was as a young woman, here is a list of 3 stupid things we do to limit our own income prospects.

1. We don’t ask. Former McKinsey analyst Carolyn Ghosn founded Levo to help women in the early stages of their careers. She notes in Fast Company that there is a huge stigma around women simply having “the conversation.” This is not to discount the sexism that brands assertive women who ask for a raise as aggressive– in fact women who ask for equal pay get a positive response less frequently than men do, and they’re socially penalized on top of it. Nevertheless, there’s no way around the need to communicate with your supervisor directly about your right to be paid what the job is worth.

2. We believe education makes all the difference. The act of attaining a degree does enhance women’s earning power, notes Novant Health VP and Chief Diversity Officer Deborah Ashton in Harvard Business Review. But it also enhances the earning power of men, and the pay gap between women and their equally educated male counterparts persists.

3. We don’t study technical subjects. Despite all the talk about rampant sexism in Silicon Valley, a recent survey by tech job site Dice.com, reported on in Forbes, shows that there is currently no pay gap between women and men in tech fields when you compare people with the same job title, the same education and the same level of experience. Where there is a discrepancy, the cause is dissimilar credentials.

The list of self-limiting factors could stretch far further than this. But the bottom line is that individual beliefs, behaviors and commitments make a lot more difference to a woman’s earning power than many women think.

Even if it’s an unpleasant subject that brings to mind images of loneliness (another factor that limits women from facing their financial situation), women really need to think about earning a fair and decent salary. As most of us already know, the divorce rate in the U.S. is somewhere between 40-50%, and year of first marriage in this country is significantly delayed or even nonexistent.

Think about all the bills that you will pay over the course of your lifetime. You want that to be a simple and easy process, right?

Not to have to call your dad, your husband or your ex and ask for money.


Photo credit: Paula Satijn/Flickr. Source for table: Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Source for screenshot: CNN Money. Source for President Adams quote graphic here. All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

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